Taking the Wonderlic test can be a humbling experience

Next year, before the NFL draft, the Wonderlic scores of various prospects will inevitably leak, and many people will share those scores with the public. I no longer will be among them.

When the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn published some scores in a regular column last week, I broke out two of the lowest scores, players who got an 11 out of 50.

I was criticized at the time by my colleague Bomani Jones, who said I was participating in the act of "Wonderlic shaming."

My thinking has always been along these lines: the Wonderlic test has been part of the NFL draft evaluation process since the early 1970s. As long as scores are being used by teams to make decisions, in varying degrees, we should be able to talk about the scores produced by the players. Since the industry had been reporting on them for years, I thought the scores themselves had context.

Today, I learned that's just not true. While most people can inherently relate to or understand the 40-yard dash and the bench press rep test that players participate in during the combine, we don't have that same ability in regard to the Wonderlic because we lack the proper context. I can try to run a 40-yard dash outside right now and I can go to a gym and try to put up 225 pounds as many times as I can (answer: zero), but I couldn't take the Wonderlic. The real one, that is.

Until now.

Tuesday afternoon, the company's fourth-generation owner, Tyler Wonderlic, and the company's head psychologist, Michael Callans, flew in from Illinois to my home and administered the test.

I would be given 12 minutes to complete the 50 question test, which I streamed live on Twitter. My scores would be revealed right away.

The truth is I've never been a great test taker. I actually walked out of the SAT the first time I officially took it, because I was flustered and didn't want the score to count. I was devastated because it meant I couldn't apply early to my dream school, Northwestern. A month later, I performed well enough to eventually get in, but it's why in college I took classes with paper midterms and finals -- because I felt that if I could write it and better control the time, I could get an A.

Having taken sample tests online and now having taken the genuine article, there are some major differences.

1. You can't use a timer.

Online tests count you down from 12, and you can see it. Wonderlic doesn't let you see a clock and offers only a one-minute warning. You can't use a calculator either, only a couple of pieces of blank paper and a pencil.

2. Many questions are not multiple choice.

On the sample tests I had taken, many of the math questions were multiple choice. This enabled you to do a quick glance at the choices and move on quickly. Most of the math questions on my test, and the one given to the players, are fill-ins, which means you can't just take your chances guessing.

3. Not feeling pressure of time takes practice.

Whether they admit to it or not, many players study for the Wonderlic. It's a factor because teams still administer it, and some teams care about low scores or are impressed by higher scores. I took two practice tests and clearly was affected by the clock winding down. After the one-minute warning was given, I felt like I was essentially rendered useless.

When the test was done, Callans took a couple of minutes to hand-score it. I got a 26, better than 78 percent of the population that took the test, but two points below the journalist average of 28.

I immediately felt sympathy for the players. What happens if, when interviewing for ESPN 17 years ago this month, I was given this test? What happens if it was a factor in ESPN's hiring or not hiring me? For the first time, I related to all of the combine tests, a bad outcome resulting in millions of dollars lost or not being drafted and a dream coming to an end.

When I think about the people who criticized me for revealing scores, I felt like those people were upset because it was unfairly embarrassing those players. But that wasn't any different than talking about a bad result in another combine area, I reasoned.

And again, I came back to context. You can't understand it until you take it -- something that is impossible to do for the average fan or journalist because Wonderlic doesn't share its tests. It's how it makes money.

When I've tried to do athletic endeavors, I've been made fun of and it didn't matter. I've never claimed to be an athlete. But I have claimed to be a scholar, a nerd, a lover of English and, yes, even math. I haven't always tested well in this format, but score on the Wonderlic today hit me like a truck.

I'm humbled. I'm changed. And, to think, all it took was 12 minutes with a pencil and some paper.