More and more frequently, psychometric tests are being ‘delivered’ on-line, that is they are made available to the test taker – wherever they happen to be at the time – via the web or other means of electronic access. Some tests (or new versions of tests) have been developed specifically to take advantage of the benefits this offers (see below), and increasing numbers of test publishers are also making their traditional ‘pencil and paper’ tests available to users on-line.
There are still mixed feelings about these changes among test publishers and users (and sometimes test takers as well), but it seems clear these new methods of testing are here to stay, along with their (frequently argued over) advantages and disadvantages.
There are several solid reasons why on-line testing is becoming popular.
Once the content and software for the test have been set up, there may be little or no extra cost to the test user for each additional person taking it, depending on the type of licence arrangement offered by the test provider. (Even those one-off costs may compare reasonably favourably with the design and printing of paper materials.) There is also the potential for considerable savings on the travel and other costs of getting test takers to a testing session in a particular geographical location.
Test takers may, in most cases, input the answers wherever in the world and whenever they choose. Many on-line tests allow for partial completion and then resumption on another occasion. On-screen display factors – such as fonts, sizes and colours – can be adjusted to the particular needs of those with sight problems. The system will usually also check that all items in the test have been completed (prompting the user if not), thereby saving the delays and possible extra costs resulting from an incomplete paper test form.
For some forms of testing, the extra facilities offered by graphics, animation and sound may, if used well, enhance the test or at least the testing experience.
Some potential security problems are mentioned below, but one advantage for the user is that the test materials, questions and so on can often be protected to some degree from illegal copying.
As soon as the need for a test is identified, an ‘access key’ (a one-off code providing on-line access to the test) and instructions can be sent to the taker by e-mail within seconds – again, anywhere in the world. Also, for many tests, results are made available to tester and test taker more or less instantaneously.
Results can be collated and analysed for any number of users at the press of a button, and standardised reports can be produced immediately for test user and test taker. This can speed up the process where, for example, a large number of applicants are being tested for job suitability, perhaps as part of an initial ‘sift’ designed to identify a smaller number of the more promising candidates to go forward to the next, often more costly, stage in the selection process.
The impersonal, anonymous nature of on-line testing carries obvious potential disadvantages.
Who is actually taking the test? The administrator or user may not know, and there could be cheating in job application or other situations. There is also the issue of personal details and test data flying around cyberspace, though modern on-line testing is reasonably secure.
It is generally impossible for the user or administrator to manage the test environment with regard to timing, understanding the instructions, freedom from distractions, privacy and so on, giving rise to concerns about the accuracy, consistency and fairness of ‘remote’ testing. For this reason, it is less suitable for ability testing than for, say, personality profiling.
It is generally considered good practice in psychometric test situations to provide face-to-face (or, at least, interactive) feedback on the results, their interpretation and implications. This will be made more difficult where there is heavy reliance on automatic analysis and reporting, leaving test takers with a standardised, impersonal report (if anything) on a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ basis, and with little chance to explore the detail and nuances of the results.