Different categories of psychometric tests

There are two major categories of psychometric tests:

Tests of MAXIMUM PERFORMANCE

Tests of TYPICAL BEHAVIOUR


Maximum Performance Tests

Tests of Maximum performance include tests that have right and wrong answers. This means aptitude tests, ability tests and attainment tests. It’s possible to break down the category of maximum performance tests further by distinguishing between Speed Tests and Power Tests.  A speed test is more common in occupational testing. It is a test that has a time limit.  The idea is that most candidates will not complete all questions by the end of the allotted time. Candidates will trade off speed with accuracy. It is quite conceivable however that candidates would do somewhat better if they were allowed more time.  On the contrary, power tests are not timed. The idea here is that you either know the subject matter or you don’t and that even if you were given more time your score would be unlikely to improve.  As an example, I know nothing about quantum physics.  If you sit me in a room and ask me to sit a test on this topic I won’t do well – I’ll do badly and I’ll do badly irrespective of how long you give me to complete the test!

So, what is the difference between the main types of maximum performance tests?

Aptitude Tests

These assessments are future looking. They ask if the candidate has the aptitude to do something in the future, perhaps after a period of education or experience. If I want to know if my graduate respondent will make a good leader I may ask him to sit a number of aptitude tests. I am quite certain that the recent graduate will not be able to be a leader right now. But that is not what I am asking.  I need to know if after a few years of on-the-job experience and leadership development training this person has the aptitude to be a successful leader. An example of an aptitude test would be Saville Consulting’s Swift Analysis Aptitude Test or their Customer Aptitudes Test.

Ability Tests
In the aptitude example above I noted that I know my recent graduate will not make a good leader now. Ability tests are about the “here and now”. They tell us what the candidate is able to do now. Ability tests appear at the top of the hierarchy in maximum performance assessment. An example of an ability test would be the General Ability Test (GAT) or the Graduate and Managerial Assessment (GMAT).

Attainment Tests
These are the tests that you are probably more familiar with. The tests we sit during our schooling and university years are attainment tests.  The question is: following this period of learning, how much does the person now know? So, GCSE tests, A’Levels, University Degrees, Pilot Licence Tests, Piano Tests and so on are all examples of attainment tests.

However, just as you are beginning to think this isn’t too difficult to understand, let me add a thought for you!  It is possible for a single test to actually be any of the above 3 categories depending on how you intend to use it! For example, if you have just completed a training course for apprentice mechanics and then give them a mechanical aptitude test in order to assess their learning, you are actually using it in a similar way to an attainment test. If you didn’t train these apprentices and you wish to see if they have the aptitude to be good mechanics and you have them sit this test, you are using it as an aptitude test.  If you are about to select a mechanic who needs to perform right now without further training you could use this same test as an ability test!


Typical Behaviour Tests

These are not really tests in the purest sense because with typical behaviour (also called typical performance) there is no right or wrong. In view of this we try to speak about questionnaires and assessments for this category instead of tests! This category includes personality assessments and interest questionnaires.

Personality Assessments
These obviously assess personality. Some personality assessments assess a few types of personality and these are called PERSONALITY TYPE assessments (for example, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI or the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire – EPQ). Other personality assessments assess traits. A type is a collection of traits.  A trait is a relatively enduring characteristic of the person (such as extraversion or resilience) which can be used to predict behaviours. Trait tools are able to assess at a finer level and this is one reason why type tools should not be used in assessment for selection decisions despite being useful guides in development and team-building.

Trait tools can be further split into 2 more categories – NARROWBAND and BROADBAND. Broadband Personality Questionnaires assess traits broadly – this means there are overall fewer traits to assess – perhaps 5 or 6 in total. An example of a broadband personality tool is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Narrowband tools assess more traits/contain more scales. They typically assess each scale with fewer questions than broadband instruments. Some narrowband assessments may have around 16 scales (e.g., the 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire – 16PF) whilst others may have around double that, for example the Identity Personality Questionnaire and the Apollo Profile assess 36 and 34 scales respectively. A benefit of narrowband tools is their ability to assess at a very specific level within the person. This enables a more valid prediction of workplace performance. However, broadband personality tools have their own advantage which is that because they contain more questions per scale/trait – reliability for each scale/trait is generally higher than with narrowband tools.  We’ll discuss reliability and validity in detail later in the course.

Note: Some personality assessments were not developed specifically for workplace assessment but are nonetheless used in workplace selection and development (e.g., 16PF, MMPI) whilst other questionnaires were developed specifically to be used in workplace selection and development (e.g., Apollo, OPQ32, Hogan Personality Inventory)

Interest Questionnaires
As the name implies, these tools assess the respondent’s interest in various aspects of the working world in a structured and meaningful way and are therefore typically used in career counselling. They are also used in selection assessment to ascertain whether the candidate will comfortably fit the particular organisation they are applying to work in.  For example, if I am interested in doing structured work in a well structured organisation I may not be very happy working for an organisation which values spontaneity and creativity. Some personality assessments also report on the respondent’s interest by way of “derived scales”.  Derived scales come about by way of predicting statistically what the respondent would score in particular areas (such as interest) based on how they responded to the general personality assessment. An example of an Interest Questionnaire is the Strong Interest Inventory.  An example of a personality questionnaire that uses derived interest scales is the Identity Self-perception Questionnaire.

We’re pleased to provide complimentary temporary access to the section of our online training in psychometrics that explains the above points. Simply click the image above to continue.

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