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Understanding-the-Science-behind-Psychometric-Tests

Talent Assessment | 4 Min Read

Understanding Psychometric Science – And Why It Matters

Introduction

Modern society always has assessed ways to qualify and measure entities and things. Scientific revolution and advancements in physical science have enabled us to successfully measure temperature, pressure, volume and area, etc. Nineteenth-century also witnessed advances in psychology, and efforts were made to measure intelligence and personality. Psychometric research came into existence with a definition that it’s an art to measure the operations of the mind. And psychologists have added more ideas ever since to make psychometrics more profound and accurate. 

Psychometrics is the domain of science concerned with creating instruments (such as assessments) that evaluate skills, attributes, and knowledge. It is the science of assessing people’s cognitive capabilities and thought processes through a systematic procedure. Psychometricians are the scientists behind this intricate process. A psychometrician designs and develops exams for educational, professional credentialing, or employment purposes.

Psychometricians are usually involved in creating psychological tests, formulating data-analytic models, and validating the psychological approach. Psychometric science crucially depends on the data to find the attributes of interest.

Is Psychometrics Science?

Yes, psychometrics, seen as a branch of psychology, is defined as psychological assessment science. Psychometrics has wide applications in clinical psychology and educational and occupational settings. There is an increase in professionals relying on assessments in the educational and occupational contexts. Since all assessments have the same properties – validity, reliability, standardization, and objectivity – the science behind maximizing the quality of evaluations is psychometrics.

Why is Psychometrics Important to Psychology?

Psychology, defined as the study of the human mind and resultant behavior, has always been doubted for its lack of quantifiability. Psychometrics focuses on correctly measuring psychological concepts of personality, cognition and knowledge. Therefore, it is important to psychology. Psychometrics provides the theory and techniques for psychological measurement.

The measurements in psychology depend on tests and questionnaires. However, it has always been a matter of discussion to find reliable and error-free results from the questions. And that’s where statistics come into the picture. Psychometric science vitally depends on the statistics to find the attributes of interest. Psychometric psychology is used to measure personality, behavioral inclinations, attitudes and beliefs, especially in a workplace context. 

What Is Psychometrics Used For?

Psychometric tests are used to measure human behavior and are now increasingly being used in HR processes. An employee’s real sense is likely to emerge in stressful or challenging organizational situations. It could be the stress of meeting deadlines, collaborating in a team, negotiating deals, or having to make tough but emotional decisions.

When it comes to cultural fitment, it isn’t merely about employee-company compatibility, but of a more profound sense of how an employee reacts during a crisis. Likewise, it also makes a case for how an employee responds to the organizational culture. Psychometric psychology practitioners firmly believe that culture is critical in determining business success. However, culture as a topic is, at times, if not always, challenging to manage and grasp.

Understanding Psychometric Science

Psychometric research is defined as a scientific, systematic study in the field of psychological measurement. Such research is concerned with forming new measures and their scoring, the evaluation of validity and reliability evidence for measures, the analysis of item and scale factors, and the assessment of differential item functioning across the subgroups.

Advanced metrics urge us to consider test technology, especially psychometric research-based tests, to optimize different aspects of an employee’s life cycle – recruitment, performance evaluation, learning & development and leadership planning. However, there are two layers to all employees. It’s safe to say their evaluation through the lifecycle is incomplete without considering both layers. What are these layers?

psychometric_science_psychometric_theory

SOURCE: Culture in Business Process Management; Schmiedel, Brocke, Recker

psychometric_science_iceberg_model

The Iceberg Model is most efficiently defined via the use of competencies – components of a job reflected in behavior observable in the workplace. Skill, aptitude, ability, knowledge and personality all factor into performance computations at work.

Even psychometric tests that measure all the necessary factors in an ideal situation can sometimes not discern the necessity:

  • Knowledge: Identifies learning and information of a person
  • Traits: Physical characteristics and consistent responses to information or situations
  • Skill: The ability to perform specific tasks
  • Motives: Emotions, physiological needs, impulses and desires that prompt action
  • Self Concepts & Values: Attitude, self-image and value

This indicates that within these factors exist minutely varying definitions. It’s easy to argue that the only common denomination between them is observable behavior in the workplace, but not all competencies predict or measure performance.

For example, a surgeon requires intricate knowledge of the human anatomy and the necessary skill to perform a surgery. But that doesn’t exempt the individual in question from factors such as self-confidence or personal belief, values required to complete a complex surgery. Perhaps interpersonal orientation motivates the surgeon to work well with other team members. Traits weigh in on professional skills and determine success to an extent.

