Wonderlic Test’s Value? Makes You Wonder

In what has unfortunately become a nearly annual event, a low Wonderlic Test score was leaked out, this time for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.  Claiborne is one of the top rated defensive players in the 2012 NFL Draft, and projected to go in the top five picks.

LSU's Morris Claiborne, latest victim of a leaked Wonderlic score

Claiborne reportedly scored 4 out of 50 on the test, which raises two important questions:

First, will the score affect his draft status?  What value does the Wonderlic Test really provide?

Second, why are test results that are supposed to be confidential leaked out virtually every year?

To take the second point first – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell circulated a memo this week to remind teams to keep information such as this confidential.  The memo said in part, “As we near our annual college player draft, please be reminded that certain information obtained during preparations for the Draft, including personal and family details, results of drug tests, scores on the Wonderlic test, and the like, are strictly confidential for club use only and are not to be disseminated publicly under any circumstances.”

“Disclosing this confidential information about draft-eligible players to the public can be extremely damaging to players, clubs, and the league,” Goodell went on to say.  “You should be reminded that disclosure of inappropriate private or confidential information concerning draft-eligible players is conduct detrimental to the league and will be met with significant discipline when a violation can be established.”

While there aren’t any BountyGate-like suspensions around the corner, it will unfortunately take someone being caught and punished by the league for leaking this kind of information to ultimately put an end to this annual practice.  Regardless of where the leak came from, releasing this type of information is unethical and potentially damaging to the young men who go through the Combine-Draft process, which is one of the most scrutinizing and extensive job interviews in the world.

Dr. John Sullivan, a clinical sports psychologist with over 12 years working with NFL athletes, said, “The confidentiality of prior scores of potential NFL players has been compromised, and thus, sheds a light of concern regarding player welfare and fairness.”

On the second point, it is unlikely that the low score will dramatically affect Claiborne’s draft position.  And that’s a good thing, because there is no correlation between score on the test and success in the NFL, and surprisingly… no one claims that there is a correlation.  Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, who currently works for the NFL Network, commented on test that, “I can tell you there are starting players in the NFL who have been to Pro Bowls that had single-digit test scores.”

“In a review of the literature, two studies yielded results that failed to show any statistical relationship between the WPT and NFL performance,” Dr. Sullivan added.  “In fact, no scientific support of the WPT as a predictor of success in the NFL has been provided by the Wonderlic organization.”

The Wonderlic test was developed as an employee screening test in the 1930s.  It is often thought of as a form of intelligence test, but that isn’t really accurate either.  It does have questions that measure math and logic skills, but it is not a general indicator of intelligence, and particularly not the kind of intelligence that is important for a football player on a field.  Memorizing a playbook, and learning how to recognize a Cover Two defense is a very different skill set than answering algebra-style word problems or logic questions.

“The science of applied psychological measurement has progressed beyond the concepts of the Wonderlic Personnel Test,” Dr. Sullivan added.  “In fact, the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT) is considered by some to have serious flaws and bias with regards to race/culture, socioeconomic status, and its use of outdated research regarding intelligence/cognitive abilities.”

Kathy Kolbe, daughter of the test’s founder Eldon Wonderlic, is an educator and has developed cognitive assessment tests of her own.  She has said that the test measures only a small portion of overall intelligence, and is concerned that the test is biased against women and minorities.  She also said, “The first time I heard [NFL officials] were using it, I had to laugh. The issue isn’t whether or not to use the Wonderlic. It’s: Don’t say it tells you how a player is going to do. Because it doesn’t.”

So why does the test continue to be used every year?  Perhaps inertia is the best answer.  The test has been used for years, so even if there are much better options available, it takes time for new technologies to be accepted.


In our next column, we will examine a new test that was used for the first time this year at the NFL Combine that promises to provide a much better assessment of the type of intelligence that is going to be important for athletes on the field.

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