When the 332 players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine this season show up at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, they will most likely be focused on impressing coaches and general managers in the physical tests, such as the 40-yard dash and bench press.
While these physical activities make up the majority of a player's time at the combine, they also face an evaluation of their mental capacity in the form of the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test.
While the usefulness of the Wonderlic has often been questioned, and even the subject of academic studies, it doesn’t seem that the NFL will do away with the test anytime soon. Here’s a quick look at the history of the Wonderlic and its impact on the NFL.
History of the Wonderlic Test
The Wonderlic Test is an IQ test designed to test cognitive ability and be administered quickly. While there are more intensive IQ tests, like the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales or the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the Wonderlic Test consists of just 50 questions and has a 12-minute time limit.
The test was designed by E.F. Wonderlic, at the time a graduate student at Northwestern University, and was introduced in 1936. The test caught on during World War II, when the United States Navy starting administering it when deciding on candidates for its pilot training and navigating programs.
Since being adopted by the Navy, the test has also been used for screening potential employees and in academic settings.
But the test has earned its prominence through its association with the NFL Scouting Combine.
What kind of questions are on the test?
The Wonderlic Test is used to assess a person’s problem solving capabilities and ability to understand instructions. There are a number of different versions of the test, and the version given to NFL players tests the participant's math, language and logic skills. While the questions are not extremely difficult, the 12-minute time limit was designed so only two to five percent of average people finish all 50 questions.
Here are a few samples of questions that players might see on the test.
1. Are the following two words similar, contradictory, or not related?
C. Not Related
2. (15 ÷ 5) x (10 ÷ 2) =
3. A lawyer owns 4 pairs of pants, 5 dress shirts and 6 ties. How many days can the lawyer go without wearing the same combination of three items?
You can view a full sample test here.
How the test became associated with the NFL
The Wonderlic Test first appeared at the combine in the 1970’s, and its popularity in NFL circles is most often attributed to Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. Landry was known to put a lot of weight into the results of the test and kept it in consideration when it came to putting together his rosters. One of the biggest innovators in the history of football—he invented the 4-3 defense and popularized the shotgun formation—Landry won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the 1970’s.
Does the test predict NFL success?
Despite being a big part of the NFL combine for more than four decades, there does not seem to be a correlation between poor Wonderlic scores and a mediocre NFL career. While coaches and general managers like to see players score around average in their position group, there are plenty of examples of very successful players who “failed” the test.
Among quarterbacks that scored well below their position average of 24 are Terry Bradshaw (16), Dan Marino (15) and Jim Kelly (15), all of whom had Hall of Fame careers. Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair and Daunte Culpepper all excelled in the NFL at the quarterback position despite not faring well on the Wonderlic.
Extremely high scores have not necessarily translated into NFL success. In fact, of the players that posted the 10 highest scores all time, only punter Pat McInally went to a Pro Bowl.
How some NFL players have fared
Notable players who finished above their position's average
• P Pat McInally 50 (only perfect score)
• QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 48 (finished the test in a record nine minutes)
• QB Greg McElroy 48
• TE Benjamin Watson 48
• WR Calvin Johnson 41
• QB Tom Brady 33
• QB Marcus Mariota 33
• QB Johnny Manziel 32
• QB Peyton Manning 28
Notable players who finished below their position's average
• QB Brett Favre 22
• QB Donovan McNabb 14
• WR Keyshawn Johnson 11
• QB Vince Young 6 (16 on second try)
• RB Frank Gore 6
• CB Morris Claiborne 4 (lowest score ever recorded)