I Took the NFL’s Cognitive Exam and Here’s What I Learned

Finally, definitive proof that I'm smarter than a linebacker!

I Took the NFL’s Cognitive Exam and Here’s What I Learned
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Everyone has experience with standardized testing. Even though, in recent years, some 800 U.S. colleges have stricken the SAT admission requirement, there’s still the PSAT, the ACT, the GRE, the LSAT, the GMAT, and the MCAT. For those who’ve engaged with the American education system at any degree, the chances of experiencing at least one of these exams are close to 100 percent.

And that’s just education. If you venture into less-rigorously defined fields—like psychology or romance—you’ll come across standardized exams like the Myers-Briggs Exam or the Five Love Languages quiz. And then, of course, you know the big one: the IQ test, which purports to define just how smart you actually are (generally online, in the form dubiously credible questionnaires; you’ll need a professional to administer if you want to take it for real).

But lately, a new type of standardized exam has received some buzz: the Wonderlic Test.

Invented in 1936 by psychologist Eldon F. Wonderlic, the test is commonly known as a cognitive “sorting hat” for the NFL Draft. But it’s also used by the United States Armed Forces as a screener. And large-scale staffing agencies, like Criteria Corp., use it is a pre-employment filter, too. On top of all that, the American Psychological Association has given the Wonderlic Test a stamp of approval as an effective and legitimate means of measuring cognitive ability.

In other words, it’s kind of a big deal.

Perhaps to get a deeper understanding of what the test is like, perhaps to find out if it’s a total farce or not, or perhaps just to subject me to some serious public embarrassment (the most likely motivation), my boss had the brilliant idea to have me take the test and report back what, exactly, it’s like. Here’s what I learned. And for more instances of where my higher-ups have asked me to take brain-wracking tests, check out what happened when I took the same cognitive test that the president “aced.”

1
There’s a short test and a long test.

wonderlic test

When undergoing a sample Wonderlic Test, you’re given two options: a short test, and a long test. The short test requires you to answer 15 questions in three minutes and thirty-six seconds. The long test requires you to answer 50 questions in twelve minutes. Good thing I’ve memorized the 13 Tips For A Sharper Brain.

2
It’s not exactly consistent.

confused college student on the stairs

At this point, I had no idea what type of test I was getting myself into. So I decided to warm up by taking the short test a few times. My scores were as follows, with percentiles shown parenthetically. (The test kindly informs you how you stack up against others.)

  • Attempt 1: 10/15 (95th)
  • Attempt 2: 13/15 (99th)
  • Attempt 3: 9/15 (86th)

My boss tapped my shoulder during a math question on that last one…

3
Yes, there’s a lot of math.

woman doing math

If you’re anything like me—horrible at math and numbers-related stuff—you’re not going to like this test. The test asks you do tackle some on-the-fly arithmetic, like:

Janine’s shoes cost $44.50, her pants cost $20.80, and her t-shirt cost $14.95. What is the total of her purchases?

  • $80.25
  • $80.52
  • $82.25
  • $85.20

Or this doozy of a problem: A 5-foot-tall woman is standing near a flag pole [that] casts a shadow of 21 feet on level ground. If the woman’s shadow is three feet long, how tall is the flag pole? (Enter numerical value only.)

Questions like this might be difficult for any math-deficient individual. It’s an entirely other (way more difficult) story with the added pressure of a timer.

4
But there are also non-math number questions.

simple math equation

And yes, they’re painfully easy. For instance: Which number represents the smallest amount?

  • 7
  • .77
  • .07
  • .17
  • 1/7
  • 17

5
And questions based on “logic.”

Lawyer in Office

We’re putting logic in quotes because of this question: The eighth month of the year is:

  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October

And this question: Assume the first two statements are true. All soccer players wear cleats. John is a soccer player. Does John wear cleats?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not certain

As you can see, it’s not exactly the LSAT.

6
The test is randomized.

student taking wonderlic test

Now’s probably a good time to mention that you won’t ever take the same Wonderlic Test twice. There are hundreds—or even thousands (the exact number is not reported)—of various questions. But each test has, at most, 50 questions. So when you take the test, you’re taking an algorithmically-curated selection of different types of questions. In fact, during my four attempts, only one question popped up twice:

Unscramble the letters to form a word:

M A A A R G N

Oh, how fun. An anagram anagram.

7
Yes, there’s word- and letter-play.

teacher laughing at a bad pun

Like pattern-themed puzzles: What is the next letter in this sequence? N P O Q P R Q

And fill-in-the-blank ones: Choose the word that correctly completes the following sentence: Although we would like a bigger office for our company someday, our current one is _____, and we are happy with it.

  • Filthy
  • Ample
  • Bravura
  • Confined

8
You have to pay to see a detailed report of which questions you got right and wrong.

man at computer

No thanks! I’ll take my 38 out of 50 (98th), pretend that it wasn’t a fluke, and refuse to look into it any more than I need to.

9
I bet you’re curious to know how football players do.

Tom Brady Wonderlic test

As I mentioned earlier, the NFL draft uses the Wonderlic Test to sift through potential players. (That’s why, once a year, the test briefly rears its head in the news cycle.) According to ESPN, the average player scores 20 points. Some players, though, fare better than others. Tom Brady scored a 33 in 2000, for instance, and Colin Kaepernick scored a 37 in 2011.

Morris Claiborne, a cornerback for the New York Jets, holds the honor for the lowest-ever score: 4.

10
Systems analysts have the highest average score.

systems analyst

According to the Wonderlic Personnel Test Manual, systems analysts have an average score of 32 out of 50. Reporters come in at 28, while copywriters and librarians scored, on average, 27. Janitors round out the bottom of the list, with 14.

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