Throughout the course of your career you may have been asked to complete a test or questionnaire and wondered where these exercises come from, why they are used and whether they are used properly?
During the last two decades in my career as psychologist I have conducted thousands of 'psych' tests for selection and development. The process can often cause some confusion and concern for people who are seeking to land that dream job, or those who are being tested for development purposes whilst in their current roles. We wanted to pull together some really simple facts around the process, and share some common questions that we are often asked to help dispel some of the myths around the testing process.
One thing I always like to reiterate early on to candidates is that the psychometric assessment process is only one piece of the puzzle. By no means does psych testing make or break the selection process. It provides valuable data that complements and adds context to the rest of the recruitment or development process. I always emphasise this in the briefing process to the hiring manager, and it is the role of the psychologist to paint a broader picture of the candidate, rather than focusing on scores on a page or measures against a norm.
Test and questionnaires are used to find out about a person’s capacities, work style or values. Employers need this sort of information when they want to recruit a new employee or understand the potential and development needs of an existing one. Individuals need to consider their own abilities and personal style when making career choices, so careers advisers are also frequent users of tests.
The research evidence consistently shows that objective measures such as tests and questionnaires provide more accurate assessments of individuals than subjective approaches such as interviews or evaluating CVs. While these subjective approaches can provide useful information, particularly in skilled hands, the reliability and precision of objective measures is difficult to match. Psychological testing / assessment combined with skilled interviews and recruiter or manager evaluation provides the most powerful and insightful solution.
In the current climate, where an employer can receive thousands of applications for a single position, testing provides a way to evaluate large numbers of people and identify the best prospects to invite to interview and further assessment. Without such tools a recruiter would be faced with spending days going through a pile of CVs. In a more competitive scenario at final stage of interviewing with a handful of candidates vying for the same position, psychological insights can provide valuable data around personality style, cultural/team fit, ways of working, de-railers or motivators and also provide some tangible measures around problem solving skills.
Tests and questionnaires are often referred to as ‘psychometric’. That is because psychological theories of human behaviour and its measurement have been used in their construction. Psychometric testing can't be used by anybody. Psychologists are specifically trained and registered to use specific tools and human experience and psychological insights allow for accurate interpretation of data, in line with the specific job requirements. Reports are written with the lens of broader information received about the individual, such as their career history, patterns of employment, the interview process and other qualitative data.
We have found some great information on the Australian Psychological Society that helps break down the testing process and also answer some common questions we often face from candidates and employees.
If you have any more questions or testing requirements, contact Matt today for sample reports, testing rate cards or just to talk through the process. Psychometric testing, well done, is a piece of the puzzle that should provide comfort and clarity in the selection process.
Psychological Tests & Testing
Psychological testing is an integral part of a wider assessment process that brings together information from a range of sources to benefit the client.
The administration and scoring of a psychological test is undertaken by a psychologist who is fully familiar with the test instrument or by a person trained in the administration and scoring of the test who is working under the direct supervision of a psychologist.
The interpretation of the results of a psychological test and the integration of these results with other assessment information (e.g., interviews, observations) is only undertaken by psychologists who have a sound knowledge of the administration, scoring and interpretation of the particular test instrument being used and of the psychological theory and particular test theory underlying that test.
Psychologists ensure that they select and use psychological tests that are based soundly on theory, have adequate psychometric properties, are appropriate to the testing situation, and take account of client characteristics including age, gender, cultural background, language ability and mental state to ensure that the testing will yield meaningful information about the individual or individuals being tested.
Psychologists who undertake psychological testing or who read and interpret psychological reports describing psychological testing take all necessary steps including ongoing professional development to ensure that they maintain an up- to-date knowledge and skill base, including the administration, scoring and interpretation of new tests or new editions that are of relevance to their area of practice.
Psychologists undertaking psychological testing abide by the APS Code of Ethics and the Guidelines for Psychological Assessment and the Use of Tests and recognise the importance of practising only within their areas of competence.
Access to psychological test data is restricted to psychologists or individuals who are trained in test administration working under the direct supervision of psychologists.
Some Common Questions about Psych Testing
What is a Psychological Test
A psychological test provides a measure of characteristics and abilities in individuals including aptitude and intelligence. Psychological tests have a number of important qualities that distinguish them from other tests or questionnaires. Psychological tests are based on psychological theories that take account and explain individual differences. They are standardised such that they are administered and scored in a consistent manner and provide a basis through the development of norms for comparing an individual’s performance with those of the general population, taking account of such factors as age and background. In addition, psychological tests have the qualities of validity, which means that the test actually measures what it claims to measure and reliability, which refers to how accurate the measure is across different times and different people.
Why would I undergo Psychological testing?
There are a range of reasons for undergoing psychological testing. For example, it may be that you are experiencing some difficulties and psychological testing will assist in understanding what is happening and determining how to work to overcome these difficulties. Psychological testing may also occur when people are high achievers and educators may want to know how best to focus on the individual’s learning to ensure they reach their full potential. Employers frequently request psychological testing so that they can determine whether someone’s abilities will be appropriate for a particular job.
What types of Psychological tests are there?
There are are several different ways of conducting psychological tests and obtaining the information that is used in psychological assessments. These include what we refer to as paper and pencil tests where the individual may provide answers in a test booklet using a pen or pencil, or the psychologist may note down the individual’s answers in the test booklet. Many tests are now computer based where the individual enters answers directly into the computer using the keyboard, mouse or possibly a joystick. These tests can be administered using online testing where the test is stored remotely from the computer and accessed through the internet. In addition to these different types, psychological testing may involve group testing for which tests are designed to be administered to a group of individuals at the same time, or may involve individual testing with the psychologist working directly with one individual, sometimes for extended periods to undertake a full assessment.
