Psychometric Test Information and Advice for Test-Takers
What are psychometric tests?
There are many different types of psychometric test, and they’re sometimes called psychological or occupational tests, to further confuse matters. But they all have the same basic aim – and that is, to identify your mental abilities and psychological characteristics on scientifically quantifiable bases. The idea is to test your abilities and character traits in controlled conditions in order to measure you on an objective basis, enabling your abilities and aspects of your character to be assessed and compared to those of other people taking the same test.
Psychometric tests are there to measure your abilities and traits
Psychometric tests are created by occupational psychologists, and accredited by professional bodies in the field of psychology. Those designed for use in the recruitment process are made with two key aims: to provide employers with reliable methods of selection from a pool of applicants, and also to be fair to all applicants.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) defines psychometric tests as “tests which can be systematically scored and administered” and which “are supported by a body of evidence and statistical data which demonstrates their validity… to measure individual differences (for example in ability, aptitude, attainment, intelligence or personality)” (CIPD, “Selection methods”, http://www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/recruitmen/selectn/selection-methods.htm). The British Psychology Society’s Psychological Testing Centre website notes that such tests are used for a variety of reasons where an individual’s personality, ability or behaviour ware to be assesses during recruitment selection.
How do employers use psychometric tests?
What all psychometric tests do, then, is to measure an aspect of your mental, or psychological performance in a standardised way. In practice, this means that psychometric tests measure things about you such as your verbal ability, your ability with numbers, and aspects of your personality such as your values, your interests and your temperament.
The literal etymological meaning of the word psychometrics is “measuring the soul” this emphasizes the extent to which it’s very difficult to apply scientific and objective measurements to people’s abilities and characteristics. But psychometric tests are widely used in the recruitment process – so whatever your views about their accuracy and reliability, it’s a fact that such tests are performed and that the resulting measurements are used to assess the suitability of a great many job candidates.
What different kinds of psychometric tests are there?
In general terms, there are two basic types of psychometric test – those that test your abilities, aptitudes or attainments, and those that measure your personal psychological characteristics or traits. Ability tests are testing for your maximum capacity for achieving something, whereas personality tests are assessing your typical responses to a given situation.
In fact, there’s a huge range of psychometric tests available to recruiters – with something like 5,000 available in English alone, and around fifty abilities that can be measured using them! The kinds of tests you’re most likely to come across in the recruitment process are those that measure your abilities in verbal, numerical, abstract, perceptual, mechanical/diagrammatic and spatial reasoning. You’re also likely to be asked to take a personality test of some sort. You can read more about the main types of psychometric tests both in this article and in related articles on this site.
What do psychometric tests measure?
Any psychometric test you take is designed to assign a quantifiable, objective, measure of your ability to display a trait. This means that psychometric tests measure your abilities to do specific things – for instance, to understand and apply grammar rules; to reason with numbers; to follow instructions; or to solve mechanical problems. Other psychometric tests measure things about your personality – such as your tendency to extraversion or introversion; your priorities; your motivations; or your attitude to work.
Each individual test usually measures just one of these things (such as specific areas of your verbal or numerical reasoning skills), or one of these areas (such as your “personality type” or your character traits).
One thing to remember is that whatever the specific focus of a test or set of tests you’re given in a recruitment process, there are two things that all aptitude tests measure, irrespective of the psychological model on which they are based and assess you: these are (i) your ability to turn up on time and sit down to take the tests, and (ii) your ability to follow instructions and work neatly. (You might think that online psychometric tests are exceptions to this: but even then, some online tests are timed, and all still test you ability to follow instructions. So don’t be too dismissive of online tests!)
Who uses psychometric tests?
A great many public and private employers and recruiters use psychometric testing to select their employees. Not only the vast vast majority of the FTSE 100 companies use them, but so do a great many national and multinational businesses in the retail, energy, motor, financial and other sectors, as well as the police force, the armed forces, the NHS, local authorities and the civil service. The same is true not only in the UK but also in the USA, Australia, South Africa and continental Europe – and at all levels, from entry-level first jobs to company directors.