Psychometrics Psychology and Human Behavior

1. The Bright Side

The bright side of the human personality comprises those positive personality traits which are noticed quickly and capable of enhancing job performance – what we see when people are at their best. The bright side of the human personality is based on the Big Five Personality Traits of the Five-Factor Model, which specifies that people can be described based on their standing on the five broad personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion and Neuroticism (OCEAN).

Positive traits in individuals make them feel confident and make them focus on the organization’s betterment, and not on individual success. People ranking high on these traits tend to be fair-minded co-workers and are endeared by people as professionals. Leaders exhibiting an overall positive personality are efficient enough to articulate a vision that builds commitment toward the organization’s goal. 

However, you can’t judge a person based only on the bright side of the human personality. If human personality could act as drivers of success, then there are some hidden traits, too, that can act as derailers.

Let’s have a look at the traits and the determinants of personality.

Openness_Traits

Six Facets of People with Conscientiousness Trait

Five Facets of Extroverts

Six Facets That Makes You Agreeable:

Three Facets of Emotionally Stable People

2. The Dark Side

Dark Personality traits are characteristics of a person that lead to displaying undesirable, counterproductive and destructive behavior that harms people around them (friends, family, co-workers or customers).

Here’s a brief look at the traits and the related facets:

Opportunistic People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Self Obsessed People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Insensitive People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Temperamental People Can be Divided into 3 Categories

Impulsive People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Thrill-Seeking People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

The mere presence of dark traits in a person does not guarantee that they will act in an unwanted manner. The dark traits have to be activated to present dark behavior, triggered by various factors, such as:

Level of Dark Traits

The greater the level of dark traits, the higher the chances they get triggered, even with the slightest provocation.

Environment

People tend to misuse the power where they are superior, triggering dark traits.

Situation

Relaxed– when the person is at ease and not being observed, instead of being stressed– where the person does much in a limited time.

To know everything about the dark side, read our data-backed and scientific report on Uncovering the Dark Side of Human Personality.

3. The Cognitive Abilities

Cognitive Abilities are brain-based skills needed to process any activity, simple or complex. It is the ability to comprehend, reason, visualize and solve, etc. How things are perceived, strategic thinking and decision-making abilities, too, influence people’s behavior in a given situation. It could be divided into two categories:

Fluid intelligence is the ability to perceive things, absorb and retain new information to tackle novel circumstances.

Crystallized intelligence is the capacity to recover and utilize data obtained over a lifetime and leverage the acquired knowledge to perform certain tasks.

cognitive_abilities_psychometric_psychology

You can read our Guide to Cognitive Assessments for a detailed explanation.

Apart from the bright and dark side and cognitive abilities, other factors also affect human behavior. These are clubbed under X-factors.

4. The X-Factors

Although the dark and bright sides form a significant part of human personality, several other factors that we call the X-Factors, catalyze and affect the intended human behavior.

The Nature vs. Nurture debate influences fluctuating personalities over time. It provides an image of whether surroundings determine human behavior or is in the individual’s gene.

psychometric_science_psychometric_theory

Nature is pre-wiring and is affected by biological factors, basically the hereditary legacy or the genetic inheritance.

Nurture is the impact produced by external factors, such as experiences, acquired knowledge, learning or exposure. 

The X-Factors include certain determinants discussed below:

Upbringing:

Kids are like sponges. They tend to learn and demonstrate behaviors that their parents portray. This can be seen in the positive and negative behaviors they display.

Motivation:

The way soldiers behave is unique and outstanding. The joy of meeting their loved ones after winning a battle and the love for one’s country keeps them motivated to behave accordingly, even in the most difficult situations.

Values:

If we think of an organization as a decision-making body, then values establish the relationship between decisions and the consequent occurrence. They grow gradually over time, subject to an individual’s social and psychological development.

How is Psychometric Science Related to Competencies?

How is a competency different from the factors mentioned above, or how do these factors collectively form a competency? It would be better to define competency and then develop the concept for organizations.

The criteria of competency are an effective and superior performance, and it is divided into two essential categories:

  • Threshold competencies are the essential characteristics that would make an employee minimally effective; this doesn’t distinguish average from superior performers.
  • Differentiating competencies distinguish superior performers from the average ones

For any organization to remain ahead of its competition, it is important to utilize new ideas of psychometric science under advanced technologies.

According to this concept, core competencies transcend business events within an organization. Projects can become persuasive or massive, ensuring that no specific individual simultaneously holds all the competencies required. Therefore, organizations are recommended to identify, manage and develop core competencies that drive critical enterprise projects.

As a measure of direct impact, not all organizations may require an identical set of core competencies. The theory holds for large projects, but this does foreshadow a brighter future for those who utilize tests based on psychometric research within these subtleties.

