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In this day of national, standardized tests, where everybody is measured against everybody else, where comparative scores on the LSAT, the MSAT, the GRE, the MAT, the SAT, and the ACT provide or deny the best of educational and professional opportunities, it is encouraging to discover that the TOL (Test of Life) is personalized. There are some questions that every participant must answer correctly, some truths that every learner must comprehend, some ordinances that are indispensable for obtaining a passing grade, but most of the problems are individualized, prepared (or permitted) by a loving Teacher who tests and grades each of us on the basis of our abilities, desires, and opportunities.

Even in circumstances where groups are involved in the same activity and face the same general problems, individuals will discover highly personal challenges that they alone must solve. One son in a family might have diabetes, another amblyopia, another remarkable athletic skills but little self-discipline, another a gentle, sweet disposition and an inclination to obedience. They live in the same house, listen to the same Family Home Evening lessons, attend the same schools, and eat the same meals, but their copies of the Test are not identical. The basic objectives of the Testing Center experience are the same, but the intermediate problems that lead to those objectives are often so variant that they boggle the mind.

As we consider here the individualized nature of the Test, we will not distinguish between problems prepared by the Teacher and those simply permitted by Him. We will make such a distinction under Rule #8, however.

Consider the experience of one family, leaving Jerusalem for the Judean wilderness and the Arabian Peninsula. The following represent questions that might be found on four tests for four individuals from the family of the prophet Lehi.

Test of Life


INSTRUCTIONS: This exam is open book, take home, and multiple choice. You must try to solve every problem. Do your best work. Get help if you need it.

#1. Call Jerusalem to repentance, even though the people try to kill you.

#2. Take your family and depart into the wilderness. Leave everything else behind. Wait for further instructions.

#3. Get Laman and Lemuel to go along.

#4. Get your group, including little children and pregnant women, across the most desolate sand desert on earth.

–Do not start fires
–Eat raw meat
–Follow the little arrows

#5. Etc.

Test of Life 


INSTRUCTIONS: This exam is open book, take home, and multiple choice. You must try and solve every problem. Do your best work. Get help if you need it.

#1. Leave your house, your precious things, and all your belongings and follow your husband into the wilderness because he had a dream.

#2. Allow your husband to send your sons 180 miles back through the wilderness to Jerusalem on a very dangerous mission.

#3. Don’t complain or murmur. Have faith in your husband.

#4. Spend eight years in the desert, traveling about eighteen hundred miles, and have kids while your daughters-in-law are having kids.

#5. Etc.

Test of Life


INSTRUCTIONS: This exam is open book, take home, and multiple choice. You must try and solve every problem. Do your best work. Get help if you need it.

#1. Obey your father, even if you think he’s crazy.

#2. Return to Jerusalem, 180 miles, for the scriptures, which you don’t like to read anyway.

#3. Go alone to visit a wicked, violent man, and ask him to give you something very valuable.

#4. Don’t get angry if you nearly lose your life and do lose all the precious stuff your family has.

#5. Allow your little brother to be your teacher and ruler.

#6. Help Nephi build an ocean liner.

#7. Etc.

Test of Life


INSTRUCTIONS: This exam is open book, take home, and multiple choice. You must try and solve every problem. Do your best work. Get help if you need it.

#1. Trust your father, no matter how strange he is acting. Find out for yourself if he is inspired.

#2. Get the plates and kill Laban.

#3. Never give up, even if everybody else does.

#4. Feed the family when they are starving.

#5. Never lose hope for your brothers, even when they try to kill you.

#6. Teach your brothers how they ought to act each time they rebel, even though most of the time they will beat the stuffing out of you for it.

#7. Build a ship to cross the Pacific Ocean.

#8. Etc.

We react in different ways to the same situations because of our spiritual preparation, our personalities, and our priorities. Because of this, every Test is personalized, both in the way it is administered and the way it is evaluated. Notice how Nephi and his two oldest brothers view identical circumstances. This is Nephi’s commentary.

“And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness.

“And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings” (1 Nephi 17:1-2).

Laman and Lemuel experienced the same conditions, but reacted to them in a different manner.

