The Kobayashi Maru is an exam given to Starfleet cadets that is famously a no-win situation, used to judge candidates' character rather than skills per se. The implication is that the results of the test (how a candidate actually approaches their (inevitable, unless they cheat) failure) is written up in some sort of document and placed in the cadet's file, to be used later for personnel management purposes, assignment selection, etc.

To what extent is it possible to truly fail the Kobayashi Maru? That is, is it possible for a student to handle the situation so badly (e.g. taking nonsensical actions, ejecting their own warp core for no logical reason, beaming themselves into empty space, attempting actual suicide during the exam, throwing a temper tantrum, etc.) that they receive a recommendation for immediate discharge from Starfleet and/or a recommendation for assignment to a position with no possible pathway to command responsibility?

By failure, I'm talking about serious, catastrophic failure, of the kind that would essentially doom a candidate's career. I'm not talking about a non-ideal performance that would get written up in some Starfleet Personnel Officer Performance Improvement Plan and implemented by the student's first commanding officer with a warning that failure to improve would likely impair promotional opportunities - I'm talking about the level of failure that would essentially say, "We don't want you in our Starfleet, get out right now.".

In response to comments, yes, I'm well aware that "common sense" indicates that that test is in some ways intended to weed out people who can't cope, but also that persons sufficiently advanced to qualify to take the Kobayashi Maru have already been well-vetted and deemed unlikely to fail. What the question is asking is really whether there is any specific in-universe indication whether an actual rule or specific practice exists. For example, a Starfleet Academy instructor saying, "At this point, you are too far advanced in your training to truly 'flunk out'. If your performance on the Kobayashi Maru goes beyond bad into the truly horrible, you will be required to enroll in Advanced Introduction to Intermediate Remedial Coping Strategies for Future Leaders on Titan and repeat that course until you achieve at least a 'bad' rating on the Kobayashi Maru." would count.

To use modern educational terminology, the question could be phrased as whether the Kobayashi Maru is intended as a formative assessment (to identify particular strengths, growth areas, problems to work on, etc.) or a summative assessment (used to assign a final grade, or determine if a student has 'passed' or 'failed').

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    I don't know about Star Trek in particular but that is what those tests are generally designed for. If the student basically has a panic attack and makes the situation worse they're likely to fail. They may be given a second chance but generally if you do extremely poorly in tests like these you are likely to fail.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 12:48
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    The test happens so late in training that I'd guess all of the spectacular failures have already been weeded out. Maybe it's not so much a test of the cadets as it is of Starfleet's disaster planners' imaginations. If an Ender Wiggin or a Miles Vorkosigan shows that it's possible to truly beat the test, Starfleet can learn from that.
    – Gaultheria
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:26
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    Personal opinion: It is a test in the sense that you can fail it (complete melt down or cheat like Scotty) but that its real purpose is to make the cadet face that most horrible moment (unavoidable failure) and learn his own reaction to it. At the point in training that they have reached, the instructors should have weeded out all the potential "meltdowns." At this point, you have people who are accustomed to success. You want them to see failure, and decide for themselves if they want to face it again and again with the fate of a ship (or the Federation) hanging on the outcome.
    – JRE
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 16:12
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    @HamSandwich I don't think so. The title is simply describing failure in the general social sense, which is to not live up to expectations. In the body, I later clarify that the test is specifically a test about how one handles failure. Thus, "truly failing" the test means to fail at failure, that is, to fail to demonstrate an adequate response or coping strategy for dealing with failure. For example, the difference might be illustrated by the difference between handling failure with honor and dignity versus getting angry and smashing things. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:11
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    @JRE "You want them to see failure and decide for themselves if they want to face it again and again with the fate of a ship (or the Federation) hanging on the outcome..." I think this is exactly right and very important. People who have never had a real decision to make (those who think the boss has an easy job) may have trouble seeing it. You must decide an important thing. You don't know what will work. Maybe nothing will work. But YOU must decide NOW and then live with second guesses forever. That is hard. Most can't handle it.
    – RCM
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 1:24

9 Answers 9


Yes, at least one cadet was expelled from the Academy for failing the no-win scenario.