Using Psychometric Psychology to Build a Competency-Based Model

Models are something built to represent phenomena closest to reality. Some may resemble simulator or real-world physical or roleplayed situations, while others a meager job description. Both categorically fall into branches of models, albeit differently.

By definition, a competency model resembles a descriptive tool that identifies competencies required to operate within a specific role – industry, organization, occupation, or job. It is a behavioral job description that is best described by each occupational function and job.

You’re likely to find certain similarities between descriptions around psychometric tests and competency-based models. It’s because they’re closely interlinked, to the point that one develops from the other.

One researcher identifies with competency models as something adhesive or glue-like, necessary among elements of an organization’s human resource management system. It implies that competency models help companies with a more coordinated, or rather unified, approach to structuring the human resource management system. This would cover hiring, job designs, employee development, performance management, succession or career planning, and compensation mechanics.

The advantages of competency-based models are:

  • Excellence in Performance Management:

Standardizing the development criteria makes it easy to bring coherence and structure to the performance management function.

  • Unification of Corporate Culture with Business Units:

Some of the best companies manage this, utilizing culture to unify employees in decentralized corporate environments.

  • Identifying Training Needs & Employee Development:

These are easier to identify with competency models, enabling the development of comprehensive learning plans that encompass broad perspectives across learning platforms outside traditional norms.

  • Augmentation of Recruiting Process:

It helps create a more robust hiring process, matching candidates to opportunities based on data-driven analytics. This would lead to improved consistency in talent selection and the recruitment process.

  • Improvement of Employee Development:

It links development activities to corporate goals, serves as development targets in terms of succession planning, and the organization of talent areas of development and strength.

A competency-based model identifies what it takes for an individual to evolve into a solid contributor at a workplace. This would translate to enhanced learning, snowballing into performance on par with the desired competence for organizational or career success.

Competency Scores Based on Performance

Why would organizations reassess the present scenario for newer technologies in psychometric science, test technology, or competency-based models? Return on Investments can be best assessed by correlating competency scores to on-the-job performance.

The Model of Effective Job Performance specifies that effective action that translates to performance occurs when three critical competencies – job demand-based, individual-based, and organizational environment-based – are most consistent. Inconsistencies in one or more competencies concerning the other simply break down to ineffective behavior or inaction.

psychometric_science_psychometric_theory

As per this model, individual competencies reflect what an individual brings to the workplace compared to the job’s responsibilities. Conversely, these responsibilities represent the demand side of the competencies. And of course, effective action is possible with consistent alignment to the organizational environment – policies, conditions, and procedures.

Within the walls of this delicate cross-section, an individual fully contributes to an organization, signaling effective action. At the same time, it’s important to understand that competency scores are approximations and nothing definitive, best taken with a grain of salt.

Here’s a table that can probably explain what that implies:

Competencies-table

It’s an easy way to summarize data, but consider not to take this format too seriously. Now, for Shreya scoring a 4 – the highest total – doesn’t necessarily make her a better choice than Shubham despite a lower total score of 3. This is marked by her failure on a required and essential competency. The same can be said of the comparison between Deepesh and Shubham, with identical holding scores of 3, but only the latter meeting all required competencies.

The scaling uses three segments to dissect candidates or employees based on a combination of test results, tactical exercises, and interaction. It could be used in the event of a job interview to filter high potential candidates from the rest of the crop, gap analysis to make an employee with low scores on certain competencies improve, and even appraise performance.

Challenges in Using the Competency-Based Model

Given all the information and everything that’s been said, there is no denying that competency models hold their place legitimately in human resource practices. And the basis of psychometric research makes it more reliable. Still, the models themselves cannot become the sole solution for every hiring, selection decision, education, appraisal, training needs, or other managerial functions.

In actuality, framing competencies as an outcome to most decisions ignores the personal or mental processes utilized in developing and exhibiting skills. What does this mean? Various things that might include idiosyncratic competencies contributing to individual performance or the organization’s overall competitiveness. 

These competencies hold a high chance of being overlooked against decisions that rely entirely on competencies within the model devised alone. For example, several researchers argue that it is unwise to select staff that solely fit the competency model over-relying on developmental resources that facilitate acquiring missed competencies where a gap exists.

However, despite the shortcomings, a competency model scientifically augments the decision-making process in an organization pushing toward improved success.

For gaps in competency acquisition, learning, and development are options to help acquire the desired behavior, skill, trait, or knowledge. Allowance for some less important or required competencies may help enrich the talent pool, especially if they are subtle competencies that improve the model itself.

Competency models are assistive. They help organizations invest in individuals or help focus on current competencies while enhancing necessary competencies. These models are a positive add overall, ensuring that with appropriate knowledge and use – the information contained within such as strengths or weaknesses – an employee might direct to future job or career success and opportunities.

