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Through Psychometric tests, one can attempt to achieve a measurement of the mind. Measuring the mind from an organisational perspective is potentially very rewarding. As, in theory, having “measured” someone’s mind we can find a job or task that best suits their mindset.
Psychometrics and their conception began towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the first test being published in 1905. One of the earliest applications of such a test was by the American Armed forces during the First World War. They were used to determine the skills of many new recruits quickly to decide which military unit to assign them to. Early on, several psychological associations, such as the British, National Institute of Industrial Psychology (NIIP) set out the general ways that tests should be used.
Tests slowly began to be used more and more for selection procedures in large companies, roughly until the 1970’s when the United States passed legislation aimed at equal opportunities in employment. During this time many companies stopped producing tests in the fear of lawsuits (which had been successfully pursued against some companies). Later on, tests were developed specifically for occupation assessment and slowly confidence was restored.
There are several things different psychometric tests and questionnaires seek to measure: intelligence, ability, personality, aptitude and attainment. Intelligence tests seek to measure a skill or ability within a particular factor (generally these are academic in nature) and often then combine them to a singular particular comparable figure; it is often easier to define intelligence tests than to explain intelligence itself. Ability tests are measure things that may not necessarily make one intelligent but nonetheless can be useful. For example, someone’s spatial ability: being able to recognise the same shape under different orientation can confirm spatial ability.
Personality tests in essence tend to attempt to measure someone’s personality; the problem regarding these tests is what can be measured in order to measure personality? Aptitude and attainment tests tend to concern a person’s ability and willingness to perform tasks, such as simple arithmetic calculations. According to Mullins (2005) “For a test to be considered as a psychological instrument it must be objective, standardised, reliable, valid and discriminating (but not discriminatory)” (325). By this he means that a test should have a specific goal or set of goals setting out what it is trying to measure (objective), conform to current standards regarding its subject area (standardised).
Consistently measure (reliable), measure what they claim to measure (valid) and show a good judgement and insight (discriminating). Reliability and validity are certainly the most important considerations; having a test with all the best intentions is no good if it doesn’t live up to them. Reliability is generally measured by testing several candidates with the same test twice within different time intervals and seeing if their results are the same or similar to the last time. There are 5 main types of validity as explained by Edenborough (2007: 12).
- Predictive validity – identifying future performance.
- Concurrent validity – distinguishing higher and lower performers.
- Content validity – reflecting relevant material in the test.
- Face validity – appearing credible.
- Construct validity – measuring what it’s supposed to measure.
Workplace tests are often used to aid in the following: recruitment, promotion selection, career management and training selection. They are widely used by large corporations to make the aforementioned processes less time consuming and thus more efficient. Used correctly, a psychometric test should, in theory, help one decide what people are best suited for the job. It must be stressed however questionnaires and tests will not make decisions for us but they can certainly help us become better equipped to make them. This is of course the main attraction to many businesses that take them on.
They can help them make more informed decisions quicker. This can be an aid for today’s businesses when they are often faced with large numbers of equally qualified applicants for the same position. Psychometric tests are just another way to differentiate between them and help one find the people best suited for the job. (Irving, 524)
In organisation selection processes attitude or personality tests are used as an aid. This is due to the applicants normally being screened by their own qualifications before they are able to apply for a new job or training position. It is not very cost effective to test them again with relation to their ability; it becomes more important to test them with respect to their personality as this will help determine how they will behave under the working environment. In the long term, this has the potential of being very cost effective.
If indeed you do select the most productive staff, your investment in a psychometric test may not be in vain. Another possible advantage to psychometric tests is that they may help predict future performance and show how certain people will react to different situations. Now, from a manager’s point of view this can be very useful; it can help him know how best to treat the people under his/her supervision as to get the best out of their abilities. This advantage shouldn’t be taken lightly by managers. It is becoming increasingly important for managers to know how best to maintain an individual and group morale high; unhappy workers will not work as hard as content ones.