In the TOS episode "Bread and Circuses", the Enterprise discovers the wreckage of the Merchant Marine ship SS Beagle. Captain Kirk remembers its captain (R.M. Merik) as an old friend from their academy days:

Kirk: We attended Starfleet Academy at the same time. He was dropped in his fifth year because he failed his psychosimulator test.

TOS, "Bread and Circuses"

Merik then joined the Federation Merchant Marines, eventually becoming captain of the Beagle. In 2262, the Beagle became disabled around the planet 892-IV. Beaming down to look for ore for repairs, he met the local inhabitants, who had a Roman-like culture but with 20th century technology. They convinced Merik to beam down the rest of his crew, who were forced to fight as gladiators.

Six years later, the Enterprise discovers the Beagle's wreckage. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to the planet and are given a choice between beaming their crew down to planet, or fighting themselves in the games. Essentially, Merik and Kirk have each been put in another no-win situation. However, Merik believes this time he has passed (he is still alive), and Kirk will fail:

Merik: This is not an Academy training test. This is for real. They're taking you to die.

TOS, "Bread and Circuses"

Both in-universe and out-of-universe, "Bread and Circuses" happened prior to the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It should therefore not be surprising that "Kobayashi Maru" is not explicitly mentioned in the television episode. Furthermore, it should be noted that "Kobayashi Maru" has at least 3 different meanings in the Star Trek canon:

  1. A general type of test given to Starfleet Academy cadets to test their response to a no-win situation. It tests the cadet's psychological response, rather than their technical knowledge. The test is simulated, not on a real ship. Thus, the term "psychosimulator test" as used in "Bread and Circuses" would fit this meaning. This type of test would have been used at the Academy since at least the 2250s, as Kirk started at the academy in 2252.

  2. A specific scenario used for the no-win test. It begins with a distress call from the civilian freighter /Kobayashi Maru/ inside the Klingon neutral zone. The scenario was portrayed at the start of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

    This particular scenario could not be the exact one that Kirk and Merik encountered at the Academy, as the Klingon neutral zone was not established until the Treaty of Organia in 2267. Indeed, Wrath of Khan only says that Kirk beat the "no-win scenario", not the Kobayashi Maru. Merik would not even know of the existence of the Klingon neutral zone, as he was stranded in 2262. Nor would this particular scenario be relevant when Scotty attended the Academy.

  3. Slang for any no-win situation. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, McCoy describes his and Kirk's imprisonment on a frozen Klingon planet as "a Kobayashi Maru".

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    Good answer, although this sounds more like the “Psych Test” Wesley Crusher was given as part of his entrance exam to Starfleet Academy than like the Kobiyashi Maru. The psych test was a scenario with an explicit win condition explained to him after the fact (save one person, and be able to explain his choice), with the added twist that the simulation was chosen to remind him of how his own father died when Jean-Luc Picard chose to abandon him. The only way it resembled a no-win situation was that he could not save everyone. Basically a trolley problem that felt completely real.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 2:12
  • One other note: you’re right about Star Trek VI (which, like Star Trek II, was directed by Nicholas Meyer, attempted to tell a weightier story, and even used a subtitle that had been the working title for the earlier movie at one point in its development.) It’s worth mentioning that Spock and Kirk call the noble sacrifice at the climax their Kobiyashi Maru. There, they see it as a test of “how we deal with death,” facing that, for the first time in their lives, they could no longer cheat it. (Until the sequel.)
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 2:31

In the TOS Book The Kobayashi Maru Cadet Montgomery Scott fails the Kobayashi Maru and is moved from the Command Stream to the Engineering Stream.

"Fail" is a nuanced word however.

Scott uses his mathematical and engineering knowhow to destroy wave after wave of attacking Klingon vessels. One of the techniques he uses is known not to work in practice, but because theoretically it should, the computer lets him use it. He "fails" the test for contempt and is moved to the Engineering Stream he really wants to be in.

The linked book is a really interesting read, with 4 different takes on what passing the Kobayashi Maru actually means. Apologies if I've mis-remembered anything as it's been 25 years since I read it.

