Psychometric Testing

by Claire Walsh and David Hoad

What is psychometric testing?

Psychometric testing is the use of scientifically-designed measures of a facet of human psychology. In organisations, this usually means some sort of question-and-answer method of establishing someone’s abilities, or their personality characteristics, or some other aspect of their mind or thinking. A well-designed and properly-used test will give objective results, usually with scores indicating the strength of the characteristic(s) being tested. Often, these results can be compared with those of other people in an appropriate ‘norm group’ (a classified grouping of previous test takers – UK graduates, for example) to make them even more meaningful and useful.

In this topic, we are using the term ‘psychometric testing’ rather loosely to cover all the different uses of psychometrics in organisations, and in practice various terms, such as tests, profiles, inventories and assessments, are often used rather vaguely and interchangeably.

To be more precise, psychometric testing is usually about finding how good or successful someone is in a particular skill area (for example, verbal or numerical reasoning, spotting errors in spelling and grammar, or working out the next in a sequence of shapes), so the higher the score, the better the result.

By contrast, psychometric profiling is more often used when we are talking about ‘building a picture’ of a person or group. This may involve using one or more psychometric tools that will usually describe the person/group in terms of their characteristics and preferences (for example, personality traits or occupational interests), though sometimes the strength of the characteristic, or the person’s preference for it, may also be measured against a numerical scale.

Psychometric assessment often describes the use of tests, profiles or a combination of measures to gauge a wider aspect of the person and assess their suitability for a particular job. A role involving the resolution of customer’s billing complaints in a call centre, for example, may require excellent numerical reasoning ability and an ability to work accurately and fast with detailed information and an outgoing personality. A well-designed assessment process can look at an individual’s suitability for this role against all these aspects, prioritising or ‘weighting’ them as necessary.

Sometimes psychometric tests or other forms of assessment are referred to as ‘instruments’, ‘tools’ or just ‘psychometrics’. These terms really just refer to the fact that the measure exists to help the user perform a particular task – for example, to measure someone’s ability at or aptitude for a particular type of activity.

Assessment techniques range from the inevitable interview to graphology and even astrology, yet for over 50 years it is aptitude and other psychological tests which have consistently proved their worth.

Psychological Testing: a Manager’s Guide, Toplis et al