We hear about psychometric tests day-in and day-out and being a Psychometrician, I hear about them more often that anything else. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed to see so many different meanings people assign to the term ‘Psychometric Tests’. Now, it has become part of my latest communication protocol to first figure out my interlocutor`s meaning of psychometric test to have any meaningful discussion with him/her. Here is how I look at psychometric tests:
1. Psychometric Test is a quite general term representing one general category of tests used to measure some aspects of Human Characteristics which fall into the domain of psychology. For some, it also includes those quizzes on internet or in local news paper which claim to tell about you by asking some lame questions. Example, look at this ‘toothpaste personality test’-
2. Scientifically speaking, Psychometric Tests are instruments to measure psychological attributes and therefore there are at least as many type of psychometric tests as there are attribute groups. In simple terms, anything which looks like a mental characteristic can be a subject for measurement and the instrument to measure it can be termed as ‘psychometric test’. Therefore, classification of psychometric tests usually comes from the classification of mental characteristics.
3. Mental Characteristics are of two types – Ability and Personality. The differentiating factor between them is the notion of ‘right and wrong’ vs. ‘right and left’, ‘correct or incorrect’ vs. ‘this way or that way’. Therefore, psychometric tests can be categorised into two distinct categories – Ability Tests and Personality Tests.
Ability Tests are primarily about measuring those mental characteristics which are cognitive in nature e.g. ability to discover a general rule in a series of images, ability to do mental calculations, ability to classify things based on their characteristics, ability to figure out the assumptions given a conclusion. These tests have questions which have right or wrong answers. You either pass or fail on these questions. Since there abilities are of two types, the ability tests can be further classified into two categories:
Achievement Tests: These tests measure the acquired or learned level of a mental ability e.g. a numerical reasoning test which contains questions are data interpretation is an achievement test as your ability to answer the correctly depends upon you knowing the mathematical principle and rules applied in those questions. In other words, they measure your knowledge and understanding in a given area. These tests are commonly called as ‘ability tests’ .
Aptitude Tests: Aptitude test measure the ‘potential’ of excelling in a given ability area. They do not ask questions that requires significant knowledge acquisition in a given area. Instead, they ask questions that do not require any special attempt of learning in those areas. They ask questions which rely least on memory. Aptitude questions are about very basic aspects of the subject.
For an ‘unqualified test user’ it is not easy to differentiate between the two as the questions look identical in both types of tests. However, an apology could be helpful here to understand the difference.
Aptitude tests are about testing the seeds while achievement tests are about testing the trees
Personality Tests are about measuring those mental characteristics which are ‘non cognitive’ in nature i.e. behavioural and emotional characteristics. These are personality traits, personality types, interests, motivations, values, emotional competence, preferences. It is this type of tests which are mostly misunderstood, thanks to ‘pop-psychology’ propagated by online and offline media.
One hallmark of these tests is that they have no write or wrong answers and therefore you do not fail or pass them. It is like colours, there are no good and bad colours but some colours just do not look good together. In the same way, there is nothing inherently good or bad about personality but some work-environments match better with some specific type of personalities.
More on this on another time…