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    Well, the worst part of it was that Scotty himself was the person who had proved the model wrong. He knew damned good and well that it wouldn't work in reality, but that the simulation computer would do it anyway because the math was correct.
    – JRE
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 14:48
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    @ths: the model had only recently been proven wrong. By Scotty himself.
    – JRE
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 14:51
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    The thing about Scotty "cheating" was that he reacted as an engineer, using engineer's solutions rather than acting as a commander. Scotty was micromanaging the simulated engineering staff to have them do the things he would have done as the ship's engineer. He totally lost sight of getting out of the swamp, and concentrated on better ways to.kill alligators. The commander should be getting the mission accomplished (or finding a way out of disaster) rather than handling the details. Scotty proved himself a good engineer, and a not so whoopy commander.
    – JRE
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 11:37
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    I have a vague memory of Scotty ordering several canisters of antimatter (some kind of electromagnetic constrictors, obviously) beamed over around the attacking ships. And then only the canisters were beamed back.
    – Ti Strga
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 18:41
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    @JRE But if you kill enough alligators, eventually there's no need to get out of the swamp. :)
    – aroth
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 2:44

In the Kelvin Timeline, Kirk failed the Kobiyashi Maru and keeps retaking it. (In the film, it’s implied that he’s making the rest of the bridge crew take a couple of hours to act out their roles in the simulation each time, and that he’s done this over and over, an unusually large number of times.) He doesn’t even pretend to be taking it seriously or in any doubt about the outcome. In this timeline, cheating by hacking the computer that gives the test gets him court-martialed, and he would have been expelled from Starfleet Academy if not for an incredible streak of coincidences. I would say that constitutes an absolute failure.

Kirk-Prime had a similar idea but got commended for it. The EU explains this by saying he approached it differently:

He programmed the Klingons to be in awe of the great Captain Kirk, and explained that it was realistic because he would earn himself that kind of reputation in real life. (It is totally consistent with TOS that Starfleet was looking for that kind of narcissism in its commanding officers.)

By the time of TNG, we do see a similar test that someone fails, but with no further consequence than being refused a promotion. (Starfleet’s attitude toward personnel retention is the very opposite of up-or-out.) In “Thine Own Self.” Deanna Troi takes the Bridge Officer’s Test for promotion to the rank of Commander. (That officers in what would be considered the support branches in the US military today are directly in the line of command in Starfleet and take over if they are the highest-ranking officer present is another of the few differences between the command structures of the twentieth and twenty-fourth centures.) Troi passes every stage of the examination but the last, the Engineering qualification. This is a holodeck simulation where she is the highest-ranking officer in Engineering as the ship is breaking down and they lose communication with the rest of the ship. Regardless of what Troi tells Sim-Geordi LaForge to do, the warp core breaches and the ship is destroyed.

After Troi has failed three times (the scenario becoming harder each time), Will Riker finds her studying the details of warp cores and tells her that he’s cancelling her exam. “Deanna,” he says, “this is nothing personal. Not everyone is cut out to be a Bridge Officer. I don't think this is for you.” She asks, “Why? Because I'm not the most technically-minded person on the ship? I may have trouble telling the difference between a plasma conduit and a phase inducer, but there's more to being a bridge officer than memorising technical manuals.” She even subverts viewers’ expectations a bit by asking, “Is there a solution? Or is this simply a test of my ability to handle a no-win situation?” Riker tells her that there is, but he can’t reveal it.

A remark Riker made gives her enough of a hint to go back and pass the test. Starfleet isn’t really training a ship’s counselor to micromanage its professional engineers in a life-threatening emergency just because she happened to be nearby at the time and technically outranks them. She realizes that this scenario is a different kind of no-win scenario. (Although no one in the episode makes the reference explicit, the other one from The Wrath of Khan.) Even though the automated safety systems aren’t working in the simulation, sim-LaForge would be able to save the ship if he entered the warp core himself, but the radiation would kill him. Troi orders the sim who looks just like her friend to do it, and passes the real test.