“And thou [Nephi] art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions” (1 Nephi 17:20).

While Nephi was rejoicing in the goodness of the Teacher and the support and help He had rendered to the women of the expedition, Laman and Lemuel proclaimed that the females would have been better off dead than to have suffered what they had suffered.

For a number of years during high school and college, I worked in a factory where we fashioned tin cans for use in processing and marketing vegetables. We worked under critical standards of similarity, where differences were measured with a micrometer, and any deviations beyond specified allowances caused the manufacturing line to shut down for adjustments. To the degree that it was mechanically possible and practical, we made a concerted effort to treat every piece of metal in the same way, so that all the cans would be identical.

In the Testing Center, where souls are fashioned for godhood, no such standards of similarity exist. Individuality is a divine inheritance, and that individuality is encouraged by the Test.

When I taught Church History for college-age students years ago, a computer was available to teachers to help in the preparation of tests. The files contained hundreds of questions dealing with events and chronology. Under headings such as “The Boyhood of Joseph Smith” or “The Kirtland Temple” or “Zion’s Camp” were collections of items that could be selected and used in the formulation of a test.

Individual copies of the Test of Life are not derived from an item pool. No overworked secretary sits at a terminal selecting questions at random: those problems selected by the Teacher are designed specifically for us, to help us and bless us and to give us experience.

“Obviously, the personal burdens of life vary from person to person, but every one of us has them. Furthermore, each trial in life is tailored to the individual=s capacities and needs as known by a loving Father in Heaven” (Howard W. Hunter, ACome unto Me,@ Ensign, Nov. 1990, p.18).

Elder McConkie explained it this way:

“Our Eternal Father knows all of his spirit children, and in his infinite wisdom, he chooses the very time that each comes to earth to gain a mortal body and undergo a probationary experience. Everything the Lord does is for the benefit and blessing of his children. And each of those children is subjected to the very trials and experiences that Omniscient Wisdom knows he should have” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah, p.660,661).

We must appreciate what the Teacher is doing for us in this matter. The problems we face, in their simplicity or in their complexity, have an intensely personal dimension. They are, with divine purpose, ours and ours alone. We are not expected to solve the problems on anyone else’s Test, even though at times we might like to trade exam papers. Most of us have looked at our own circumstances and have wondered what we might have done wrong to be tested in ways that seem so much more rigorous than the challenges of others. If such thoughts have crossed your mind, consider this:

“Some are tested by poor health, some by a body that is deformed or homely. Others are tested by handsome and healthy bodies; some by the passion of youth; others by the erosions of age.

“Some suffer disappointment in marriage, family problems; others live in poverty and obscurity. Some (perhaps this is the hardest test) find ease and luxury.

“All are part of the test, and there is more equality in this testing than sometimes we suspect” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Choice,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 21).

Trust in that equality. The Teacher will not unfairly burden any of his students with the problems He places on their Test. We may perceive rampant inequality in the contrast between our Test and someone else’ s, but the Love of the Teacher is not as erratic as that. One day from a more distant perspective we will see conclusively that there was no unfairness in the Testing at all.

Conway Twitty shared a story that helped him move on when it seemed that life was inequitable. He told a of a great Christian who had spent decades in the Orient preaching the gospel. By chance he returned to the United States on the same boat with a celebrated performer who had been in the same country for only two weeks. When the boat came to the harbor, the missionary saw a great crowd of enthusiastic people waiting to welcome the entertainer, but there was no one there to welcome him.

He prayed in words something like this: “Lord, this is not fair. I gave forty-two years of my life to your work in China. This man gave only two weeks. But now we have returned and there are thousands here to welcome him home, and not one person to welcome me.”

And then he heard a voice that said, “Son, you’re not home yet” (See Wilbur Cross and Michael Kosser, The Conway Twitty Story, [Doubleday]).

The preceding is Rule # 7 of Ted Gibbons’ series on how to pass the Test of Life. It comes from his book, ‘This Life is a Test.’ If you would like to get your own e-copy of the entire book, send $5.00 to the PayPal account of lydiagi[email protected]  Please choose the PayPal option “Friends and Family.” We will email you an e-copy of the book.