Inside the original IQ test at the NFL Combine


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One particular installment of the NFL Combine takes place inside a classroom, where NFL hopes straight out of officers’ chattering mouths and 40-yard dashes sweat bullets for 12 minutes.

They each have a test booklet, a Scantron-style response form, a pencil, and a blank piece of scrap paper laid out in front of them. At the head of the class is a supervisor. No whispering allowed, no cell phones either – just 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 has four pants, five shirts and six ties. How many days can a lawyer go without wearing the same combination of three items?

Players entered the classroom at different times, in groups of 60 to 100, divided into positions – tight ends, quarterbacks, special teams, running backs.

The Wonderlic asks them: Does the sum of three of the numbers on this list make 44? 21, 7, 34, 9, 15. And: Are the following two words similar, contradictory or unrelated?To improve and Entrance.

Some people wonder about this Wonderlic. What does a standardized cognitive aptitude test have to do with athletics on the field? Some players will see it as unimportant. Others have been preparing for months with sample quizzes.

And when the last circle is filled with the scribble of a pencil, the scores will be brought back to Wonderlic’s headquarters in Illinois and noted. These scores should be kept secret, provided only to NFL teams and agents.

But every year some score leak, which makes for some interesting treats – as former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck scored above average with a decent 37 of 50, while his predecessor Peyton Manning was perfectly average at 28. Colin Kaepernick got them both beaten 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 NFL fans something to talk about,” said Khirey Walker, assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology at Ball State University. “But overall, in my opinion, that absolutely does not indicate a player’s ability to play in the National Football League.”

14.4 seconds per question

Wonderlic – unsurprisingly – disagrees, calling the test a “valuable addition” to other NFL Combine metrics.

Similar to how an employer would be interested in cognitive abilities alongside a resume, experience, and references, NFL teams consider cognitive abilities alongside other data such as 40-yard run times, bench press reps, college stats (and more), ”Wonderlic’s Carmine Marano told IndyStar on Wednesday. “It’s a tool in an employer’s assessment toolbox.”

The idea is that mental quickness – such as that required for the test – translates into quick decision making on the court, said Will Drumright, mental conditioning trainer at InFocus Sports Training at Fishers. Drumright is working with NFL Prospects on their pre-Combine prep.

Fifty questions in 12 minutes, “if you do a quick math,” Drumright said, “players can go through a question for 14.4 seconds.”

“The test setup is stressful,” he said. “During a week where players are under constant physical, mental and medical scrutiny, the stress of the experience is a great time to challenge players to make split-second decisions.”

Questions about the Wonderlic aren’t too hard, former NFL offensive goaltender Geoff Schwartz said SB Nation.

“But they require you to think for a second,” he said. And 14.4 seconds per question?

“This is about the time you get to the line of scrimmage to process the play call, see the opposing unit and the ball is broken. That’s why the test is issued.”

A lot of people think players only train for the physical aspect of the combine, Schwartz said.

“We also spend time preparing the mental parts: how to answer interview questions; what message do you want to send to the teams, ”he said. “And (we) do the Wonderlic tests.”

“Wonderlic doesn’t matter”

Psychologist Eldon Wonderlic, then 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 US Navy began using it to select candidates for its pilot and navigation training programs. Since its adoption by the Navy, the test has been widely used for screening potential employees and in academia.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that football and Wonderlic got together, a marriage started 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.

Its obvious success, the NFL began using the Wonderlic as a measurement tool for prospects.

Whether this is important has been the subject of much discussion. A major academic study, however, found the Wonderlic to be 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, posted “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 receive a tackle or throw an interception.”

For the 2009 study, Lyons and 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 players in the offensive position and defensive were part of the study. Due to the small sample sizes, kickers and punters were excluded.

The study compared players’ Wonderlic scores with their soccer field stats. What the researchers found was that players’ high or low score on the test did not in any way correlate with how they played the sport.

There were a few outliers to that, said Lyons, associate professor of management at Elon University in North Carolina. For example, research found that for defensive backs, the lower Wonderlic’s scores, the better they performed in the NFL.

“It could just be that it’s an instinct type position, you can’t think about it too much,” Lyons said.

In a subsequent study conducted by the Lyon team in 2016, another peculiar treat was found.

“It’s a funny thing, but we found a correlation with deviance between players,” he said. “The lower the score, the more likely you are to get arrested on average. So I guess there is some value in there (the Wonderlic).”

Overall, Lyons said he believes the entire NFL Combine, and not just his Wonderlic side, could use a redesign “to make his content valid for the whole job of being in the NFL. “.

Not to mention the leaked scores that would have hurt some prospects.

The leaked scores mentioned in this story, while widely reported nationally, have not been confirmed by Wonderlic.

“Wonderlic staff attend the NFL Combine to administer and monitor the tests. All tests are then brought back to our office and scored,” the company said. “Test results are kept in our highly secure and encrypted system and are only shared with our client. Test results are only released to the appropriate representatives of the NFL Combine.”

Follow IndyStar Sports Journalist Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Contact her by e-mail: [email protected].


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