Since she was able to take the test again even though he told her he was failing her, it doesn’t appear that the examiner actually can fail the candidate until she herself gives up. (Or perhaps he had put off actually doing it.) It is implied that she would be disqualified if one of her friends gave her the solution. The motif that no one can be told the answer to her test of character works well in the episode, but if you stop to think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense as world-building. (The only time in the history of Star Trek that’s ever happened!)

By this time, everyone apparently gets personalized tests on the Holodeck. Wesley Crusher’s Psych Test to enter Starfleet Academy, in “Coming of Age” intentionally duplicates the situation where Jean-Luc Picard was forced to let Wesley’s father, Jack Crusher, die. (Because this was first-season TNG, it misses the opportunity to have either of them make a less-than-perfect decision, explore how two different answers could both be justified or at least understandable, or have any tension between the characters.) In that instance, the test-giver reveals how the test was being scored: to pass, Wesley Crusher needed to save someone, even though he couldn’t save both, and needed to be able to explain his action somehow. Failure would have meant rejection from Starfleet Academy, ending his career before it had begun.

Although, in the end, he is passed over for another reason, but allowed to reapply the next year.

Dr. Sheldon reminds us that, in the TOS episode “Bread and Circuses,” Kirk runs into a former classmate who “was dropped in his fifth year because he failed his psychosimulator test.” That sounds very similar to the “psych test” Wesley Crusher took.

Since you edited the question, there is another failure like that from TNG—except that it wasn’t Starfleet that created the scenario. It happens to Jean-Luc Picard in “Tapestry.” Picard is dying because of his bionic heart, which he needed because he had been stabbed through the heart in a bar fight as a young man. Q appears to him and, after some rounds of verbal sparring, gets Picard to say that, yes, he did some things back then that he regrets. Q offers him a second chance, with a promise that the ripple effects won’t have a major impact on anyone else.

The result is that Picard “never had a brush with death, never faced his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how precious every moment must be,” so he always played it safe. He’s now a low-level paper-pusher on the Enterprise and, when he asks about promotion, is told it’s not in the cards for him. (It would have been especially ironic that Troi is the one to tell Picard this had Patrick Stewart been available while “Thine Own Self” was being filmed and Picard had given her the evaluation Riker did.) “Hasn’t that been the problem all along? Throughout your career, you’ve had lofty goals, but you’ve never been willing to do what’s necessary to attain them.” Riker agrees, although he adds, “We don’t want to lose you. You’re a very good officer.”

And if we really want to stretch along those lines, one of the diabolical ways the Cardassians turn double agents is to put them in holodeck simulations so realistic that they can never again be sure they ever really got out. At one point, they even tried to gaslight Kira Nerys that she had always been a Cardassian spy and that her memories were fake. That could certainly qualify as a no-win simulation that could end your career in Starfleet!

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    I like this answer the best because it provides the best in universe explanation for how you could fail such a test and what it would mean Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 0:38

In the New Frontier novel Stone and Anvil, we are told of future captain Mackenzie Calhoun's "solution" - he concluded that there was a high probability that the freighter crew was in on it, and that if they were by some fluke innocent and were captured, they would prefer a quick death to torture, and therefore fired on the Kobayashi Maru himself, destroying it instantly. Given that he wasn't ejected from Starfleet, and was eventually given the big chair, it seems that the only real failure that's possible is a failure to defend one's actions in a logical manner. (Or failing to take the scenario itself seriously, as happened in Scottie's test mentioned in another answer.)

  • 13
    I was just thinking how to write this as an answer...I think it is also worth mentioning 1. Macs viewpoint of they would prefer death comes from his background from Calhoun and that is different to Humans. 2. Shelbys response to Macs actions and how she was 'brought up for her insubordination'.
    – JayV
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 14:00
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    Bombing places where operatives are being held is not unheard of in real life modern warfare, so it's not a concept unknown to humans.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 12:24

Yes, there are reactions which makes the test automatically a fail.

  1. Inability to decide: Either you decide that you cannot save the Kobayashi Maru or you try to save them. If you stare paralysed on the screen because there is no right decision and cannot come to a decision even if the crew urge you, you are per definition unfit for command.

