Z is for Zener

Do you know someone you are convinced has extrasensory perception (ESP)? Is it you? Zener cards are a fun way to test your ESP abilities. Want to give it a whirl in the last post of the A to Z Challenge?

Who would not want to predict the future? From the beginning of our history, humans have entertained the idea of predicting the future and exalted those believed to be true prognosticators. Skeptics view the whole affair with a raised eyebrow, but many are at least curious as to the existence of ESP.


Karl Zener was just so curious a psychologist. Before he came to invent the Zener cards, a regular pack of playing cards was used to determine if people were clairvoyant or possessed ESP. There were problems with this model, including:

The Circle: One Curve

  • Low chance of correct answers (number/suit variables)
  • Favoritism toward one number/suit by subject
  • Knowing right answers allowed counting cards
  • Statistical interpretation of answers

Zener developed a simple deck of cards for the test: Five simple shapes, five cards of each design. He conducted his tests in the 1930s with parapsychologist J.B. Rhine.

The presenter picks up one card, then records the answer of the subject.


The Cross: Two Lines

In the early days, Zener cards grabbed a stinking reputation. They were made of a thin paper. The discovery was the most successful people taking the test were merely exploiting their ability to see through the cards.

The picture of a building at Duke University graced the cards next. Asymmetric patterns make the cards one-way now.

Rhine chose shuffling by machine to produce better results, since hand shuffling can make the frequency of cards easier to predict.


The Waves: Three Curvy Lines

One of the points skeptics like to highlight is the subject can take clues from the presenter in determining which card is chosen. In clinical trials and in lay experiments, there is often an object placed between subject and presenter to take this variable out of the equation. Another solution is to put the presenter and the subject in separate rooms.

Recording the experiment can help keep both subject and presenter honest or reveal how some scores were reached through deception.

The Square: Four Lines


Another use for the test is for telepathy. In this version of test, the subject picks the Zener card and projects the image to the receiver. Some statistical maneuvering is necessary to take into account the perception of the receiver and accurately gauge the telepathic powers of the subject.


The Star: Five Points

Typically, the base score anyone will get is five out of 25. Statistically, your chances of guessing these correctly means you are not showing any overt perception or prognostic ability. Lower scores than five are possible, and common, although a score of zero is particularly unlikely.


Are you ready to test your ESP abilities with these simply designed cards? The Internet has taken a lot of the work out of the Zener card test. Scoring is not interpretative, but is very straightforward. You have choices.

Want to have your answers listed in a data base to influence future norms? Try The Anima Project. They collect data to influence the curve on who is determined clairvoyant.

What to test with more than one deck at a time? Try Psychic Science. See if you can beat the highest score they have on record.

Want to stay right here and try it? Why go on a field trip, when Red can deliver the test to you?! For your enjoyment, the test is embedded below:

Take a few minutes to play with it. Take it as many times as you like. Try cheating, if you like. Choose two cards and only guess those two rather than trying to guess all five. Try counting cards. All is fair in this test. Use the powers you have to get the highest number correct.

If you think this would be fun for a party, the cards are readily available at sellers like Amazon in the toys category. All different types of cards are available from the original Zener card designs to other fun shapes. They can also be a great craft project for your eight-year-old.


Have you ever played with Zener cards? Do you have any ESP, clairvoyance or telepathy skills? How did your score on the Zener card test here or on the other sites? 

If you tweet or +1 this post, please use the hashtag #AtoZChallenge!

Are you glad the challenge is over?

(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
Test widget compliments of and available at Psychic Science.
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Leave a comment


  1. officially 7 out of 25 – does this explain why I consistently pick such bad men?

    Great as usual Red and this one was fun as well. You are such a marvelous teacher.
    valentinelogar recently posted..Hope in PeachesMy Profile

    • Red

       /  May 1, 2012

      ROFL! Probably 😉 Glad you liked this one. I thought it was a fun way to wrap up all the heady topics we had had.

  2. Hi Red! 🙂

    I’m more empathic than psychic – I get sympathy pains when people even TALK about injuries and medical ailments! LoL!!!

    Get well soon my friend! 🙂

    Love and gentle hugs!

    prenin recently posted..Monday – Medication day.My Profile

    WHAT FUN !!!!!!!!!
    Cat Forsley recently posted..“Perspective ..” She Said by Cat Forsley ©My Profile

    • Red

       /  May 1, 2012

      Good morning, Cat. When you comment, click in the box before you type. It will give you a pull down menu of your input. This will make sure all your comments post immediately 🙂 I hope you are having a beautiful Tuesday! xxx

  4. I have read about and even seen some documentaries on this theme and I agree there is definitely more to ESP than some would acknowledge or even identify…

    I have had some moments over the years where I know exactly what someone will say next, or think the same idea, and even know who will turn the next blind corner maybe just chance but who knows the real power of the brain, as we only use such a small percentage of it at the present moment in time…

    I just noticed Ian’s mention of you being poorly, I do hope that you are feeling much better soon my great friend 🙂 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

    • Red

       /  May 1, 2012

      Aye, I am on the mend. There is so much power locked in the brain. I truly do not believe we only use 10% of it. I believe science is unwilling to admit we use the parts which have not been definitively identified as “this part does this”. Just my belief…

      • I am pleased that you are feeling a little better Red, and hope that soon you will be back to yourself again, those migraines are definitely a horrible experience, do you have those visual disturbances too? I used to have that when I was in my twenties but luckily not had anything like a migraine in years…

        Perhaps it is a certain food that triggers it, or maybe bright light? 🙁 Whatever it is that starts you off with yours I do hope that you can find the solution for it, I think once an attack happens that laying in a darkened room helps 🙂

        Androgoth XXx

        • Red

           /  May 1, 2012

          I have not had a migraine since I had surgery to preclude them. I always knew my trigger, but it took me almost 15 years to convince a doctor I was not employing mad science to prove my deductions. Once the surgery was complete, my doctor was amazed the headaches went away and stayed gone. I always needed warm water and completely silent darkness.

  5. I don’t have ESP…We don’t have any cable or satellite service.

  6. What does it mean if I scored 19 out of 25?
    MJ Logan recently posted..The PondMy Profile

    • Red

       /  May 1, 2012

      The test should have told you you are clairvoyant!

      • In truth, I’ll be lucky if I score the average for guessing… Not sure how this would work online.
        MJ Logan recently posted..The PondMy Profile

        • Red

           /  May 1, 2012

          It is more straightforward online because there are no presenter/subject issues to overcome.

          • I was setting up a little joke there, then forgot what I was doing. \^__^/ that figures.
            MJ Logan recently posted..The PondMy Profile

          • Red

             /  May 1, 2012

            ROFL! Mulligan.

  7. Ouch only 8 hits..they told me not to guess anything and stay inside house :-0
    i love these tests they are so much fun…
    Soma Mukherjee recently posted..Dance to the music of lifeMy Profile

    • Red

       /  May 2, 2012

      You are doing better than the average bear! I love the messages 😉 Great to see you today, Soma!

  8. Heather

     /  December 12, 2016

    Hi, i took a zener card test on psychic experiences. (This test would have 25 trials and all 5 cards in each. I took all 25 and my average was 6 out of 25) It was revealed that i had no psychic abilities. If i don’t have psychic abilities then why is it possible for me to pick 4 to 6 cards in a row. I not only picked them in a row but i picked them remarkabley fast. It was like i just knew what to pick. Does this mean there is some sort of bias or am i just not psychic. Why does this happen and how? Also, i am deathly afraid of being psychic because you could accidently contact evil spirits. Or it might just be that i have mental issues.

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