The Wonderlic Test: Are you smarter than an NFL rookie?

By Jeff Nixon
Jan. 31, 2016

On February 23, 2016 over three hundred of the very best college football players will be invited to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana. Top Executives, Coaching Staffs, Player Personnel Departments and Medical Personnel from all 32 NFL teams will be on hand to evaluate the nation’s top college football players eligible for the upcoming NFL Draft. 

In 1979, when I was being scouted by the NFL, the combines were still in their formative stages and many teams would simply send scouts directly to college campuses to test players. I remember the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys sending their scouts to check me out, kick my tires and take a look under my hood. They all tested me for speed, strength, endurance and agility, but only one of them tested me for intelligence - the Dallas Cowboys. Their head coach, Tom Landry, believed it could be used as a predictor of success in pro football. 

The Cowboy's scout never told me how I scored on the test, so I don’t know if America’s Team passed on drafting me because I scored too low, or too high. I can only hope that it was the latter. At the time I took the test - and all the way up to 2009 - no one knew if the test was a true predictor of a success in the NFL, because no studies had been conducted. Nonetheless, all teams started using it, and to this day it is still a part of the overall testing that is conducted at the NFL Combines.

The Wonderlic Test measures a player's cognitive ability. It consists of 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in 12 minutes. The score is calculated as the number of correct answers given in the allotted time. You can take a sample test here to see how you did compared to other NFL rookies who took the test. Here's a tip: Skip the hard questions - but make sure you guess the answer before going on to the next question. 

The NFL rookie scores are not publicly released, however many scores, especially the extremely high or low ones, are leaked. Here are the 15 players with the best reported Wonderlic scores.  You can see some other memorable scores at the Sports Illustrated website here. 

The only perfect score in Combine history belongs to P/WR Pat McInally. He scored a perfect 50 on the test.

The fact that the NFL is still using the Wonderlic Test is a little surprising, because in 2009 researchers conducted an analysis of the Wonderlic Test and GMA (General Mental Ability) and published their results in a paper entitled An Examination of the Impact of Intelligence on NFL Performance.  A total of 762 NFL players, from three draft classes, were included in their sample. So what did they find? The study concluded that there is no correlation between test scores and performance.Their results indicated that GMA was unrelated to (a) future NFL performance, (b) selection decisions during the NFL Draft, and (c) the number of games started in the NFL.

So why are they still using the Wonderlic test…… you may Wonder?

If I had to guess, I would say that NFL teams are still a little worried when a player has a score that is either very low or very high. And why would a high score worry them?  Alabama QB Greg McElroy scored 48 out of 50 possible points, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk thinks that scoring too high can be as much of a problem as scoring too low. 

In 2013, the NFL also started experimenting with a new test called the Player Assessment Tool (PAT).  Ray Anderson hailed the PAT as an "exciting innovation that brings updated best practices from corporate America to NFL football operations." Anderson said the test measures "learning styles, motivation, decision-making skills, responding to pressure or unexpected stimuli, and core intellect."  Anderson said the test is not meant to replace the Wonderlic, but he says the new test will offer "much more robust and comprehensive" player assessment. 

The writer of this article believes the Wonderlic test still matters and that “To overvalue it would be foolish; but to ignore its results would render a team as "dumb" as any football player who has ever flunked it.”

I’m glad I never found out how I scored on the test.  You know what they say......ignorance is bliss.