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There are plenty of questions about the Kobayashi Maru test, but there's one facet of the test that I don't recall ever being discussed.

Do the cadets know anything about the test before it runs?

Officers who have graduated have all (presumably) taken the test, and understand that it's a test of character, rather than a puzzle to be solved. If that was a fact known to the cadets, surely there'd be endless discussion groups, public threads, what have you about how to "win" the test, or at least steps to take to come out as well as possible. All of which would serve to invalidate the purpose of the test.

Kirk took the test three times, and cheated to "win". This suggests either that he wasn't made aware of its purpose, or even once he was, he did it out of spite, due to his disbelief in a "no-win scenario". I suspect that the fact that you CAN re-take it (at least could at the time) adds to the fact that the cadets think it can be won, and the desire to do so could be seen as a positive, a desire to improve.

It seems to me that in order for the test to be valid, the cadets have to know virtually nothing about it, or at the very least know nothing about its true purpose.

But how could that be done? I wonder if there's a "code of silence" about the test between officers, where they all see the value in the test, and agree to keep mum about it to cadets. There might even be a rule about discussing it amongst cadets, on the argument that learning about its purpose beforehand would be tantamount to getting the answers to a test.

  • The end question of "Opinions?" is obviously opinion based but the main question isn't so I've edited it out to avoid close votes. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 2 '18 at 15:39
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    Welcome, cadet, to the Kobayashi Maru Club. The first rule is "don't talk about Kobayashi Maru Club." The second rule is "DON'T TALK ABOUT KOBAYASHI MARU CLUB." – Steve-O Jul 2 '18 at 20:19
  • @Steve-O As I recall, the club in that movie kept picking up new members, despite the existence of rules 1 and 2. Swearing people to secrecy might help (especially in the military, where that's a lot more enforceable), but it only takes a few officers discussing the test where a civilian can overhear it, and the secret's potentially out for good. – Ray Jul 3 '18 at 21:06
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    Coming from a military family, I can tell you there are some character tests personnel are not told about until they are in the test. And then told that if they mention any details about the test to anybody who has not taken it, they will be court-martialed. Some of these character tests may only be taken once. I would believe a fictional military organization like Starfleet would follow similar protocols. I was actually surprised that the Star Trek 2009 film had a very public legal hearing with an audience of hundreds for a cheater of the the Kobayashi Maru simulation. – RichS Jul 4 '18 at 1:58
  • I would also assume that you would be told that it was a command simulation and it could be one of a few different tests. I would expect future commander to be able to deal with any situation that arises and even if you knew that they would throw an unwinnable situation at you they could easily have a few different version of the test that rotate through the academy. – Styxsksu Jun 21 at 14:49
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To my best knowledge, we see so little of the Kobayashi Maru test in TV shows and movies, that there isn't any way to really tell. We do get to see a couple of other, similar tests in TNG: during Weasley's extry exam for Starfleet Academy, and Troi's test gain command during night shifts. Both tests come as a surprise to the tester the first time they are taken.

In the novels however, we learn a lot from the The Kobayashi Maru (Star Trek, No. 47). Specifically from Sulu's test, where he basically ignores the Kobayashi Maru completely.

This tells us that cadets first taking the Kobayashi Maru test don't know they are taking the test until they get a distress call from the Kobayashi Maru ship during a different mission, and possibly not even then. Therefore cadets don't have clearance to any information regarding the Kobayashi Maru, until after they've taken the test the first time. Cadets are likely told afterward that information about the test is classified; a further test to see how well they handle secrets.

Don't forget that the Kobayashi Maru test is a test of character, first and foremost. It asks the question: what do you do when the chips are down and the odds stacked against you? As such the test isn't necessarily over when the simulation ends; how you react afterward is still part of the test. Taking the test again is certainly possible - some people take 'unbeatable' as a challenge after all and that itself tells Starfleet something about the cadet's character. We see Troi take her test for command twice too.

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In The Auto Biography of James T. Kirk this is stated as Kirk is trying to find a way to beat the test.

The details were a closely guarded secret, and the honor code of the academy stated that you couldn't discuss the test with anyone who hadn't taken it yet.

But, as it turned out, many in the academy did not observe the honor code, and the details became public. - ch. 3

So it would seem that those on a command track at the academy are the ones who take it, and are probably aware of the basics. Some people change to command track after graduating, and presumably never have to take that test.

  • "Some people change to command track after graduating, and presumably never have to take that test." - Well, Troi took a different test which is implied to be similar in some respects, although I'm not sure she actually switched tracks. – Kevin Jun 21 at 2:08
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I'm a retired college professor and all colleges try to maake sure their tests are "secret" to some extent. As soon as I got wind that students in different sections were discussing my tests, I would change them. I also occasionally used very difficult or esoteric questions to see not if a student could answer the question correctly, but the logic used to try to answer it. (In HR, for example, one interview tactic is to mildly offend the interviewee and observe how they recover.) All that said, One point that seems overlooked is that Spock WROTE the Kobayashi Maru test (at least he did in the alternate universe movie version). This would mean that the test could not have been in use for long since Spock was presumably not at Star Fleet Academy for very long. (It may have also been implied that it was a new test in the first movie.) It is possible that Character tests were given to every class, but the tests were changed every year or so. It is also possible that the fact that a student beat the test became sort of legendary since there are "local legends" at many colleges today. I also have to wonder if any test that a student was capable of hacking would continue to be used as a test at all. Given all that, I would have to conclude that the purpose of the K-M test was secret, that Kirk might not have known the true reason for the test and that it is likely that Kirk beating the test became sort of a local legend. I hope that answers the question.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F! This seems to be a comment, and not an answer to the question. Please read How to Answer. – DavidW Jun 21 at 2:51

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