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Psychometric & Aptitude Tests

What is Psychometric Testing?

Psychometric testing falls into three main categories:

  1. Aptitude testing
  2. Ability testing
  3. Personality profiling

Ability testing

Ability tests measure a person’s potential, for instance to learn the skills needed for a new job or to cope with the demands of a training course. Ability tests are not the same thing as Tests of Attainment.

Tests of attainment assess specifically what people have learnt e.g. mathematical ability or typing skills. Of course what people have learned does depend on their ability in that domain in the first place so the scores on the two types of test are conceptually linked.

The major difference between tests of ability and tests of attainment is in the way the scores from both types of test are used. Many ability test items look identical to those on attainment tests but attainment tests are different in one crucial respect - they are retrospective: they focus on what has been learnt and on what a person knows and can do now. Ability tests are prospective: they focus on what the person is capable of achieving in the future or their potential to learn.

Bear in mind that some attainment is required before certain abilities can be measured, for instance, we need certain knowledge of mathematics before our numerical ability can be measured. In addition, a test of attainment cannot be used to directly infer ability. School examinations are one example of measures of achievement or attainment, and while we might draw some conclusions about an individual's ability on the basis of the results, we would not use them as a direct measure of ability since a less able student may work harder than a more able student to produce a better score.

General ability is usually divided up into specific abilities, reflecting the hierarchical structure of intelligence that is generally accepted by most workers in the field. So, a general ability test might be composed of specific numerical, verbal and spatial ability scales brought together as a test battery. They can then be scored and interpreted individually as a specific ability or aptitude measure, or together as part of a general ability measure.

Aptitude testing

There is no widely accepted definition of the difference between ability and aptitude. Most people would agree that to some extent the two terms refer to the same thing: aptitude referring to specific ability, and ability referring to general aptitude. We could probably view ability as underlying aptitude, and aptitude as being more job related then ability. For instance a computer programmer might score highly on a verbal ability test and highly on a programmer aptitude test but not the other way around.

Aptitude tests tend to be job related and have names that include job titles such as the Programmers Aptitude Series. Ability tests on the other hand are designed to measure the abilities or mental processes that underlie aptitude. We have also mentioned that ability tests can be either general or specific in focus.

An ability test such as the General Ability Test (GAT) is made up of four tests of specific ability - numerical ability; verbal ability; non-verbal ability and spatial ability. They can be used separately to assess specific abilities or together to assess general ability. There are tests which measure only general ability such as the Standard Progressive Matrices (which is one of the purest measures of general ability available) and there are tests which only measure specific abilities such as the ACER Mechanical Reasoning Test. You will find with experience that some tests fall into more than one category and that the distinction between the various categories is not always an easy one to define.

Personality profiling

Personality is a term which is commonly used in everyday language but which has been given a particular technical meaning by psychologists. When we discuss personality we must remember that it is not a single independent mechanism but closely related to other human cognitive and emotional systems.

What is personality not?

Before we go onto discuss what exactly personality is, it might be useful to just consider what personality is not.

Personality is not the same thing as motivation which is goal directed behaviour designed to satisfy needs, interests and aspirations. Motivation is related to personality in that while personality may represent the way we behave, motivation represents the why. Exactly how the underlying motives of behaviour are conceptualised depends very much on the school of thought to which one belongs, for instance a humanist might see the motivation behind behaviour as coming from a desire to achieve ones full potential whereas a psychoanalyst might look for unconscious motivations to do with unfulfilled sexual needs.

Personality is not the same thing as culture which is the values, attitudes and beliefs we share with others about the nature of the world. Personality is not the same thing as ability (usually held to be synonymous with intelligence) which is the ability to identify, understand and absorb the different components of a problem. Then to identify the way they are related to each other and the logical consequence of these relationships to work out the next step.

A definition of personality

We can define personality as - those relatively stable and enduring aspects of an individual which distinguishes them from other people, making them unique, but which at the same time permit a comparison between individuals.

It is more useful to view personality not as something we have but rather as having to do with how we relate to the world, this is something which is rendered explicit in Goodstein and Lanyon's (1975) definition of personality as being - the enduring characteristics of the person that are significant for interpersonal behaviour.

Within this general definition a number of different theoretical approaches exist:

  • The Psychometric approach (Eysenck and Cattell).
  • The Psychodynamic approach (Freud, Jung, Adler).
  • The Social Learning approach (Mischel, Bandura).
  • The Humanistic approach (Maslow, Rogers).

These approaches to personality are theoretically very different and such a diversity of different theories exist because personality is a hypothetical construct which can never be directly observed but only inferred from behaviour.