Wondering about the Wonderlic Test? Here are some Answers

Every year around draft time, we hear about some vacuous, "wonderful" Wonderlic test....and those who scored low scores on it.

First of all, what exactly is it? Well, there are a few different versions of it.

The following is from

test-prep online.com


Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Tests are among the most widely used tests for pre-employment aptitude testing and for academic admissions tests. They are also famous for their use in the NFL draft.

Bear in mind that the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Tests are comprised of 50 questions and test takers are allotted 12 minutes to complete them. The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Pretests are comprised of 30 questions and test takers are allotted 8 minutes to complete them.

I think the NFL uses the former, with the 50 questions. I don't recall the name, but some punter from years back holds the record with a 41 score. Note that the test itself is designed to be nearly impossible to answer ALL the questions in the time allotted, so part of what it measures is test-taking ability.

I have the fortune of having been through the college admissions process and my Dad gives tests for a living as a clinical psychologist, so I know more than average about "how to take a test." What you do is save the longest questions or those that require the most time to figure out for last and do the easiest ones first. That allows you to answer as many questions as you can in a short time.

Having said that, if you click the link above, you'll go to a page that has sample questions on it. They're often primary-school level questions...things like:

Q: 17 is what percentage of 20?

A: since 20 is exactly 1/5th of 100, multiply 17 by 5 and get 85....or 85% (easy way) OR divide 17 by 20 in long division. Since 100 is an easy multiple of 20, the first "trick" is the quick way of doing it.


Q: 5 widgets cost a total of $0.25. How many would 15 cost?

A: 15 is 3 times 5. 3 times 25 cents is 75 cents. 75 cents is the answer.


Q: Which of the following has the largest diameter?

 - the sun

 - the moon

 - a baseball

 - the Earth

 - Mars

A: Anyone who has the first clue about Astronomy knows all of the above could fit inside the sun many many many times over. The answer is, of course, the sun. For those of you trivia buffs, it's about 870,000 miles, and the "Great Red Spot" on Jupiter would swallow 3-4 Earths, and the Earth's circumference of 25,000 miles actually makes it the largest of the "inner/terrestrial" planets....but this isn't an Astronomy post! :)


As you can see, the questions aren't exactly brain-busters. Some can be answered simply with learned knowledge - for instance, the "DUH" questions like the Sun being the largest in diameter. Others require simple calculations (3 times 25 cents is 75 cents). Still others require you know a particular formula, like (Distance = Rate * Time).

Much is made over Morris Claiborne making a 3 or4 on his.

Dan Marino made only a 16. Rumor is that both Carolina Panthers' draftees Tre' Boston and Kony Ealy made a 21 on theirs.

When I took a real one some years ago, I missed two (due to time constraints), so if I were an NFL player "news" would be made that I had an extremely exceptional score. No, I'm not here trying to tell you how smart I am - again, I know how to take tests and that's a good chunk of the skill set you need to take this thing.

NFL teams ideally look for guys with higher-than-average scores, but NOT "geniuses" (like me haha) but why not?

Simple answer? Very high scorers are difficult to coach. They're "know-it-alls," or at least have a high potential to be like that. Punters are probably exempt from that worry, as there is little to coach with them and they often know what they've done wrong when they mis-hit a ball for instance.

Position players are different. They need to be smart enough to be able to quickly absorb things like their positional coaches teach - new moves, counter-moves, hand techniques, reading keys, and the nuts and bolts of playing their position - and they also need to be able to absorb the complex NFL offenses and/or defenses to be successful.

So, in a nutshell, you now know more about this "Wonderlic" test than you did five minutes ago. There's very little that is "Wondrous" about it. Since the material on the tests is at the VERY best, some high-school level stuff but more questions than not are more "grade-school" things, the total score a prospect gets tells the NFL teams' brass not so much how smart a guy is but how dumb he is....or more specifically, how well or how poorly he retains information that EVERYONE who ever even graduated high school SHOULD know.

Any readers out there who don't know the answers to the 3 questions I posted? Probably not. Yet, Morris Claiborne got only that "3" on his test, and he's been an NFL dud thus far. Really makes you wonder about what he's got between the ears, doesn't it?

It's also reason enough, if I were running things, to NOT trade for him and perhaps demonstrates why the test is given in the first place. While it's only one tool in NFL talent evaluators' toolboxes, a 3 or 4 on the test should raise a lot of red flags.

Seriously - if a cornerback struggles with concepts like the differences between press coverage and zone coverage, how is he going to learn the differences between press coverage and press-bail coverage? Or even more nuanced things?

He HAS to know where he's supposed to be on each particular play and in each defensive call or be out of position and his responsibility will be an easy target and completion for the opponent.

That's how this "Wonderlic" factors into things. Certainly, there are people that aren't Einsteins but whose minds simply work differently. Dan Marino's 16, while not horrible, isn't exactly exemplary of a brilliant man. When asked by Bill Walsh questions like "In this situation, what's your second read? Your third read?"

Marino just shook his head and said "Coach, I just throw it to the open guy."

What the Wonderlic does not and cannot measure is football instincts...something Dan Marino had as much of as anyone in NFL history. Therefore, its usefulness will always be limited somewhat by what it cannot do. 

The scores of the 21s you've probably heard about from "Mel Mayock" here at C-Cubed means those guys are smart enough to learn what they need to but not so full of themselves that they won't listen to coaches, thinking they know it all. 

Those are guys that should pick up their schemes rather quickly and, hopefully, start seeing the field early on in their careers.

And since we've got an Astronomy theme going here, it doesn't hurt that their Wonderlic test scores fall into that "Goldilocks" zone, either!

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