  2. Violating starfleet engagement principles to win: If you e.g. transmit a false surrender to get the edge in the fight, it may work in reality, but the trust for all coming surrenders of Starfleet commanders is destroyed. Therefore you also unfit for command.

There are also reactions which will very likely never occur in the simulation, but occur in reality:

  1. Cowardly reaction: The original scenario does not allow any chance to fight because all systems are failing. If in reality the ship is too heavily outnumbered so that the chance of rescuing the Kobayashi Maru is effectively nil, nobody will complain that you try to escape. But if the chances are good that after you decided to rescue the ship and you could actually win the confrontation, but flee because you fear that an unlikely stray hit is too risky, you are also unfit for command (Risk is life).

  2. Treason: Offer to give any information you have about the starfleet including top secret documents to save your skin.

Starfleet command is NOT Brazil, Oceania or straight out of a Paranoia role-playing game. In contrast the Star Trek universe emphasize humanity and rational decision, so I do not accept counterarguments that somehow vital components are bizarrely twisted or ignored.

Answer 1) What does it mean to have "command" or being a starfleet officer? It means that you as commander must(!) decide what course of action is appropiate for a situation and (s)he has the responsibility not only for the own person, but for the crew and even for the starfleet! It is the very definition of "command". If you are unable to decide, the ship has the same state as being non-existent. Such a situation is even worse than being dead as commander because in that case you could have been replaced immediately. This is also a prerequisite as starfleet officer because at any time your superiors can die or stop being approachable/reasonable you must replace them. This is not only true for starfleet, but for any organization. If there is a chain of command, the ability to decide (even if it is wrong) is absolutely vital and not replaceable by any means.

2) There are several key components which makes this vital. If a conflict is possible (this does not only apply to military but also to all branches where you come in contact with possibly hostile counterpart) and there are no rules at all, you cannot communicate your intent. The enemy surrenders? Could be a ruse. The enemy retreats? Could be a trap. But it also applies to the own position. You really want to give up, but you faked surrender before? Good luck to convince the opponent. This is the important idea of the red phone. During the Cold War the USA had always bombers with nuclear bombs moving around the Soviet border to guarantee second-strike capability. The interesting part is now that those bombers without any treaty deliberately moved in a predictable path so that the Soviets were able to track them. The idea is that, yes, you have a threat in the air, but you give your opponent the chance to react if something unusual happens (Hey, your bomber is moving toward us! What? We call him back. It still moves toward us! We lost contact, repeat, we lost contact. Shoot him down, here is all available information about his targets and path!).
Another key component is that you as organization have acquired a long experience what strategies and tactics work or don't work (Those can being different depending on what organization you have. Even with the very same goals and organization structure, but different people the strategy can be different!). Those are also coded e.g. in the rules of engagement for Starfleet. A commander who ignores them in a simulation(!) cannot be trusted to follow them in reality which will bring other ships and starfleet into trouble. In fact, in one episode of Starfleet Benjamin Maxwell of the Phoenix despite being a brilliant captain was court-martialed for unauthorized strikes while it was later revealed that he was completely right that the Cardassians were violating the treaty.
This does not mean that rules of engagement are followed. If a party has an overwhelming power, it could decide to ignore them because there is nobody who can challenge them. Also if a party is on the losing side, it is tempting to throw any rules overboard to get one attempt to a decisive advantage.

3) Any fighting member of a military organization (yes, starfleet ships have phasers and photon torpedoes and those are weapons) must face the consequence that death is not only possible, but often very likely. While recruiters may have "forgotten" this fact in their presentation of free extras and being a tough guy, it is uncomfortably valid. Now the standards vary from organization and task (scout? stormtrooper?), but if you don't accept a reasonable risk to defeat the contrahent when it is not only possible but very likely in a military organization, you fail.

