In Australia under the White Australia Policy, the Dictation Test was a test given in bad faith to exclude non-whites and other undesirables. As one example, a Jewish communist was asked to be tested for his proficiency in Scots Gaelic.

I've heard that tests were given in bad faith with the real intention being to exclude African-Americans from voting in the United States.

Is there a term for tests or requirements given in bad faith?

  • 2
    "Discrimination" would seem to fit the bill.
    – user1530
    Dec 2, 2015 at 22:55
  • 1
    Maybe I am just translating too literally from Spanish, but the expression "tailored" comes to my mind (although in most use cases I remember, tailored meant to ensure that the pre-approved individuals had no trouble passing the test, not the other way around). Anyway, I think maybe you should ask in one of the English stackexchange (even if you want the word to describe a political situation).
    – SJuan76
    Dec 3, 2015 at 1:05
  • @SJuan76, the question might find more or quicker answers on English Language & Usage SE, but what it refers to is definitely a political phenomenon which turns up quite often. Jan 2, 2016 at 13:29

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure about Australia, but In the United States, if you use the word "Literacy Test" with in the context of voting, people will generally think about what you're describing.

In the period of time between the 1890s and the 1960s when some states required people to pass a literacy test to be able to vote. In many places, you could get around the test if you were the descendant of someone who could vote. This effectively prevented black people from voting, while at the same time allowed white people to vote.

  • Specifically if your grandfather could vote, thus the term "grandfathering" to describe someone/something being exempted from a requirement.
    – A. R.
    Aug 29, 2022 at 19:55

Although neither of these terms necessarily relates to tests, "covert racial discrimination" or "racial discrimination by stealth" would be fairly close to what you seek. If you wish to focus on the tests, you could use "deliberately impossible tests" or "tests designed to be failed". Alternatively, the phrase you used in the question, "tests given in bad faith", was quite clear to me.

A related phenomenon from economics is protectionist regulations imposed within the letter but against the spirit of free trade agreements between countries. For instance I was told that Switzerland demanded that fridges have dimensions slightly different from the standard anywhere else in the world, thus making it next to impossible to import foreign-made fridges but without openly prohibiting it. I feel almost sure that I have seen a term of art describing this practice which could be adapted to apply to covertly discriminatory tests on people, but my searches to find the term have not been successful.

Another possibility is to coin a new term based on the word gerrymandering, since this practice, like gerrymandering, is malicious manipulation of ostensibly fair rules for political advantage.

  • I'm not convinced that any or the examples that you've given are any more of an idiom than "test given in bad faith" was in the first place Jun 1, 2016 at 16:36

Per Google, the phrase "bad faith" is defined as such:

bad faith
   intent to deceive.
   "the owners have bargained in bad faith"
          - (in existentialist philosophy) refusal to confront facts or choices.

Following a Google search for the phrase "intent to deceive tests", I discovered an article titled "Airport security: Intent to deceive?" by the weekly scientific journal Nature. It detailed the TSA's methods of weaning out potential "terrorists" by means of specific questions that were meant to "pick out suspicious or anomalous behavior".

About half-way through the article, the phrase "controlled tests of deception" is coined which, in regards to the article, describes a training method that would "involve people posing as would-be terrorists and attempting to make it through airport security".

I believe "controlled tests of deception" answers your question because that is exactly what the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 permitted. Prospective immigrants could be administered dictation tests at the discretion of immigration officers which meant that although these tests could consist of any 50 words within any European language, the officer could purposefully subject the immigrant to a test that far exceeded their ability. In other words, the immigrants were led to believe (i.e, they were deceived) that they could be granted entry so long as they passed the dictation test. However, in the case of undesirables, those tests were all but impossible.

  • I'm pretty sure the Dictation Test didn't have to be in English.
    – Golden Cuy
    Dec 2, 2015 at 23:45
  • You are correct, I edited my answer.
    – Jay
    Dec 2, 2015 at 23:46

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