How Can Organizations Benefit from Psychometric Psychology?

Now that you know how strong values can affect your company culture, it becomes imperative for you to assess people for behavior in the workplace. Naturally, it is impossible to assess these things in an in-person interview that spans for a little over twenty minutes on average. What you need is a more extensive and accurate tool at your disposal that can precisely point to traits like these.

The wiser idea is to extensively use these tools in the hiring process. Having a better idea of the candidates’ personality will allow you to make a well-informed decision and assess whether they are the right fit. Alternatively, if such issues surface later when the candidate has already been working in your organization, you can use effective learning and development programs. This would enable you to identify the gaps in their personalities and train them accordingly.

We take a look at some other prime advantages of assessment below:

Complete Insight Into Your Employees

The right assessment tools will help you get even the minute details of your employees. Their strengths and weaknesses are all put on a table. You can even predict accurately how a person is going to react when subjected to a specific situation. When this information is put to good use, you will be able to assign the ‘right’ roles to these employees that align with their core values. Moreover, when it comes to learning and development programs, you will be able to choose the appropriate approach for each individual that promises better efficiency.

Aligning Core Values

Your employees are likely to be more productive if your organization’s values align with their own. That helps them connect better to your company’s ideals and work hard towards achieving common goals.

As your employees’ core values heavily influence your work culture, you must be able to map them accurately. With the right values, your company can:

  • Contribute to the growth of an individual
  • Lead to greater onboard success
  • Improve employee engagement
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Enhance Productivity
  • Inspire people to action
  • Shape the organizational culture

Having strong company values does not only aid in improving work culture and hence organizational productivity but also helps your clients to identify with the company.

You are much more likely to benefit if your employees showcase the same values as your company’s. This will further showcase your collective mindset as a company and get you and the client on the same page.

With modern assessment tools at your aid, you can assess your employees’ precise personalities and their values. Not only will these tools enable you to make a well-informed decision right in the hiring process, but they also allow you to fill in the gaps in their knowledge during learning and development programs.

How is Psychometric Science Influencing Data Science?

There are some common ideas between psychometric science and data science. Psychometric research is about collecting data about the human psyche. A personality test based on psychometric science touches upon various dimensions of human behavior. It also includes cognition, integrity, and other skills. There can be various defined metrics for different individuals. 

Working on these metrics leads to more data. Getting more insights from this data begets the role of data science. However, one can say that psychometric theory is just one way to look at human behavior and psyche. 

At times, psychometric data is compared with other historical data from the organization, such as the employees’ prior performance. By analyzing this data, we can find certain trends that exist in talent management. It also suggests that human behavior is a tangible thing that further helps understand the organizational dynamics and devise new strategies.

A company can use psychometric data purposefully to make some essential business decisions. Psychology and information technology are merging, and the result is data science influencing psychometric science. It has now given birth to a new term called psycho-informatics. Machine learning has also helped psychometric science to become more equipped and accurate. Psychometric research plays a vital role in making data science more useful by employing the data that was always there but remained unutilized.

How Mercer | Mettl Can Help

The psychometric tests from Mercer | Mettl have been designed to evaluate behavioral and cognitive skills accurately and result-oriented. We can also provide companies with customizable solutions to address their specific needs in the recruitment process. We try to make our assessment process scientific and reliable.

Online Assessment Platform

Mercer | Mettl serves as the perfect platform to assess your employees. It consists of a set of questions that enable you to map people’s cognitive and psychometric abilities. It has a large inventory of personality traits that it uses to compare the results with, so you better understand your employees.

Psychometric Tests

Mercer | Mettl’s psychometric tests can provide statistics-based predictive insights to assess various traits of the individuals. These traits include-

  • Positive Personality Traits These traits help understand the candidate’s trainability and flexibility to learn new things and apply.
  • Dark Personality TraitsThese are mainly negative traits that an organization should avoid to keep the workplace healthy.
  • Motivation, Value, Preference It tells about how motivated employees are toward their work and helps achieve a company’s vision.
  • Cognitive Ability It evaluates the candidates’ attention span and how well they process the data to make informed decisions.

Mercer | Mettl has also introduced a comprehensive personality map (MPM) that measured 28 work-relevant personality traits, which is an extension of the well-established Big Five model. This test consists of a unique and innovative 28-facet and a four-factor structure of personality, making it especially suited for new-age leadership roles.

Originally published April 12 2018, Updated March 3 2021

About This Topic

Psychometric tests measure an individual’s personality traits and behavioral tendencies to predict job performance. Psychometric assessments gauge cultural fitment, trainability, motivations, preferences, dark characteristics, etc., to hire and develop the right people.

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