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    It would help if you had a source for any of these. This would be a fair assessment for most 21st century military organizations, but Starfleet is not a 21st century military organization and it is unclear if the rules would be the same. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:18
  • 17
    I'll admit that offering to commit treason to the Klingons in the middle of a Starfleet Academy exam would definitely count as original thinking. Definitely unfit for command, but something I would never have thought anybody would be boneheaded enough to try. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:28
  • 10
    @Thunderforge having both taught in the classroom and worked in software QA, I think you need to reconsider your ideas about "boneheadedness". o_O
    – rcollyer
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:49
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    @RobertColumbia You really may think for yourself and come to your own conclusions without needing a source :). The reason is that those two reactions are violating so vital principles that it is valid for any organization, military or not. Sure I can explain why it is that case, but I am quite astonished or even a bit shocked that it is not completely obvious. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 20:58
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    @NotThatGuy You are tested for your driving license. During the test you hit a passerby standing on the footwalk. There is according to my last knowledge no written rule in Germany that hitting a passerby during the license test automatically fails the test...this is a fact. Despite that you automatically fail the test and I dare a guess that it is the same in every country. Why? Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 21:21

It seems like all of the responses, and the original asker, interpret the Kobayashi-Maru as a test. However, the Kobayashi-Maru has been explained to be a lesson that is disguised as a test. It is explained by Spock that it is intended to give the candidate experience being in a no-win situation. Failing the scenario in a conventional way, which nearly every candidate does, and which the scenario architect (Spock himself) intended, does not disqualify a candidate from Starfleet.

Any test performance that falls way outside the usual parameters of failure, like reprogramming the simulation, would likely fall under the umbrella of human behavior that Spock would not anticipate. He would expect candidates to approach the test in a straightforward manner with logical goals and conventional tactics. For the few candidates who engaged in very unpredictable approaches (Scott and Kirk), Spock would not have designed the test to weed-out these approaches and fail these candidates. The way that Starfleet handles these situations would have been totally reactionary and improvised, not part of a planned protocol.

For the answers that address Deanna Troi's bridge officer's test: this is not the Kobayashi-Maru. The bridge officer's test has a conditions for passing and failing, whereas the Kobayashi-Maru is designed for guaranteed failure. The bridge officer's test appears like an impossible test when Troi is attempting it; but most of her peers pass it with far fewer attempts. It is nearly impossible to receive a command position without passing the bridge officer's test; whereas failing the Kobayashi-Maru does not bar a candidate from a command position (even in the case of Kirk and Scott).

Although, it would theoretically be destructive to a candidate's career if their performance manifested traits that were seriously unbecoming of Starfleet's principles, proved the candidate to be very psychologically unfit, or constituted a real criminal act (harming the other living people who are sharing the bridge with you).

  • I interpret “Thine Own Self” differently. Although it wisely avoids any explicit reference, the writers were very clearly drawing a parallel to The Wrath of Khan. Troi even directly asks if this is a test of her ability to accept a no-win scenario. The situation she faces in the episode is the same as Spock’s sacrifice at the end of the movie (uh: spoilers), which both Spock and Kirk say is their true Kobiashi Maru test. “Do you like my solution?” And Kirk agrees: ”I've cheated death—tricked my way out of death—and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.”
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 19:39
  • The final test Troi gets must have been different for her than for anyone else (surely Geordi would not have gotten an engineering problem that he wasn’t supposed to realize was too difficult to solve, and someone else would not have gotten a sim with Troi’s close friends), and Riker, who gave the test, states that he doesn’t think she would be able to beat it. In other words, for her, sacrificing her friend to save the ship was the one thing Riker didn’t believe she would be willing to do. That choice, for her, was a no-win scenario.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 19:46
  • Spock couldn't have designed the Kobayashi-Maru test. It was already in place when Kirk was a cadet.
    – JRE
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 20:41
  • In the Star Trek reboot movie, Spock was the creator of the test. In the wikipedia article about the Kobayashi Maru test, it states "This incident earns him the ire of Spock, who is an Academy instructor maintaining the simulation and creator of the test." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobayashi_Maru#Star_Trek_(2009) It also contains a quote echoing my characterization that it is not a test, but it is intended to make the candidate face the possibility of death. "Spock counters that the point of the test is not to win, but to face fear and accept the possibility of death"
    – John
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 20:53
  • 2
    @John In The Wrath of Khan, it is a test, but not of what Saavik expected: "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 2:56

The only one listed as officially failing I have ever seen is Montgomery Scott, because he cheated. He knew there was a bug in the way Klingon shields were being used in the simulation vs real life and took advantage, destroying hundreds of Klingon ships. Starfleet confronted him about it citing a book that he wrote himself. It is in Julia Ecklar's The Kobayashi Maru. If we don't care about "canon" (and the writers themselves don't) Kirk in the new movies cheated on it and was caught also. He not only didn't ruin his career, he received a commendation for original thinking. So final answer: it's probably possible to fail by not understanding the purpose of it.

