"Test" Summary

Test” is a 1962 science fiction story about a young man who takes a frightening simulated driver's test.

  • Robert Proctor is out driving, accompanied by his mother, when he becomes involved in a violent car crash and loses consciousness.
  • When Robert wakes up, a uniformed man tells him he has just experienced a simulated test while under hypnosis, and he can now sign the form to apply for his driver's license.
  • As soon as he signs, men in lab coats appear and drag Robert away, as his willingness to drive after the simulated accident makes him a danger to society.

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Last Updated on March 22, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 921

On a cool May morning, young Robert Proctor is out for a drive with his mother. A good driver for his age, Robert is enjoying the trip, feeling both rested and alert. The traffic in his lane is light. As Robert begins to approach a turnpike, he notices a blue convertible and a truck in front of him. Robert notes that the blue convertible is “content to stay in line” behind the truck, and he begins to overtake the car as the truck turns. Though Robert’s speed is a few miles an hour above the turnpike limit, he feels his car is under “perfect control.” However, just as Robert draws up to the convertible, it abruptly swings out from behind the truck, hitting his car near its right fender. The impact causes Robert’s car to tilt to its side, on the shoulder close to the turnpike’s median strip. Wisely, Robert does not slam the brakes, since that would further jolt the car. Instead, he turns the steering wheel, attempting to right his car.

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The car continues to sink into the left shoulder, threatening to cross the island dividing the two lanes and careen into the lane carrying a steady stream of traffic. As Robert wrestles with the steering wheel, the front left wheel hits a rock and blows out, and the car begins to spin off to the left side and partway into oncoming traffic. Panic-stricken, Robert’s mother begins to scream. A car hits their vehicle, and Robert is pushed farther left. He is thrown into his mother’s lap while his mother slams into the right door of their car. Robert grabs hold of the steering wheel again and attempts to stop the car’s out-of-control spin. His mother continues to lie against the door, screaming helplessly. Finally, his car begins to slow down, and Robert tries to turn off the pike.

However, another car looms in front of him seconds before he can reach safety. The expression of the driver of the car is horrified, since he knows a crash is inevitable. Robert notes a curly-haired girl in the seat beside the man, sleeping peacefully. Robert is jolted not by the fear in the man’s face, but by “the trust in the face of the sleeping girl.” As the two cars bang into each other at a high speed, Robert can’t hear a crash, but only the sound of his mother’s screams. He feels something push into his stomach before the world goes gray and then black. As Robert seems to sink into unconsciousness, he realizes his mother’s scream was never a continuous sound. It had been only a single scream ringing in his ears.

When Robert begins to wake up from what feels like “the bottom of a deep black well,” he can faintly sense a growing light and a rumbling sound. As he rises and opens his eyes with great effort, he sees a familiar-looking man in a “blue uniform” sitting next to him. Robert recognizes that he is lying back in a chair and can move his arms and legs. It is at this point that the reader and Robert both begin to understand the true sequence of events. The uniformed man tells Robert that he has just taken the “last part of his driver’s test.” Robert has been experiencing a hyper-real simulation, “hypnotized” to think he was involved in a car accident. According to the uniformed test administrator, such simulations are a routine part of driver’s license tests nowadays and help drivers become more aware of the consequences of their potential mistakes. Still reeling from the effects of the hypnosis, Robert can visualize the sleeping girl. He understands that had the accident been real, the girl would have gone from her restful sleep to the “dark sleep of death.” Even worse would have been his own mother’s death.

The officer asks Robert to sign an application if he still wants to obtain a driver’s license. As Robert signs the application, he notices that two men in white lab coats have appeared on the scene, standing on either side of him. He feels inexplicably angry at their presence. However, before he can object, the officer informs him that not only has Robert failed his license test, he is also “sick” and in need of treatment. The two men in lab coats grab Robert, preparing to take him away. Stupefied, Robert wants to know what is happening. The uniformed man tells him that the very act of signing the application has doomed him. After the horrors of the simulation, Robert should not have wanted to apply for a license for many months. His immediate willingness to drive after the simulation suggests that “killing people” doesn’t seem to bother him, says the officer. Though Robert is a threat to society, the uniformed man reassures him that the men in white coats will take “good care” of him and “fix him up.”

As the men haul him away, Robert is still in a state of disbelief. He asks the uniformed man if the simulation is still continuing. The man informs Robert that what is happening is real, though Robert can apply for his driver’s license later. Robert is pulled out of the room, his knees stiff and his feet dragging on the ground. The motion is easy because the rubber heels of Robert’s shoes are sliding along “the two grooves worn on the floor.”

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