Subscribe to our mailing list

What are tests really telling you?


Recently I presented a webinar on the topic of psychometric assessments – specifically, on the more popular areas of testing like reasoning ability testing and personality – and what it is those types of tests really tell you about how your applicant or candidate is likely to behave and perform.

This is an area close to my heart. With my experience building, maintaining and using these types of tests I am acutely aware of the importance of making sure you measure something that actually exists, is relevant, and is measured in a consistent way every time. But most of all, it’s important my clients can understand what the tests and reports are actually telling them!

I feel strongly that our job as psychologists is to break down the language, psychobabble and barriers to understanding, so you can better understand everything that you need to know about your candidate or employee, giving you greater confidence. We should be the translators, not the gatekeepers, of the science that sits behind psychological services like this.

This is why I wanted to share with you what it is that psychometric tests can really tell you.

A very brief history

Psychometric assessments are simply a scientific measure of aspects of human thinking and behaviour. That seems very simple on the outside, and it can be, but those aspects of our thinking and behaviour are clearly definable, and have been consistently shown across many studies, statistically, to be stable and consistent.

Across the 100-year journey of test development, only a portion of these tools have been shaped and designed according to that science.

Over that time though, a consistent family of tests have emerged. Tests that measure general mental ability as your core intellectual horsepower and rely on as little previously learned knowledge as possible; and personality tests that measures you based on where you sit on 5 high level broad traits.

From there we have solidified our understanding of what these tests can tell us.

What can personality tests really tell you?

When you use the research to dictate how to measure personality, you can actually predict some pretty big, life-changing things. Particular combinations of traits can actually predict your overall levels of happiness, physical and mental wellbeing, a person’s mortality risk, their potential romantic compatibility, and importantly for our purposes, their behaviour and performance at work.

Work behaviour in particular is an interesting one because behavioural preference in itself does not dictate what you actually CAN do. It does show us what job applicants will be most comfortable doing though, which tells us about the level of likely enthusiasm and long term sustainability of the hire. This is where carefully considering what is needed in the role and comparing that to a candidate’s personality can be one of the most important steps in a selection process.

What can reasoning ability tests really tell you?

While personality tests don’t give you an indication of true ability, that is what reasoning tests are specifically designed to do. I like to consider work as a situation where we are paid to solve a series of problems, all day, every day. Some are easy, some are more difficult, and sometimes they are problems that we have never seen before.

A valid reasoning test will tell you how accurately and quickly a person can solve novel and complex problems. Nearly 100 years of research can now tell us how quickly a new hire will get fully up to speed on the job, learn new skills, and accurately solve complex on the job problems. Think of it as a person’s intellectual horsepower. The size of their engine. When paired with personality testing, this forms one of the most powerful ways to predict performance, engagement, and success on the job.

What should I look for in a test?

Looking for the above aspects in a test should serve as the bare minimum when you are searching for the right psychometrics for you. To make sure you are investing your limited budget on quality selection tools, there are some key aspects to ask your supplier about:

  • Are the tests valid? Are they measuring what they say they’re measuring?
  • Are they reliable? Are the results relatively stable and precise, or do they change with each taking?
  • Are they based on evidence and research? Generally, if a test is measuring something validly and reliably, it is accurately measuring a stable psychometric construct, like the 5 factor personality model, or general mental ability.

While this statistical information may be complex to understand and a supplier (including us) are unlikely to just hand over the figures, they will usually be able to at least describe them. If they measure these psychological aspects validly and reliably, most psychometrics suppliers will have tools that looks remarkably similar. They really have to, almost as a ticket to play.

So the next step is working out if the reporting and service from your supplier is right for you.  Ask yourself:

  • Are the reports simple enough and easy to read?
  • Is the customer service responsive and helpful, and do their psychologists give me the depth of advice and meaning that I need?
  • Do their comparison groups represent the candidates that I am testing?
  • Do they take the time to look after my candidates, and value the candidate experience as well as mine?
With those in mind, we hope that you can step into the world of testing with greater confidence.

Connect with us...

If you would like to know more, please contact us here and one of our Workplace Strategists will be in touch within 24 hours.

Written by:
Dr Ian Haslam
Ian’s consulting career and experience is backed by his deep interest in the application of science behind human behaviour, and psychology to engage clients and achieve sustainable results.