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NFL Combine 2016: An explanation of the Wonderlic test

The most scrutinized and controversial part of the combine doesn't even take place on a football field.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Combine is in full swing after the first group of players (running backs, offensive linemen, special teams) arrived on Tuesday. The rest of groups are scheduled to filter in over the next few days.

During this weeklong job interview, the prospects will be put through a battery of examinations, workouts, tests and drills to assess their NFL playing prowess. The scouting showcase is one of the most important parts of the pre-draft process for both the 32 teams in attendance and the 300-plus players under the microscope.

The overall athlete evaluation process isn't limited to just on-field workouts and physical fitness testing. Perhaps the most scrutinized -- and divisive -- part of the Combine occurs inside a classroom. Each prospect is also required to take the Wonderlic, a standardized intelligence test that has been used by the NFL since the 1970s to measure cognitive ability.

It consists of 50 questions designed to test a player's proficiency in learning and problem solving, and must be completed within 12 minutes. Scores range from 1 to 50 -- for football players, the average score is reportedly 20, while a score of 10 suggests a person is literate.

Because of the time constraint and the relatively simple subject matter of the questions, it is not actually measuring what you know, per se, but rather how quickly your brain can collect and analyze information. For example, here's a sample question:

Joseph gets married next month. One year ago from the date he will get married, Joseph was in the Hamptons for the 4th of July. What month is it?

  • August
  • March
  • May
  • June
  • July

Much of the criticism surrounding the test is the question of how well it evaluates how someone plays the game of football. Although several studies have been conducted, there has not been any demonstrated positive and significant correlation between the results of the Wonderlic and future success in the NFL. In fact, a 2009 research inquiry discovered a small negative relationship between scores and performance among tight ends and defensive backs.

The daughter of the creator of the Wonderlic, Kathy Kolbe, even questioned why the league used the test as a means of evaluating football players. "I certainly value my father's work and there are many appropriate uses for it," Kolbe told last year. "I don't think it's a bad thing that the NFL uses it, I just don't think it's particularly wise."

She went on to note how standardized cognitive tests in general often are racially and culturally biased, often favoring those with better socio-economic backgrounds and from higher income brackets.

Some progress has been made, though, as the league recently added a second test for appraising the mental acuity of prospects. In 2013, the NFL introduced the Player Assessment Tool, a 50-minute computerized test that purportedly more accurately measures a player's decision-making skills, learning style and motivation. With no actual score given out, it is intended to be a more robust and comprehensive assessment of the personality component in the draft evaluation process.

The divisive nature of the Wonderlic also emanates from the fact that, although the scores are supposed to be confidential, every year a handful of them are leaked to the media for one reason or another. This technically represents an invasion of a player's privacy, and some critics have even called for the Combine attendees to refuse to take the Wonderlic because the NFL has done such a poor job in protecting the secrecy of the results.

The broad range of the scores that have been reported underscores the notion that the Wonderlic is a futile tool for evaluating football players. Notable players such as Calvin Johnson (41), Eli Manning (39), Andrew Luck (37) and Aaron Rodgers (35) have received exceptional scores, while there are a bunch of Hall of Famers who got below-average marks, including Jim Kelly (15), Dan Marino (16) and Terry Bradshaw (16).

If you're interested in seeing how you stack up, here's a link to a sample test.

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