Take the test and see how you compare to NFL players.
A peculiar slice of the NFL Combine is taking place inside a classroom, where NFL hopefuls straight from the schmoozing mouths of agents and 40-yard dashes are sweating bullets for 12 minutes.
They each have a test booklet, a Scantron style answer form, a pencil and a blank sheet of scratch paper laid out in front of them. At the head of the classroom is a proctor. No whispering allowed, no cell phones either — nothing but a football player and his mind for the next 720 seconds.
There are 50 questions to answer on this IQ test called the Wonderlic.
Questions like: A lawyer owns four pairs of pants, five dress shirts and six ties. How many days can the lawyer go without wearing the same combination of three items?
The players have filed into the classroom at different times, in groups of 60 to 100, broken down by positions — tight ends, quarterbacks, special teams, running backs.
The Wonderlic asks them: Do three of the numbers from this list add up to 44? 21, 7, 34, 9, 15. And: Are the following two words similar, contradictory, or not related?Enhance and entrance.
Some wonder about this Wonderlic. What does a standardized cognitive ability test have to do with athleticism on the field? Some players will blow it off as unimportant. Others have been preparing with sample quizzes for months.
And when the last circle is filled in with the scribble of a pencil, the scores will be taken back to Wonderlic’s Illinois headquarters and scored. Those scores are to be kept secret, provided only to NFL teams and agents.
Denver Broncos Peyton Manning shakes hands with Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck after a game. Both took the Wonderlic test. (Photo: Matt Kryger/IndyStar)
But each year some scores leak, making for interesting tidbits — like former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck scored above average with a 37 out of 50 correct, while his predecessor Peyton Manning was perfectly average at 28. Colin Kaepernick beat them both with a 38. The only player ever known to get a flawless Wonderlic 50 is former Bengal Pat McInally.
And yet, does it really matter?
“The Wonderlic test gives fans of the NFL something to talk about,” said Khirey Walker, assistant professor in the school of kinesiology at Ball State University. “But overall, in my opinion, it absolutely does not indicate a player’s ability to play in the National Football League.”
14.4 seconds per question
Wonderlic — no surprise — disagrees, calling the test a “valuable complement” to other measures at the NFL Combine.
“Similar to how an employer would be interested in cognitive ability alongside resume, experience and references, NFL teams consider cognitive ability alongside other data such as 40-yard dash times, bench press reps, college statistics (and more),” Wonderlic’s Carmine Marano told IndyStar Wednesday. “It is one tool in an employer’s toolkit of evaluation.”
The idea is that mental quickness — such as that required on the test — translates into quick decision-making on the field, said Will Drumright, a mental conditioning coach with InFocus Sports Training in Fishers. Drumright works with NFL hopefuls on their pre-Combine preparation.
Will Drumright is an expert in sports psychology and a Ball State University graduate. (Photo: Provided by Will Drumright)
Fifty questions in 12 minutes, “if you do some quick math,” Drumright said, “that’s 14.4 seconds players can spend per question.”
“The setup of the test is stressful,” he said. “During a week where players are constantly being scrutinized physically, mentally and medically, the stress of the experience is a great time to challenge players to make split second decisions.”
The questions on the Wonderlic aren’t overly difficult, former NFL offensive guard Geoff Schwartz told SB Nation.
“But they require you to think for a second,” he said. And 14.4 seconds per question?
“That’s about the time you get at the line of scrimmage to process the play call, see the opposing unit and the ball is snapped. That’s why the test is delivered.”
Former NFLer Geoff Schwartz says, yes, NFL Combine prospects practice for the Wonderlic. (Photo: Provided by NFL)
Many people assume players just train for the physical aspect of the combine, Schwartz said.
“We also spend time preparing for the mental parts: how to answer interview questions; what message do you want to get out to the teams,” he said. “And (we) practice Wonderlic tests.”
‘Wonderlic doesn’t matter’
Psychologist Eldon Wonderlic, at the time a graduate student at Northwestern University, developed his namesake test in the 1930s. He introduced it to the world in 1936.
During World War II, the test gained popularity when the U.S. Navy starting using it to pick candidates for its pilot training and navigating programs. Since being adopted by the Navy, the test has widely been used for screening potential employees and in academic settings.
But it wasn’t until the 1970s, that football and Wonderlic came together, a marriage launched by former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. During his tenure — he coached the Cowboys from 1960 to 1988 — Landry used the Wonderlic to assess his players.
When he suggested the test to the NFL in the 1970s, the league took a look. After all, Landry led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl appearances in four years between 1975 and 1978.
His success evident, the NFL started using the Wonderlic as a measurement tool for prospects.
Whether it matters has been cause for great discussion. One major academic study, however, found the Wonderlic is virtually useless in predicting NFL play.
“Pretty much, the Wonderlic doesn’t matter,” said Brian D. Lyons, who along with co-authors Brian Hoffman and John Michel published “Not Much More Than g? An Examination of the Impact of Intelligence on NFL Performance.” “It doesn’t really predict whether you’re going to get a tackle or throw an interception.”
For the 2009 study, Lyons and his colleagues looked at 762 football players — 256 selected in the 2002 NFL Draft, 257 in the 2003 draft, and 249 in the 2004 draft. All traditional offensive and defensive position players were part of the study. Due to low sample sizes, kickers and punters were excluded.
The study compared the players’ Wonderlic scores with their stats on the football field. What the researchers found was that how high or low the players had scored on the test did not correlate in any way to how they played the sport.
There were some outliers to that, said Lyons, an associate professor of management at Elon University in North Carolina. For example, the research found that for defensive backs, the lower the scores on the Wonderlic, the better they performed in the NFL.
“That could just be that it’s an instinct type of position, you can’t overthink it,” Lyons said.
In a later study conducted by Lyons’ team in 2016, another peculiar tidbit was found.
“It’s a funny thing, but we found a correlation with off-duty deviance among the players,” he said. “The lower the score, the more likely you’ll get arrested on average. So I guess there is a little bit of value there to (the Wonderlic).”
Overall, Lyons said he thinks the entire NFL Combine, not just the Wonderlic side of it, could use a revamp “to make its content valid to the whole job of being in the NFL.”
Not to mention, leaked scores have been alleged to hurt certain prospects.
The leaked scores mentioned in this story, while widely reported nationally, were not confirmed by Wonderlic.
“Wonderlic staff attend the NFL Combine to administer and proctor the tests. All tests are then taken back to our office and scored,” the company said. “The test results are kept in our highly secure, encrypted system and are not shared with anyone but our client. Test scores are released only to appropriate NFL Combine representatives.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: email@example.com.