I Took the President’s Cognitive Test and Here’s How I Scored
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is touted as the preeminent brain function exam.
Last week, President Donald J. Trump underwent his annual physical. And just yesterday, his doctor, Dr. Ronny Jackson, released the results, some of which—namely the fact that he is 6’3″ and allegedly weighs 239 pounds—set off an Internet frenzy. But alongside the physical examination, Jackson, at the president’s behest (“He asked me to include it so we did,” the doctor told reporters at a press conference), conducted a mental examination as well.
This examination, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, or MoCA, is a 10-minute, 11-question, 30-point questionnaire that’s widely used to detect, according to the test materials, any form of “mild cognitive decline.” Dr. Jackson affirmed: “It does rule out the need to do any other cognitive assessment.” So, what did Donald Trump score?
Thirty for thirty.
Upon learning that 45 aced a publicly available cognitive exam, a thought crept into my head: Could I, too, ace the MoCA? On the one hand, I find standardized tests to be extremely stressful, and that stress has led to less-than-ideal scores over the years. But on the other, surely I, a 25-year-old college graduate, am at least as sharp as a septuagenarian who frequently baffles the world with his Twitter account.
I had to know.
So I grabbed the only colleague who would be game to waste 10 minutes on my neuroses, April Benshosan, of our sister site, Eat This, Not That!, and asked her to administer the test for me. (For what it’s worth, you do not need to be a doctor—or possess any medical qualifications of any sort—to administer the test.) I told her that the results could potentially cause me extreme public embarrassment.
“YES,” she said. So we got started. The results were… Well, see for yourself. And if you’re looking to boost your own cognitive performance, be sure to check out the 20 Simple Ways to Improve Your Memory.
Alternating Trail Making
The first question is straight out of kindergarten: It’s essentially Connect The Dots (with a Twist). Instead of drawing a line between a bunch of dots, you have to draw a line between numbers and letters in an alternating, ascending order. So you’d go 1-A-2-B and so on, all the way through 5-E. I nailed it.
Score so far: 1/30
Visuoconstructional Skills (Part One)
For the second question, you’re required to draw a cube. All eleven lines must be present, the drawing must be three-dimensional, and every line must be “relatively parallel” and of similar length.
“Does that look good?” I asked April.
“Sure, yeah, whatever,” she said.
Score so far: 2/30
Visuoconstructional Skills (Part Two)
The third question requires you to draw a clock set to 10 past 11. You’re graded on three parts: Contour (it has to look mostly like a circle), numbers (you have to write down all 12 numbers), and hands (the hour hand has to be shorter than the minute hand and the hands must be centered on the clock). I wear a watch every day, so this one was easy. Not that I needed to glance at my wrist to get this question right…
Score so far: 5/30
Like the first question, the fourth question is also straight out of kindergarten! The test administrator points to three drawings of animals and asks what each animal is. The first drawing is of a lion.
“Lion,” I said.
The second drawing is of a rhinoceros.
“Rhino,” I said. Per the test’s instructions, this is an acceptable answer.
The third drawing is of a camel.
“Dromedary,” I said. Per the test’s instructions, this is an acceptable answer. (See, the drawing was of a single-hump camel, and single-humped camels are known as dromedaries. I wonder if Trump knew that.)
Score so far: 8/30
Memory (Part One)
You can’t receive any points for the fifth question; it’s a set-up for the tenth question. The administrator reads five words. Then, you have to read them back. For the tenth question, after five minutes have elapsed, you’re required to recite the words again, in any order. That’s when you get your points—one for each correctly remembered word.
“Face. Velvet. Church. Daisy. Red,” said April. (These are the words provided by the MoCA.)
“Face. Velvet. Church. Daisy. Red,” I said, followed by, “Boom.”
Score so far: 8/30
The sixth question is broken up into four parts. For the first part, the administrator reads the numbers 2, 1, 8, 5, and 4 aloud. You have to repeat them in order, and you get a point if you’re right. For the second part, the administrator reads 2, 4, and 7 aloud. You have to repeat them in reverse order, and you get a point if you’re right. Then, things get tricky.
For the third part, the administrator reads a series of letters aloud. You have to tap your hand every time you hear the letter A. The MoCA’s authors, however, structured this question so As are frequently followed by Js. I’ll confess: I almost slipped up a few times.
For the fourth and final part, you have to, starting at 100, repeatedly subtract 7 and say the number aloud until you get to 65. So: 93, 86, and so on. If you make it to 72 (or, of course, all the way to 65), you get three points.
Score so far: 14/30
The seventh question is classic “repeat after me.” The administrator reads two sentences. “I only know that John is the one to help today” and “The cat always hid under the couch when the dogs were in the room.” For each sentence you repeat correctly, you get a point. At this point, I’m killing it.
Score so far: 16/30
For the eighth question, a minute is put on the clock, you’re given a letter (F), and you have to name as many words as you can in that minute. If you get 11 or more, you get a point. Proper nouns are forbidden. As are numbers. And you can’t use words that “begin with the same sound but have a different suffix.” (The test cites “love, lover, and loving” as an example.) In the interest of complete and total honesty, I must confess that my passage of this question is tenuous, at best. In the first 17 seconds, I said 12 words. For the remaining 43 seconds, April and I argued about if I passed or not. Here are the words:
Fun. Flavorful. Free. Fearless. Foothold. Fussy. Fortnight. Fit. Fork. Fiddle. Folk. Fortify.
In case you didn’t catch it, three of those words start similarly. Fork, fortnight, fortify. In the end, April and I agreed that fortnight and fortify started similarly but that fork did not (due to the K). Feel free to have your own opinions, however.
Score so far: 17/30
For the ninth question, you have to explain how two sets of two objects are similar to each other. You get a point for each correct answer. The first pairing is “train and bicycle.”
I got out, “They are both essential forms of public transportation for navigating a dense urban—” before April stopped me and gave me a point.
The second pairing is “watch and ruler.”
“They both measure stuff.”
Score so far: 19/30
Delayed Recall: Memory (Part Two)
“Church. Face. Velvet. Red. Daisy.” (Easy. I’ve mastered the 10 Ways to Develop a Photographic Memory.)
Score so far: 24/30
For the final question, you’re required to name the current day, date, month, year, place (as in: “Best Life headquarters”), and city you’re in.
Score so far: 30/30
What I Learned
As you can see, this test isn’t exactly the SATs. Except for one minor disagreement on the eighth question, I flew through every single question. And chances are, if your brain has the power to process words and images, you’ll fly through it, too. (And take it from me: You’ll feel very presidential.)
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