There are many issues regarding the use of psychometric questionnaires in the workplace. The British Psychological Society (BPS) has issued a code of good practice for occupational testing. It addresses many of the possible problems that can be encountered by employers. Its encourages testers to;
“Ensure test results are stored securely, are not accessible to unauthorised or unqualified persons and are not used for any purposes other than those agreed with the test taker.” (British Psychological Society, www.psychtesting.org.uk).
One of the main concerns of the test’s subjects is to the test’s purpose. As referenced earlier a psychological test should be objective; informing one why they are being issued a test can lower their anxiety and improve test performance. Psychometric tests are designed and researched by psychologists, so in order to administer and assess them correctly it is best to have someone trained available. Whether to go to the expense of hiring a consultant or the time consuming process of training the company’s staff, is one for the company.
Each one has its pros and cons. In hiring a consultant one may acquire better subject knowledge quicker (but at a price), though one will be working with a less familiar face and in some cases this may be detrimental to the test’s participants. (Mullins, 327) Training one’s own staff will be more time consuming and expensive in terms of lost productivity but one will be “keeping the work in house” as it were. Problems can arise when other untrained members of staff start asking too many questions for the work to progress quickly.
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There have been attempts to get around this problem in the past. Software programmes have been written to interpret psychometric test scores or developed tests with which apparently there is no for training in order for them to be used, “Persona” for example developed by Axion software in 1994. This may seem like a reasonable solution until it becomes apparent that a personality profile for an individual cannot really be obtained in this way; instead one will get a profile for a set of individuals. Test use in this way can come under fire. Without the proper guidance of a trained professional tests are often misused or used for what may be considered ethically unjust. (Irving, 524).
For instance, as a basis to assess which employees should be made redundant. Taking a test to some way help determine whether an employee should be made redundant is not taken lightly by employees themselves, especially if the true intentions of the test are not revealed to its participants beforehand. With regard to such a situation, tests and questionnaires should only be used to complement information one already knows rather than for the basis for decisions. Psychometric tests are not always correct.
If used objectively according to the guidelines issued by an appropriate psychological body; such as the BPI, psychometric tests can be a positive part in the selection process of prospective employees. Participants should be made aware of what the test is for and why they are being asked to take it. As well as not having their private lives invaded questions asked should be more about general issues rather than personal ones such as religious beliefs.
Fortunately due to litigation of companies in this field, other more respectable companies; such as Saville and Holdsworth limited, are now seeking to ensure their tests are properly distributed and used. By issuing guidelines for use with tests and requiring qualifications for professionals who distribute them. Psychometrics can aid in organisational decision making.
I personally think that the aptitude and ability tests are really useful for organisations, as it helps them to make decisions during their selection and promotion stages. It is reliable and accurate, helps to identify the ability of the applicants and predicts their performance. However, there are lots of factors that could create an influence on the individuals’ life, which would directly or indirectly affect their performance.
The personality questionnaire can be accurate if the person answers honestly to the questions, it can help them to know more about themselves and find out what type of person they are. However, I suggest that the personality questionnaire should not be used within workplace because I strongly believe that personality does not reflect the productivity of the person.
Finally, I think it is important for organisations not to rely on these tests because they cannot be 100% accurate, and that they should set out a good selection procedure, making sure they are providing a good feedback system to the applicants, and make sure discriminations do not take place during the selection process.
British Psychological Society. Web.
Edenborough, Robert. Assessment Methods in Recruitment, Selection & Performance: A Manager’s Guide to Psychometric Testing, Interviews and Assessment Centres. Kogan Page; III Edition, 2007: 12.
Irving B. Weiner, Roger L. Greene. Handbook of Personality Assessment. Publisher: Wiley, 2007: 524.
Mullins, Laurie J. Management And Organisational Behaviour, 7th Edition, Prentice Hall, 2005: 325-7.