Psychometric Testing

by Claire Walsh and David Hoad

Types of psychometric test

With hundreds of psychometric tests and profiles on the market, some well-known and some very obscure, even the professionals can get lost in the jungle of names, types and variants of tests. There are, however, a few basic characteristics that can help us distinguish the wood from the trees.

What they measure

The first major difference between tests is in their purpose – that is, what a specific test is designed to measure, such as

  • Personality traits
  • Thinking styles
  • Skills and abilities
  • Interests
  • Values.

The better, more accurate tests tend to be carefully designed to measure only one characteristic at a time, and it should normally be clear to both test user and test taker what that characteristic is.

How they measure it

The second area of difference is in the nature and structure of the questions or items to be addressed. These can vary from a set of problems to be solved, with only one right answer for each (as in many ability tests), to choosing between two or more options – words, phrases, pictures and so on – based on your liking or preference for what they represent, and with no right or wrong answers (as in many personality profiles).

These are just two of many different possibilities. A well-designed test will provide thorough guidance and instructions as to how to answer the items and will often include a couple of examples to work through to check understanding.

How the test is completed

The third main difference, particularly in recent years, is in how the test is delivered and completed. This may be traditional ‘pencil and paper’, input to a handheld electronic device or online entry on the internet. Each has its advantages and drawbacks in terms of accessibility, cost, the need for travel, level of security and so on. Similarly, there is an equivalent number of methods for processing the answers and calculating the scores and results, and for reporting out these results.

How the results are reported

The last main difference, and the source of much confusion, is in what the test data are compared with for the purpose of reporting the results. The results may compare the person’s ability or preference against a known group of other people, to give some sort of ‘standard’ that can be compared at different times and for different people. This is known as ‘normative’ or using ‘norms’.

Alternatively, they may compare, say, an individual’s preference for reading against his/her preference for active leisure pursuits, but without comparing either of these with the strength of other people’s interests in the same things. This is described as an ‘ipsative’ type of test. Both approaches – along with some that are a mix of the two – are equally valid for their particular uses and purposes.