After a fitful night’s sleep, Cia leaves for the town square, accompanied by her father. She is nervous about what he told her, including stories of candidates using poison to eliminate their competition. Cia joins Michal, the magistrate, Tomas and Malachi, waiting by Michal’s skimmer. Michal gives Cia a silver bracelet with an engraved charm. The design is an eight-pointed star with a lightning bolt in the middle. This is the symbol for her testing group, which have been predetermined based on the candidates' skill sets in numerous areas.
Zandri shows up late, making a defiant show that she cannot be controlled. After the group leaves for Tosu City, she makes it clear to the others that she does not care about going to University. Tomas laughs off her assertion and changes the subject in order to put everyone at ease. When Zandri and Malachi take a nap in their seats, Tomas and Cia get a chance to talk. They notice they are in the same group. When Tomas mentions he is hungry, Michal’s voice comes over the intercom to say they are stopping for lunch soon. Cia thinks it is odd that Michal popped into their conversation at just the right time, and she then notices a hidden camera.
During their lunch break, Cia notices another camera. Michal sees her looking at it, and he gives her a knowing smile that she finds odd. Afterward, she asks if she can walk around outside for a few minutes. Later, Tomas finds her in the woods. He knows that something is wrong, and Cia decides to let him in on the secret her father told her.
Tomas suggests that the two stick together and keep an eye out for each other’s safety during the Testing. They remain hyper-aware that they are being observed during the rest of the skimmer ride to Tosu City. When they reach the capital, Cia is impressed with its glittering opulence and wealth, yet she also notices all the homeless and poor people on the sidewalks.
Cia, Tomas, Zandri and Malachi arrive at the Testing facility, which is stark and efficient. The group enters the dining hall and is met with stares from the other 104 candidates. They are the first candidates from the Five Lakes Colony in a decade, and many see their presence as a joke.
After dinner, the candidates are shown to their rooms. Cia meets roommate Ryme Reynolds, a prim girl from Dixon Colony. Cia is impressed by how welcoming Ryme is and how put together she looks. Before bed, Ryme offers Cia some corncakes that she brought with her from home. Paranoid, Cia declines and notices the next morning that Ryme has not eaten any corncakes herself, even though Cia can hear her stomach growling. She makes a mental note to keep count of the corncakes. After breakfast, the candidates are separated into their symbol groups. The Testing is designed to whittle the 108 students down to 20, so Cia feels the pressure to perform perfectly.
The first round is a series of written exams designed to assess aptitude in a variety of subjects. During the first section, Cia answers questions about the history of the United Commonwealth and the Seven Stages of War that ravaged the country. The next test is math, and Cia worries when she does not complete the section. During a break, Cia and Ryme discuss the tests back in their room. Ryme says that she’s fine with the tests being difficult because it helps weed out the people who do not belong in the Testing. Conscious of being observed even in the facility, Cia remains neither combative nor argumentative.
During dinner, the Five Lakes candidates discuss how they did not finish the math portion. Will and Gill, brothers from the Madison Colony, overhear their confession and join the conversation, relieved to admit they did not finish the math section, either. The six candidates sit around joking around late into the night.
The written test concludes the following day, with science and language skills sections. Cia finishes with ten minutes left to spare. Back in their room, Ryme tries to taunt Cia. When Cia mentions that she did not complete the science section, Ryme takes the opportunity to tell Cia that the Five Lakes schools are worse than Dixon schools. This upsets Cia, so she lashes back by interrogating Ryme on whether or not she finished the language skills test. After she can tell that Ryme did not complete the test, Cia warns Ryme to pack her bags and be sure to take her untouched corncakes with her. Ryme retorts, and the two girls stay quiet until dinner.
Soon into dinner, the Testing leader Dr. Jedidiah Barnes calls Cia to meet with him and a group of officials. Cia is worried that she has failed and will be sent home, but Dr. Barnes asks her when she last saw Ryme. The group heads to Cia’s room and opens the door, and Cia sees Ryme’s body hanging from the light fixture on the ceiling.
Each of the four candidates has a very different personality. Cia and Tomas are the most similar in disposition, as both want everyone to get along and will work hard to make people feel better. Malachi feels lucky to be among the candidates because he comes from a poor family. Riding in a skimmer and seeing Tosu City are opportunities he would have never had if he stayed in Five Lakes Colony.
Zandri, though, is the most high-spirited of the group. She makes it known that she does not want to go to University and only comes along under the penalty of death. When she shows up late, she makes it clear to the officials that they have no power over her or her actions. She will comply with their laws, but she will fight them in her own way.
Out of all four, Cia is the most observant. She notices the hidden cameras almost immediately. Thanks to her father’s warning, she deduces that the Testing started as soon as they entered the skimmer with Michal. After she tells Tomas, they both put on their best act for the rest of the trip to Tosu City. They know it’s the best way to keep the officials from suspecting they know about the constant surveillance.
The level of spying that the Testing officials use on the candidates is reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, the government uses cameras and spies to keep a close eye on its citizens. The phrase “Big Brother is watching” comes from this story, as the leader of the government was known as Big Brother. This same theme runs deep within The Testing as the candidates are being watched and listened to at all times. Cia is forced to censor herself in order to keep herself, Tomas, and her family out of risk. This intense scrutiny can be considered a metaphor for both the pressure of being assessed during the college application period, or the general feeling of being watched by authority figures and/or peers, exacerbated in part by social media. In its heightened way, The Testing communicates normal fears and pressures young adults face in daily life.
Another theme that occurs in the novel is class inequality. When reaching Tosu City, the disparity between the gleaming city and the abject poverty of its citizens is shocking for Cia and Tomas. The same idea occurs when Cia sees how many of the candidates from poorer colonies are heaping piles of food on their plates. For many, this is the first time they have seen food in abundance. While the Five Lakes Colony has been fortunate, Cia knows that not all other colonies were lucky. Her class and privilege is something she does not take for granted.
While Ryme’s offering of corncakes seemed to be a generous offer at first, Cia notices how she does not touch the corncakes herself, regardless of how hungry she is. With her father’s warning in her head, Cia knows that something is wrong with the corncakes and makes a mental note to keep count of the corncakes on the plate. This corncake trick was Ryme’s attempt at getting rid of her competition. Though she tried to save face with Cia by making Cia feel academically inferior, Ryme could not outsmart her roommate. She eventually folded under the pressure and killed herself, making her the first victim of the Testing. The extreme reactions of the candidates - Ryme's suicide, Zandri's protest, Will and Gill's relief - highlight the pressures each candidate will face over the course of the Testing. Again, these emotions are shades of what normal teenagers may feel during the competitive years of high school dedicated to mapping out their future.