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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Flakes, PE

How C.J. Stroud Proved It's Not How You Test, But How You Perform

Image of CJ Stroud speaking to the media at the 2023 NFL Combine on March 3, 2023
CJ Stroud talks to the media at the 2023 NFL Combine (March 3, 2023)

C.J. Stroud's journey from college football star to NFL standout is a testament to resilience and determination. As a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and second-team All-American, Stroud solidified his reputation as one of the nation's top quarterbacks at Ohio State University. Leading the Big Ten in passing touchdowns with an impressive 85 over two seasons, Stroud's prowess on the field earned him accolades and recognition.

But before lighting up the NFL, Stroud had doubts about his football intelligence. Unlike top quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, and Josh Allen, who aced the S2 cognitive test, Stroud reportedly scored poorly on the same test, which some NFL teams use to evaluate quarterbacks' mental abilities.

Despite these doubts, Stroud's performance in his rookie season was nothing short of remarkable.

The S2 Cognitive Test Explained

The S2 cognitive test is a specialized assessment designed to measure specific cognitive abilities, such as attention, memory, and decision-making, which are particularly relevant for performance in sports or military training. Unlike traditional standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, which assess general cognitive abilities and academic knowledge, the S2 test focuses on targeted skills essential for success in specific domains.

Stroud Proves the Naysayers Wrong in His Rookie Season

Stroud had an outstanding rookie season, with over 4,000 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. He was named the Pro Football Writer's Association's NFL Rookie of the Year. He also achieved several remarkable feats, including recording the most passing yards in a game by a rookie, tying for the most passing touchdowns in a game by a rookie, and setting a record for the most passes without an interception to start a career.

Then, he steered the Texans to the playoffs and etched his name in history as the youngest starting quarterback to secure a playoff victory. His remarkable performance throughout the season garnered widespread acclaim, with former player and podcaster Pat McAfee hailing it as the greatest rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history.

Stroud and Ryans Champion Performance Over Test

Stroud's exceptional achievements on the field underscore the limitations of relying solely on grades and test scores in assessing individuals.

"As a quarterback, I just knew that if I put in the work and trusted myself, I had nothing but success on the way," says Stroud. Moreover, Stroud boldly asserted his identity beyond test scores, stating to Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer, “I’m not a test taker. I play football.”

Stroud's steadfast belief in his abilities resonates with his statement: “I know what I can do. … If you don’t trust and believe in me, all I can say is, ‘Watch this.’”

Texans coach DeMeco Ryans echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of looking beyond test scores: "For me, you look at the tape. You watch C.J.’s film. You talk about playing quarterback — he’s one of the best quarterbacks coming out of this draft based on the decision-making on film, speaking with him in person, getting to understand him, getting to know him better, his personality, seeing how he treats others, seeing how his teammates love him, seeing the care they have for him, seeing how his coaches speak about him."

Laremy Tunsil, a teammate of Stroud's, also praised his leadership qualities on the Pat McAfee Show, saying, "He handles himself well. He came in the building with these unbelievable leadership skills, and he's killing it, man. How I describe C.J.: dawg. He's a straight dawg. He comes in there ready to work, he handles the huddle perfectly and he goes out there and balls, man. You've got to appreciate that, especially in a young quarterback like C.J."

Exploring the Dimensions Overlooked by Grades and Test Scores

While sports testing may differ from academic assessments, perseverance, resilience, and belief in oneself are universally applicable, guiding individuals toward success in various workplace settings.

Test scores can provide some insight, but it is important to recognize their limitations. They offer just one dimension of a person's intelligence and ability, often overlooking crucial aspects essential for real-world success.

Let us delve deeper into these overlooked dimensions:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Traditional assessments prioritize memorization over fostering creative problem-solving skills essential for real-world scenarios.

  • Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Test scores focus on basic knowledge, neglecting critical skills like analysis and synthesis necessary for complex issues.

  • Creativity and Innovation: Conventional assessments stifle creativity by emphasizing conformity, hindering individuals from exploring new ideas and driving progress.

  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Grades often overlook interpersonal skills like collaboration and empathy, which are crucial for building relationships and navigating social dynamics.

  • Emotional Intelligence: Grades neglect emotional intelligence, which is essential for understanding oneself and others, managing emotions, and forming meaningful connections.

  • Motivation and Perseverance: Grades may not capture intrinsic motivation and resilience, which drive individuals to pursue goals despite obstacles, leading to long-term success.

Understanding the Role of Grades and Test Scores in Evaluation

While relying solely on grades and test scores for individual assessment is problematic, they still hold some value and can be used responsibly as one data point in evaluating individuals. They serve various purposes, including job screening, by assessing basic skills and knowledge pertinent to specific roles. Despite their imperfections, research indicates some correlation between standardized test scores and future academic or professional achievement, aiding in predicting future performance. Moreover, scores can also play a role in identifying areas for improvement, shedding light on where individuals might need additional support or targeted learning.

However, it is important to acknowledge that grades and test scores are just one aspect of a broader evaluation framework. While they play a role in assessing individuals, it is also important to recognize the widespread use of testing across different domains of life.

Moving Beyond the Score: Strategies for Success

Low grades and test scores can be challenging, but it is crucial to remember that they do not define your worth or potential. Instead of dwelling on perceived shortcomings, focus on unlocking your strengths and passions to succeed. 

Here are some actionable strategies to help you navigate this journey:

  • Understand Your Learning Style: Recognize how you learn best. Some people thrive in traditional testing environments, while others excel through hands-on experiences, projects, or creative work.

  • Seek Support and Resources:

    • Tutoring: Consider seeking tutoring or academic support. Sometimes, a different perspective can make complex topics clearer.

    • Study Groups: Collaborate with peers. Discussing concepts and sharing insights can enhance understanding.

    • Online Resources: Explore online platforms, videos, and interactive materials related to your subjects.

  • Focus on Mastery, Not Just Grades:

    • Aim to understand the material deeply rather than merely memorizing for exams.

    • Practice Regularly: Consistent practice reinforces learning.

  • Highlight Strengths Beyond Academics:

    • Extracurricular Activities: Showcase your involvement in clubs, sports, community service, or leadership roles.

    • Passion Projects: If you have a hobby, talent, or project you are passionate about, share it. It demonstrates commitment and creativity.

  • Build a Strong Network: Connect with mentors, professionals, and peers who share your interests. Networking can open doors and provide valuable guidance.

  • Embrace Rigor: Embrace challenges and view them as opportunities for growth. Rigor fosters resilience and strengthens your skills.

  • Cultivate Grit: Develop perseverance and resilience in the face of setbacks. Grit is a key determinant of long-term success.

  • Manage Your Time Effectively: Prioritize tasks, set achievable goals, and allocate time wisely. Effective time management maximizes productivity and minimizes stress.

  • Believe in Yourself: Maintain confidence in your abilities. Self-belief is essential for overcoming challenges and achieving success.

The Takeaway

Stroud's journey teaches us that success goes beyond grades and test scores. By recognizing the limitations of standardized testing and embracing a holistic approach to talent assessment, individuals and institutions can unlock the full potential of every individual. While acknowledging that tests can offer some value when used responsibly, it is important to supplement them with other assessment methods and consider them as just one aspect of a broader evaluation framework. So, the next time doubt or adversity arises, remember C.J. Stroud's story. Remember that success is not determined by a single score but by resilience, determination, and belief in oneself.


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Cover photo attribution courtesy of the Tennessee Titans


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