N.F.L. Tries New Method for Testing Mental Agility By JUDY BATTISTA
INDIANAPOLIS — For decades, hundreds of college players have gathered each year at the N.F.L.’s scouting combine, where their strength is tested, their speed is timed and, in a test to measure their intelligence, they are asked questions like “When a rope is selling 20 cents per 2 feet, how many feet can you buy for 30 dollars?”
That query is part of the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a 12-minute, 50-item quiz that has been used by N.F.L. teams since the 1970s. It is, however, infamously unreliable in predicting football success — forgettable players have scored high, stars low —
Alternatively, you could say that it's amazing that the Wonderlic glass is a little bit full at all (when it suggests that, say, Tom Brady (124 IQ) might be smart enough to make himself useful).
and there have been quiet concerns that its reliance on knowledge taught in school might result in a racial bias.
Whereas tests that look like they come from Mars, such as the Raven's Progressive Matrices, don't have that problem!
So the players at this week’s combine are facing a new segment in their extended job interviews: an hourlong psychological assessment designed to determine and quantify the nebulous qualities that coaches have long believed make the most successful players — motivation, competitiveness, passion and mental toughness — and to divine how each player learns best.
Generally, you'd want to give the test to successful NFL players and washouts and see if it adds predictive power in differentiating them. There's no mention of whether that has been done.
The new test, like the Wonderlic, is mandatory for the more than 300 players who attend, and it will be given for the first time Friday.While many coaches and general managers consider the Wonderlic particularly useful in evaluating quarterbacks and offensive linemen, positions that are believed to demand the greatest intellect because of the need to decipher complex defenses, the hope is that the new test, called the Player Assessment Tool, will give teams clearer insight into a broader range of players.
“I knew players who didn’t score well on the Wonderlic but had great instincts,” said Ernie Accorsi, a former Giants general manager, who was consulted during the creation of the new test. “I had a player once, this guy played in a good league in college, but the psychological testing indicated he didn’t handle pressure well. You know what? He didn’t, as it turned out. The Wonderlic can’t tell you that.”
The new test was devised by Harold Goldstein, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Baruch College in New York. He worked with Cyrus Mehri, a lawyer in Washington who leads the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors the N.F.L.’s minority hiring practices.
|Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran|
Presumably, the NFL is interested in things such as the likelihood of going to prison for shooting yourself in a nightclub or of killing a teammate in a drunk driving crash. But all that has to be whitewashed through the proper channels; although in this case, Cyrus Mehri isn't black, but that hasn't stopped him from doing well off the diversity biz.
Personality tests have been a staple in other industries, and some N.F.L. teams have used them during their scouting efforts, which often take months.But last fall Goldstein and Mehri began the process of producing the first such test for the entire league. They asked a group of general managers what qualities they wanted in a player. They came up with 16 aspects thought to be predictors of N.F.L. success, including learning agility and conscientiousness.
The test closely resembles those given to firefighters, Mehri said, because they, like football players, must be able to quickly assess a situation and decide how to proceed under stress.
The goal was to eliminate the impact of prior knowledge — subjects taught in school, like math, in which racial and socioeconomic factors may have an influence.
To determine their personalities, the test will ask players a series of questions about their preferences and behavior. To evaluate their cognitive abilities, it might tell them to look at four diagrams and figure out how they relate. Then, to measure how quickly they can adjust their thinking, the items they are comparing might change, forcing the players to determine their relationships anew.
To see how they learn best, the test will present questions in verbal and graphic form. Players will have an hour to take the exam on a computer.
... The league did not allow players and agents to see the test in advance, angering some agents. The N.F.L.’s goal was to minimize the kind of preparation that players do for the Wonderlic: reviewing past exams in an attempt to boost their scores.
“This is the Super Bowl of their college career, the culmination of everything they have worked for,” the agent David Canter said. “You don’t want them to be prepared for it?”
Damien Woody, a former offensive lineman for the New England Patriots, the Detroit Lions and the Jets, said he did not prepare for the Wonderlic, though he was determined to do well. He said others essentially shrugged it off, wondering what it had to do with football.
At least in the first year of the new test, Woody said, the element of surprise could be a factor.
“It might give you a sneak peek,” Woody said. “This will be the year it’s most beneficial because after this year I’m sure guys will try to train for it. This year, you’re going to get guys at their most vulnerable position.”
Well said. The advantage of IQ tests like the Wonderlic is that the people who outsmart them tend to be pretty smart. Personality tests ... eh?