What is the Wonderlic Personnel Test?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Finding a truly unbiased and accurate measurement of a person's intelligence has always been an elusive, and in many ways controversial, goal of many test developers. During the 1930s, a pioneer in the intelligence testing field named Eldon Wonderlic developed a very short test that purportedly provided potential employers and educators with a general idea of an applicant's general intelligence level. This test became known as the Wonderlic personnel test (WPT).

American football recruiters and coaches often use the Wonderlic personnel test.
American football recruiters and coaches often use the Wonderlic personnel test.

The purpose of the test is not necessarily to assign an actual intelligence quotient or IQ number to test takers. Instead, it provides some idea of an applicant's intellectual strengths and weaknesses relative to the requirements of a specific job or assignment. Positions that demand stronger mathematical skills, for example, may require a higher than average result.

Football coaches may rely on the Wonderlic personnel test to determine the cognitive skills of players.
Football coaches may rely on the Wonderlic personnel test to determine the cognitive skills of players.

The test itself consists of a series of English, reading, math, and logic problems that increase in difficulty as the test progresses. In fact, the first set of questions is generally considered quite easy for testers with average intelligence. The final ten questions or so are considered to be the most difficult, although not too difficult for college-educated test takers. There are no penalties for right or wrong answers, and the basic Wonderlic personnel test can be administered in 12 minutes.

Employers and recruiters may administer the test as part of a larger application process and use those results to determine if an applicant has a general aptitude for the position. The test results are usually given as a number, with 20 or 21 considered average, much like a score of 100 would signify average intelligence on a Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Test takers may have to score at least a 20 for hiring consideration in some situations, and even higher for positions requiring higher cognitive skills and aptitude.

Perhaps the most common use of the Wonderlic personnel test is in organized sports, especially American football. Recruiters and coaches need to know if potential recruits have the cognitive skills to learn complex plays from a team playbook and mesh well as a unit. It is said that legendary football coach Tom Landry placed a significant amount of emphasis on the test scores, and even certain simulated football video game programs include a modified WPT session to determine which positions a player is qualified to select.

Obviously, a test as brief and generic as this one is not designed to produce the same clinical results as a more extensive intelligence test battery, such as the Stanford-Binet series. The results of a WPT should generally be considered a rough guide to an applicant's cognitive skill level and general aptitude, not overall intelligence. It works best as a quick assessment tool during the application process, but the test should not be used to justify any illegal discriminatory actions.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I'd add an interesting point about Wonderlic test score requirements for different professions. For warehouseman it’s 15, higher than for guard (17). For librarian it’s nearly the same as for programmer. All numbers are on the preparation to the Wonderlic Test Prep website. Some numbers look like with a lack of logic.


As useful as intelligence tests can be, what may be even better for someone trying to figure out what to do for a living is an aptitude test. An aptitude test is one that uses several factors to determine what career an applicant is best suited for.

Intelligence has little to do with how satisfied one will be in a career. An unhappy worker is unlikely to do well in a job no matter how intelligent he or she happens to be.

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