Introduction to Psychometric Tests
Psychometric tests have been used since the early part of the 20th century and were originally developed for use in educational psychology. These days, outside of education, you are most likely to encounter psychometric testing as part of the recruitment or selection process. Tests of this sort are devised by occupational psychologists and their aim is to provide employers with a reliable method of selecting the most suitable job applicants or candidates for promotion.
Psychometric tests aim to measure attributes like intelligence, aptitude and personality. They provide a potential employer with an insight into how well you work with other people, how well you handle stress, and whether you will be able to cope with the intellectual demands of the job.
Most of the established psychometric tests used in recruitment and selection make no attempt to analyze your emotional or psychological stability and should not be confused with tests used in clinical psychology. However, in recent years there has been rapid growth (particularly in the US) of tests that claim to measure your integrity or honesty and your predisposition to anger. These tests have attracted a lot of controversy, because of questions about their validity, but their popularity with employers has continued to increase.
Psychometric testing is now used by over 80% of the Fortune 500 companies in the USA and by over 75% of the Times Top 100 companies in the UK. Information technology companies, financial institutions, management consultancies, local authorities, the civil service, police forces, fire services and the armed forces all make extensive use of use psychometric testing.
As an indicator of your personality, preferences and abilities, psychometric tests can help prospective employers to find the best match of individual to occupation and working environment. As a recruitment and selection tool, these tests can be applied in a straightforward way at the early stages of selection to screen-out candidates who are likely to be unsuitable for the job. They can also provide management with guidance on career progression for existing employees.
Because of their importance in making personnel decisions it is vital that the tests themselves are known to produce accurate results based on standardized methods and statistical principles.
A psychometric test must be:
Objective: The score must not affected by the testers' beliefs or values
Standardized: It must be administered under controlled conditions
Reliable: It must minimize and quantify any intrinsic errors
Predictive: It must make an accurate prediction of performance
Non Discriminatory: It must not disadvantage any group on the basis of gender, culture, ethnicity, etc.
Psychometric tests fall into two main categories. Personality questionnaires, which try to measure aspects of your personality, and aptitude tests which try to measure your intellectual and reasoning abilities.
Most employers recognise that personality is of great importance in success at work. Consequently, most of the psychometric tests that you will be expected to take as part of the recruitment process will include a short personality test.
The principle behind these tests is that it is possible to quantify your personality by asking you about your feelings, thoughts and behavior in a variety of situation both at work and outside of work.
You will be presented with statements describing various ways of feeling or acting and asked to answer each one on a 2 point, 5 point or 7 point scale. The number of questions you are expected to answer varies from about 50 to 200, depending on the duration of the test.
1. I prefer to avoid conflict.
2. I enjoy parties and other social occasions.
A) strongly disagree
E) strongly agree
3. Work is the most important thing in my life.
A) very strongly disagree
B) strongly disagrees
G) very strongly agree
Personality has a significant role to play in deciding whether you have the enthusiasm and motivation that the employer is looking for. It also determines how well you are going to fit in to the organization, in terms of your personality, attitude and general work style. In most working situations it's the personalities of the people involved that affect the day-to-day success of the organization. If a manager can't motivate their staff or the team doesn't work well together, then quality of service and productivity will suffer.
There have also been significant changes in the past 20 years in the way that organizations operate. For example, management styles tend to be less autocratic and there are usually fewer levels of management than there were. The move towards more knowledge based and customer focused jobs means that individuals have more autonomy even at fairly low levels within organizations. In addition, most organizations expect to undergo frequent changes in the way that they operate in order to remain competitive. All of these factors have contributed to your personality being seen as more important now than it was in the past.
There are at least 5000 aptitude and ability tests on the market. Some of them contain only one type of question (for example, verbal ability, numeric reasoning ability etc) while others are made up of different types of question. If you are unsure what types of question to expect then ask the human resources department at the organization you are applying to. This will not count against you as you have a right to prepare yourself for any tests you are asked to sit.
Aptitude tests consist of multiple choice questions and are administered under exam conditions. They are strictly timed and a typical test might allow 30 minutes for 30 or so questions.
The different types of aptitude tests can be classified as follows:
Verbal Ability - Includes spelling, grammar, ability to understand analogies and follow detailed written instructions. These questions appear in most general aptitude tests because employers usually want to know how well you can communicate.
Numeric Ability - Includes basic arithmetic, number sequences and simple mathematics. In management level tests you will often be presented with charts and graphs that need to be interpreted. These questions appear in most general aptitude tests because employers usually want some indication of your ability to use numbers even if this is not a major part of the job.
Abstract Reasoning - Measures your ability to identify the underlying logic of a pattern and then determine the solution. Because abstract reasoning ability is believed to be the best indicator of fluid intelligence and your ability to learn new things quickly these questions appear in most general aptitude tests.
Spatial Ability - Measures your ability to manipulate shapes in two dimensions or to visualize three-dimensional objects presented as two-dimensional pictures. These questions not usually found in general aptitude tests unless the job specifically requires good spatial skills.
Mechanical Reasoning - Designed to assess your knowledge of physical and mechanical principles. Mechanical reasoning questions are used to select for a wide range of jobs including the military (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), police forces, fire services, as well as many craft, technical and engineering occupations.
Fault Diagnosis - These tests are used to select technical personnel who need to be able to find and repair faults in electronic and mechanical systems. As modern equipment of all types becomes more dependent on electronic control systems (and arguably more complex) the ability to approach problems logically in order to find the cause of the fault is increasingly important.
Data Checking - Measure how quickly and accurately errors can be detected in data and are used to select candidates for clerical and data input jobs.
Work Sample - Involves a sample of the work that you will be expected do. These types of test can be very broad ranging. They may involve exercises using a word processor or spreadsheet if the job is administrative or they may include giving a presentation or in-tray exercises if the job is management or supervisory level.
Don't Make Assumptions about Your Own Abilities
It is very important that you don't make any assumptions about your own abilities in these areas. For example, many people assume that they won't have any problems with verbal ability questions because they once got an 'A' in an English exam. They may have a point if they got the 'A' a few months ago, but what if it was ten years ago? It is very easy to ignore the effects of not reading as much as you used to, and of letting your spell-checker take care of correcting your written English.
The same thing applies to numerical ability. Most people who have been out of education for more than a few years will have forgotten how to multiply fractions and calculate volumes. While it is easy to dismiss these as 'first grade' or elementary maths, most people simply don't do these things on a day-to-day basis. So, don't assume anything - it's better to do some practice tests and then you'll know for sure.
You may also be interested in Psychometric Tests Introduction, Personality Questionnaires, How Personality Profiles are Used, Aptitude Tests, Aptitude and Ability Tests - Speed versus Power, The Assessment Center, Why are Selection Tests So Widely Used, The Growth of Psychometric Testing and What You Can Expect on the Day.