Psychometric Testing

by Claire Walsh and David Hoad

In a nutshell

1. What is psychometric testing?

Psychometric testing is the use of scientifically-designed measures of a facet of human psychology. In organisations, this usually means some sort of question-and-answer method of establishing someone’s abilities, or their personality characteristics, or some other aspect of their mind or thinking.

  • Psychometric testing is usually about finding how good or successful someone is in a particular skill area (for example, verbal or numerical reasoning).
  • Psychometric profiling is more often used when we are talking about ‘building a picture’ of a person or group.
  • Psychometric assessment often describes the use of tests, profiles or a combination of measures to gauge a wider aspect of the person and assess their suitability for a particular job.


2. Advantages of psychometric testing

When properly selected and used, psychometric tests can be of great benefit to both employers and employees in, for example, assessing job-related competencies.

  • In career and development work, tests and profiles can help people better understand their interests, ambitions and motivations, as well as their abilities and aptitudes.
  • Most tests are also difficult to ‘fake’, and so will often give a more accurate indication of a characteristic than may be gained just through interviewing, role-plays and so on.


3. Types of psychometric test

There is a huge range of tests on the market and there are differences in

  • What they measure, such as personality traits, skills, interests or values
  • How they measure it – for example, questions with only one correct answer, or questions that reveal preferences
  • How the test is completed – for example, written answers or on-line papers
  • How the results are reported.


4. Ability and aptitude tests

Ability and aptitude tests measure an individual’s current and potential performance levels. Categories of tests include

  • Verbal – to assess ability with words and language
  • Numerical – to assess abilities with basic or complex numerical data
  • Diagrammatic – to assess the ability to evaluate processes represented through diagrams
  • Clerical – to assess the abilities required for clerical and administrative positions
  • Spatial – to assess cognitive and perceptual abilities with space and shapes
  • Mechanical – to assess the ability to comprehend mechanical and physical principles.


5. Personality profiles

Personality profiles measure personality traits or types. Profiles are used as a basis for interpreting how an individual is likely to behave in different circumstances.

  • Personality profiles based on trait theory can include such paired opposites as extroversion and introversion, tough-minded or gentle, practical or theoretical.
  • Profiles based on type theory measure your preference to act or behave, think or feel, in a particular way – whether or not you actually live out those preferences in your day-to-day life.


6. Interests and values inventories

Interests inventories measure an individual’s likes and dislikes, while values inventories assess what an individual self-reports as important to them.

  • A career interest inventory will explore an individual’s interest in different work themes or areas, which can help them to decide which careers would suit them best. They are not particularly useful as a selection tool, as applicants can fake their responses.
  • Values inventories can be helpful in career counselling, training, coaching and succession planning, as they can help to predict future job satisfaction.


7. Uses of psychometric testing

In an occupational context, psychometric tests have a variety of commonly-found uses:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Coaching
  • Career guidance
  • Team development
  • Succession planning
  • Assessment and development centres


8. On-line testing

Online testing is becoming increasingly popular. Its advantages include

  • Relatively low cost
  • Convenience, since tests can be take anywhere and at any time
  • Security – cutting down on illegal copying
  • Speed
  • Analysis – large numbers of tests can quickly be analysed.

Disadvantages include

  • Possibility of cheating – the administrator may not be sure who is taking the test
  • Lack of supervision to check timing, understanding, privacy and so on
  • Lack of face-to-face feedback


9. Advice for test takers

You should be told what sort of test and other assessment procedures will be used (though not necessarily the exact name of the test), why it is being used, and what arrangements are in place for feedback afterwards. There should also be all the usual logistical things, like where to be, at what time, how long the test session is likely to last, and what to bring with you.

  • If it is an ability test, there will usually be some practice questions for completion under supervision.


10. Advice for test users

There are so many psychological tests on offer; it can be hard for the test user to know where to start looking.

  • The most important starting point in choosing a test is to know what needs to be measured and why.
  • Test providers should always be able to give you the relevant information: the test’s intended use; it’s validity and reliability; how it is administered, and what norms and reference groups it uses.
  • In the UK, most test providers will only sell their tests to accredited users to ensure their tests are administered and fed back in a competent way, and will usually provide formal training in the use of their products.
  • Always check that the person you are thinking of using is a genuinely accredited user of the tests you and they propose to use, otherwise you may both be legally liable for copyright infringement.


11. Some well-known tests

There are many different psychometric tests and inventories on the market and it is important that test users research which instruments best suit their needs by talking with the test providers and checking information with the British Psychological Society or Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. You should always check who can administer, score and interpret the test results before making a decision about which tests to use.