  • 4
    Whilst this may be an answer to the question it would be a lot better if you could include the relevant sources into your answer.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 20:04
  • 1
    As @TheLethalCarrot says, sources would help. Scotty failing (IIRC) was in the TOS novels, which are non canon I believe.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 20:06
  • 1
    I shall edit for info then.
    – John Lord
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 18:40
  • Leslie Crusher? Wasn’t that an early name for the character rewritten as Wesley Crusher? Which story about her were you thinking of? Wesley did take a similar test in “Coming of Age.” Were you thinking of that?
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 19:19
  • that was brain damage on my part. Beverly. But since I don't have a reference to that part, i'm deleting it from the original answer.
    – John Lord
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 0:23

I would think that it would be an either/or situation, either you do well enough to make Captain some day if you work at it, or they chuck you out on your ear. Blind panic in the face of long odds is unacceptable in anyone who expects to undertake long space voyages, space is just too dangerous, too much can go wrong. Some candidates might be retained for ground support staff if they have special preparation in particular fields, like Uhura's facility with xenolanguages, but otherwise I'd think they'd just get the boot.

Everyone should fail the Kobayashi Maru but I'd expect total catastrophic failure to be rare, by the time they're taking the Kobayashi Maru candidates are a long way into their training as officers not just general cadets, I would think that crack ups are exceedingly rare.

  • 1
    The question seems to be asking of any specific instances of someone failing rather than if in general one can fail, even if it is worded more along the lines of the general case.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:18
  • Also getting "chucked you out on your ear" would probably hurt a lot ;P
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:18
  • @TheLethalCarrot It certainly will if the person doing the chucking has good technique.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:19
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    @TheLethalCarrot Especially if they're a Vulcan or a Ferengi... Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:53

This might require knowing how the test is "scored". Since it's designed more as a test of character, it may be like most psychiatric tests where there's "No wrong answer", but a number of red flags.

Losing one's composure to the point that you make aggressive physical contact with your crew would probably be such a red. The goal of the test is to make sure that the captain can cope with such a calamitous situation, work with, and more importantly, trust his crew to do their jobs.

If a captain (either in a real situation, or just cause he wants to "win" this one so badly) has the idea that he can do any crewmember's job better than they can, he's already failing as a captain. If the Captain grabs them out of their chair and starts running their console, that means the Captain either doesn't think the crewmember is capable, or that they won't respond fast enough, or simply that the Captain thinks he can do it better. Such behavior would certainly be dangerous in the real world, so seeing it in such a test would certainly indicate that the student, at the very least, has more work to do.

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    As I mentioned on one of the other answers: The question seems to be asking of any specific instances of someone failing rather than if in general one can fail, even if it is worded more along the lines of the general case.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:49
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    Or, whether there is any specific indication of a possibility or impossibility of failure. For example, a Starfleet Academy instructor saying "No, no one ever truly fails, even if you punch your conn officer in the face and then start throwing poop all over the simulator, we will find some place for you on some boring, backwater starport and you can start the long journey to rebuilding your career." would count. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:51
  • I suggest the question be edited, then. It asks "is it possible", and never "when specifically has it". Carrot had to get the OP to clarify in the comments. I personally prefer blue-skying questions that result in fun head-canon, as opposed to "I which episode", which is why I chimed in. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 14:01
  • Of course, in the real world, it's possible for one of your crew to be incapable of performing their task at their station as well as you could. Now, if the captain starts trying to run two stations at once, that might be a problem - outside of someone with extraordinary abilities (I'm thinking Data here), no one's likely to be able to run two stations and do as well as two reasonably competent people would do running the stations.
    – RDFozz
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 20:28

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