What should I do to prepare for psychological testing?
The best way to prepare for psychological testing is to make sure you have information about why the psychologist plans to ask you to take a test or tests, how long it will take, what will happen to the results and how they may be used to assist you. It is important that you have all this information. You should also make sure you know where to go for the testing and what time you are expected to be there so you can plan ahead. You should advise the psychologist of any special issues, such as if you have literacy, communication or mobility difficulties that might impact on you doing the test. Being rested (especially having had a good night’s sleep) and in good health will help ensure you are in the best frame of mind to take the test. Some people may feel anxious about being in a testing situation. There are exercises you can do to help reduce this anxiety and your psychologist should be able to help you with this. Even if you are a bit anxious or nervous, however, the psychologist should take this into account when interpreting your results. They will be expected to form a judgment on whether this or any other factor may have impacted on the test results. Many psychological tests are designed to measure abilities or traits in a way that practicing or swatting before the test will not help at all. Others are developed with restricted access to ensure you are not able find out answers beforehand and for this reason you will not be given any access to the test before you take it. In some other cases however, for example for some types of reasoning tests for job selection, you may find that there are some examples on the internet which will help you practice some types of questions.
I am applying for a job and I am required to take part in psychological testing. What will the tests measure, and how will the results of the testing be used?
It is difficult to say what the tests measured as it will depend on the job and also how much information is to be gathered. Employment related psychological testing often assesses reasoning ability (such as verbal reasoning), personality (or temperament) and sometimes vocational preferences, depending on the purpose of the testing. Specific aptitude tests (such as Speed and Accuracy or Mechanical Reasoning) may also be administered along with questionnaires in areas such as safety, integrity, leadership and emotional intelligence. Some testing may also incorporate work samples or require you to respond to various scenarios, in writing.
Test scores are considered in the light of the normative (comparison) benchmarks that should be relevant to the employment role and its context. Thus reasoning tests provide an indication of a person’s capacity to handle the cognitive demands of the role, independently of current knowledge and skills, as well as providing a good indication of potential for development. Personality measures assess, in general, areas such as interpersonal style, work approach and self-management. In essence, the testing helps to identify your abilities and competencies relevant to the job demands, while also considering aspects of organisational ‘fit’, your (likely) potential, and areas for development. Such testing as part of a selection process is best used in conjunction with structured interviews and targeted reference checking.
Can I prepare for the psychological tests I have to take as part of a job selection process?
There are a number of ways in which you can prepare. It is important to ask for information about the tests that you will be given and what their purpose is. Psychologists who administer tests are expected to provide this information beforehand. In addition, the internet provides information regarding practice test questions and strategies for taking tests. While example questions may be relatively simple, they can provide test takers with the opportunity to experience, in part, the testing process. You need to be aware of the source of information on the web, however, and judge whether it is meaningful and helpful. Prior to the test you should also make sure that you have all the practical details of the testing session including where the testing is taking place, the expected duration of testing, and any other associated activities such as an interview. If you know you become anxious in these types of settings, practice techniques such as deep breathing, from the lower diaphragm and make sure you take with you everything you might need including glasses or contact lenses if required and water to keep hydrated.
If you are undertaking testing in a home environment, ensure that your testing space is one in which distracting items are not evident and that you are not disturbed and that mobile phones, and even landlines, will not be activated. For tests conducted over the internet, you should also make sure you have available a reliable computer and reliable internet connections and avoid using small mobile or gaming devices that may lead to difficulties for responding to test items. It is also important, prior to the commencement of the testing session, to inform the psychologist or other person administering a test if you think that your current state of health or general well-being, or a particular disability, may compromise your test results.
I have been asked to take some psychological tests as part of a job selection process. Will I be given the test results?
It is important to ask before taking the test(s) whether you will be given access to the results. Good practice requires that you sign a consent form prior to your undertaking the testing, and you should be made aware of your rights at this time including access to the results and the security of the test information. It is recommended that you clarify any areas of concern prior to the testing being undertaken. Individuals often have the opportunity to discuss the test results with the test user (often, and preferably, a psychologist) and it is recommended that you contact the psychologist to obtain feedback as this provides you with the opportunity to clarify any matters to ensure that you have a solid understanding of the results of your testing.
Some organisations do provide a written report or a verbal debrief for you, although a fee may be charged for the report and it may not contain much information. In addition, under some circumstances there may be a requirement under the law for you to be provided with access to your results.
How should I approach an online testing session?
Listen to the test administrator's instructions carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask if you do not understand what to do.
Keep calm, and take a few deep breaths before starting the test.
Many ability tests are designed to present more questions than an average person can answer in the time allowed. If it looks as though you will not finish in time do not worry about it. However do your best to answer as many questions as you can.
Many tests do not take points off for wrong answers - so don't be frightened to take a best guess if you are not sure of the answer. Listen to what the test administrator says. You should be told if wrong answers are penalised and it would be better not to guess.
Read instructions carefully before you start the test. Make sure you know what you have to do before the test starts.
Remember you can go back and consult the instructions during the test if you are unsure of something.
Don't spend too much time on any one question, you should eventually get a 'feel' for how long a single question should take. Unless expressly told to work through the questions in order, just move on if you really get stuck.
If you do find yourself with some free time at the end of the test, use it to check your answers.
Use rough paper if you are allowed to.
Make or change your answers clearly and in the correct manner.
Source: Australian Psychological Society