Multiple Choice in the NFL

Every year, college football players come together at the NFL scouting combine with one and the same goal, playing in the NFL. In order to pursue this dream, players are pushed to their limit through a variety of tests and evaluations that examine both their physical and mental abilities. The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test, by far the most controversial assessment, is used to determine a player’s ability to problem-solve and learn new skills. Every year, fans eagerly await the release of these scores. But can a test that has 50 multiple choice questions and has to be completed in only 12 minutes accurately predict whether or not a player will become a star? I doubt it. If you were picking players, how much of your decision would be based on an intelligence test?

Supposedly, a high Wonderlic test score (the average for QB being 24 out of 50) indicates that a player is capable of making good snap decisions. It goes without saying that this is a very valuable and highly demanded ability to have on the field, especially for quarterbacks. Nevertheless, this test has received an incredible amount of backlash with many arguing that the scores do not correlate with success. Terry Bradshaw, former Pittsburgh Steelers QB helped his team earn 4 Super Bowl rings despite obtaining a disappointing score of 16/50. Similarly, there are plenty of examples of players with incredible scores who ended up being mediocre on the field. The opposite has also been found where players with high scores have had remarkable careers. Tom Brady, QB for the New England Patriots, earned a score of 33 and some argue he is one of the best of all time.

Advocates of the Wonderlic test dismiss cases similar to Bradshaw’s as exceptions and point out that these results should be considered in conjunction with the results of the other evaluations that players complete. However, according to a study done in 2005 by McDonald Mirabile, no significant correlations were found between a QB’s Wonderlic score and salary or between their score and their passer rating. There seems to be no indication that Wonderlic scores predict negative or positive outcomes for future NFL players. If this is the case, why are teams still taking these scores into account? Maybe the bigger question is why this test is even being used at all.

Jeff Foster, NFL scouting combine director argues that Wonderlic scores carry little weight for teams in determining who they want unless these scores are extremely positive or negative. If this is the case, the scores are simply used as a starting point for further investigation into the player’s past. That sounds pretty harmless right? Wrong. Having learnt in other psych classes about how other people’s expectations of us can affect our performance, I would argue against keeping this test around. At the end of the day, the Wonderlic test (which was not originally created for the NFL) has no real predictive value and thus seems to be fairly useless.


Battista, Judy. “N.F.L. Tries New Method for Testing Mental Agility.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.

“Cold Hard Football Facts: The Unreliability of the Wonderlic Test.” Sports Illustrated. Time Inc. Network, 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Morgan, Patrick. “Worst Wonderlic Scores in NFL Scouting Combine History.” FanSided. N.p., 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.