All this means that whatever industry or sector you hope to work in, whatever your qualifications and experience, and whether you’re applying via recruitment agencies or direct to employers, it’s almost certain that you will at some point have to take psychometric tests. It is highly likely, too, that you’ll be required to take multiple tests, of different types. This is why it’s so important to understand what psychometric tests are, what they measure, and how to best prepare for them while you search for a job.
Why do recruitment companies and employers use psychometric tests?
Psychometric tests are particularly attractive to recruiters because they offer a comparatively objective way of measuring not just your abilities, but what type of employee you might make. This is attractive because they know that you can customise your CV to exaggerate your achievements, and that your references are hardly going to be negative about you because the people who wrote them will tend to want to help you get a job. They also realise that even if you shine at interview, this might not mean you’re the best person for the job. So while CVs, interviews and references are all helpful to recruiters, psychometric tests, in contrast, are a much more objective, measurable indicator of your aptitude and personality type. The only trick in psychometric testing is to carefully select the correct test to apply. It’s no good testing and measuring a candidate on one skill when actually another trait would be a more useful measure. This way is arguably fairer than simply relying on CVs and references, and even interviews.
Recruiters are obviously keen to assess whether or not you have the qualities they consider important and valuable in their workforce. Not only can verbal and numerical reasoning ability tests provide them with insight into your relative mental and practical strengths and weaknesses, but tests that focus on your character traits can be invaluable is assessing whether and how far you’d actually apply your abilities in your job, for the good of your employer. Psychometric tests can do this by giving recruiters a sense of your motivations and priorities in life, for instance – and thus of whether you’ll be inclined to respect an employer’s rules or not, whether you’re a team worker or a loner, whether you waste time or focus hard, and so on.
Increasing numbers of employers and recruitment agencies are using psychometric tests at early as well as later stages of recruitment. This is in part because of the benefits they offer, and also in part because recruiters are faced with ever increasing volumes of graduate and other job applicants: recruiters therefore need fair ways to compare applicants in deciding who should and who should not be offered a particular job.
How and where do I take a psychometric test?
Most ability tests are given in controlled conditions, and are timed – much like an exam. They almost always take the form of multiple choice questions, and are usually taken either online or on a printed answer sheet or computer at a testing centre. Testing centres might be the offices of the employer who’s assessing you, the offices of the recruitment agency setting the test, or at a dedicated test centre. This will vary from company to company, and from employer to employer.
You’ll be provided with full instructions for how to take the test before you start, and should always be given some sample questions to try before the formal testing starts. This applies equally to online and in-person tests.
Who regulates testing standards?
With upwards of 5,000 psychometrics tests
available to recruiters, there’s no one recognised
body that regulates testing standards globally. That
said, the British Psychological Society (BPS) does
provide guidelines for testing standards, and is
recognised as the leading UK organisation for
setting standards in psychological testing. In
particular, the BPS directs the work of the PTC
through the Committee on Test Standards (CTS), where
the CTS’s role is to set, promote and maintain
standards in UK testing.
In addition, international bodies including the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA) and the International Test Commission (ITC) also provide guidelines and regulate the field as much as possible.
Personality tests summary
Personality tests are, in essence, questionnaires in which there are no “right” or “wrong” answers, as their aim is to assess what kind of person you are. Recruiters use them, in essence, because they provide an indication of your natural reaction to situations or colleagues. If your personality test results show a good match with the oragnisation, the recruiter has a good indication that you are the right applicant.
Most psychometric tests assessing personality either assign you a specific overall personality type, or, alternatively, identify traits that you possess to a greater or lesser extent. Both personality type and trait-focused questionnaires are based, fundamentally, on the work of psychologist Carl Jung, and the measurements they provide are assumed to be predictive of behaviour. Most large companies in the UK, Europe and the USA tend to use trait questionnaires for recruitment purposes, as these provide a way to directly compare you to other candidates for the job.
Aptitude tests summary
Remember that while psychometric tests are available to measure a very wide range of abilities and aptitudes, those most frequently used by recruiters are those that focus on abstract, verbal, numerical, perceptual, spatial and mechanical reasoning. Other types of psychometric tests you might come across include those that measure physical performance and strength or the capacity of your senses such as sight or smell.
Each and every kind of ability or aptitude test has characteristic types of questions, and it is fairly easy to find and take practise tests to ensure you are familiar with the various types of questions and the whole process of taking psychometric tests.