The NFL SATs: A One-On-One With the Wonderlic Mastermind

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The most famous test in sports that doesn't require urinating in a cup is the Wonderlic.

Officially the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test, it is closely associated with draft-eligible quarterbacks in the same way corners and receivers are tagged with 40-yard sprint times. But all prospective NFL players take the Wonderlic — offensive tackles are known to score the highest of all of them, running backs the lowest. Some have famously aced it (Harvard man Ryan Fitzpatrick is said to have scored a 48 out of 50) and some have infamously bombed it (Frank Gore reportedly posted a 6, no word on how much his name was worth).


In Wonderlic lore, only one player has posted a perfect score on the test: Bengals WR Pat McInally in 1975. He, not surprisingly, also graduated from Harvard.

One of the stations players go through at the NFL scouting combine each year, the Wonderlic is a timed IQ test that consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. Players are given a bubble sheet and a No. 2 pencil and get 12 minutes to complete the test. Wonderlic grades the tests, encrypts the results, and sends them back to the NFL.

The results then follow a player through his entire career only if they are embarrassingly low or remarkably high. Here's an example of the kind of questions on the Wonderlic:

1. Which of the following is the earliest date?
A) Jan. 16, 1898
B) Feb. 21, 1889
C) Feb. 2, 1898
D) Jan. 7, 1898
E) Jan. 30, 1889

2. LOW is to HIGH as EASY is to ?
J) SUCCESSFUL
K) PURE
L) TALL
M) INTERESTING
N) DIFFICULT

3. What is the next number in the series? 29 41 53 65 77 ?
J) 75
K) 88
L) 89
M) 98
N) 99

(See the correct answers below.)

Michael Callans is the vice president of research and development at Wonderlic. He's been with the company since 1990 and knows more about the test than most people on the planet. We caught up with Callans to learn more about the most famous exam this side of the SAT.

What other industries outside of the NFL use the Wonderlic?
We've got 3000 clients and we've got such a wide mix of businesses that it would be hard to categorize as one type or another. We've got mom-and-pop shops that might have one or two employees and might be looking to add one more person. We have Fortune 500 companies that are using a much more complicated hiring process. We're really big and strong in the areas of healthcare and finance. But we're also deeply involved in food services and retail.

The NFL is an anomaly to us. It really is. In some ways their use of the test is unconventional. But in some ways it is conventional because it's eventual employees of a business. But they are not in the business that we typically sell to.

Are NFL prospects taking the same test given to food service employees?
We have a lot of tests and our employers use a wide variety, from personality, math skills, clerical skills, and this test. This is a test called cognitive ability, mostly known as an intelligence test, and the questions that the NFL uses, the test forms, are the same that are used in any industry.

What can you glean from the test? What does the Wonderlic tell an employer that they wouldn't otherwise know?
Research shows that intelligence is the best predictor of future job performance. When people come to apply to a job and they provide a high school degree or a college degree or some certification, those aren't really standard. A high school degree from one high school or from one college is different from a degree from another school. Just like if you are graduating from a Harvard or an MIT's ability level, that's going to be different than if you graduated from a community college. What this test does is puts everyone on the same scale. It standardizes the cognitive ability, intelligence, of a person. We know, regardless of where they've been and how they've gotten there, their ability to solve problems and to react the way they need to react on the job.

The test gets a lot of publicity for how QBs fare, but do all players take it?
They do. Every position. What happens is, at the combine, the positions are divided into groups. As the days proceed and the players go through different stations, one of those stations is the assessment station where they take our test.

Have you taken the NFL's Wonderlic test?
Yes, I have. Every employee at Wonderlic has taken one of our tests as they exist.


It's assumed that scoring well on the Wonderlic indicates you might be an excellent NFL football player. So would you go that far?
That's a trick question. If you look at who scores the best on the test, you're talking about someone who went to Harvard, Yale, MIT. They're going to knock it out of the park. But it doesn’t indicate they are the best football players, otherwise you'd see those teams be the best teams in the country and they're not, although Harvard had a decent year.

The most important thing is athleticism. But when you consider any sport has a degree of mental edge to it — I love the Yogi Berra quote, "sports are 80 percent athletic and the other half is mental" — you have to take some aspect of mental ability into it. If you have the best of the best football players, how can a team get a little more information about who's going to succeed beyond their athleticism?

The Redskins have a 700-page playbook... these playbooks are astronomically large and there are some players who have a really hard time getting through understanding what they are supposed to be doing out on the field. It takes a lot more coaching on their part and they make more mistakes.

To your knowledge, has any player ever attempted to cheat on the Wonderlic?
I wouldn't tell you if I did, but quite honestly I'm not familiar with any person who has cheated on the test. We are aware that people try to get a hold of the test and agents, for example, would like to have their players practice with it. They'll call and ask us if they can order one of the tests to have their player practice. Is that cheating? Or are they merely trying to make the most of the situation where they want to put their player in the best light? I'm not aware of someone coming with a cheat sheet or they had someone else take it. I'm sure with a test that is as important in that situation, someone have tried.

Is there any way to study for this test?
No. Not really. There's so many types of questions being asked, you can't practice for any one form. The best thing is to make sure you have a clear mind and the right motivation when you take it. If there's a certain level of anxiety, that's OK. If you took the test and you're too relaxed you might not do well; if you're overly anxious, you might have problems. But it's been made in a way that those factors are not prominent in relation to test scores.

But no, there's no practice. We've looked at it, and it doesn't really improve test scores.

Correct answers: 1. E, 2. N, 3. L

Wonderlic© questions courtesy of wonderlic.com.