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Talent Assessment | 8 Min Read

Chapter 1: What is a Psychometric Assessment Test?

What is a Psychometric Test

A psychometric assessment test is a standard means which organizations employ in order to analyze the behavior aspect of people. They gauge if a particular person is suited for a job opening based on two core principles,i.e., personality and ability. They are created with the aim to map an individual’s abilities, personality traits and attitude required to perform successfully on-the-job. The tests analyze the role fitment of a job prospect. Psychometric assessment tests are a measure of specific behavioral traits that often get missed out during personal interviews. Thus, psychometric tests provide a more holistic view of a prospect’s personality.

Psychometric evaluation is used in recruitment and learning and development (L&D) to improve the quality of hires and make development programs effective and engaging. They assist employers in taking the right people decisions.

The Science Behind Psychometric Assessments

Psychometric testing finds its origins in the early 20th century when French psychologist Alfred Binet did the first intelligence test in 1905.

China happens to be the first civilization that undertook psychometric testing while hiring in the military. Thereafter, armies of other nations relied on a personality test called Woodworth Personality Data Sheet in 1917 to shortlist abled personals.

Even though the origin of psychometric testing dates back to ancient times, the modern-day psychometric test was, however, developed by statistician and psychologist Francis Galton. Also known as the ‘Father of Psychometrics’, Galton was the first to coin the term ‘psychometric’. He designed a framework in the 1880s to assess people’s intelligence based on their motor and sensory skills. James McKeen Cattell, who named psychometric assessments as ‘mental test’ extended Galton’s work.

Modern-day psychometric assessments find their roots in 19th century France when physicians used them to identify patients suffering from mental illness.

French psychologists Alfred Binet, Victor Henri and Theodore Simon devised a psychometric test to assess young children with mental deficiencies. Their 15-year long development journey surfaced multiple aspects of human personality, such as mental and verbal skills. This ‘mental retardation’ test came to be known as Binet-Simon test. In the latest edition of 2003 by Stanford researcher Lewis M. Terman, the test is now known as Stanford-Binet test. The psychometric test that has evolved over the ages, continues to remain an integral part of modern-day recruitment and selection methods.

Types of Psychometric Tests

Psychometric assessments encompass two categories:

1. Aptitude and Ability Tests

These tests evaluate the mental abilities of individuals. Having one right answer to each question, they allow people to answer the questions in a limited period. They test an individual’s critical thinking, logical reasoning, verbal ability and problem-solving skills. They assess how individuals use past experiences in novel situations. An aptitude test measures logical reasoning and verbal ability.

Mettl has a huge inventory of aptitude tests, catering to various fields and traits, which are as follows:

2. Personality and Aptitude Tests

Human behavior is an amalgamation of how individuals perceive and react to different situations. It is on this premise that personality tests are based on. They follow the OCEAN model of:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Personality assessments help organizations understand the candidate’s behavior whether they would perform well in a team or strive for better or not be able to cope with criticism,  These tests effectively assess the behaviors and motivations of a person.

Mercer| Mettl’s personality inventory provides a string of solutions: 

These tests make hiring smoother and hassle-free for human resources (HRs), at the same time ensuring your new hires stay with the organization in the long-run. They help in observing the emotions as well as the skills of the person you are considering to hire. 

Mercer | Mettl provides organizations with the inventory of assessments that make hiring easier and smoother. The concoction of mental and measurement in organizations makes hiring and retention through employee engagement better.

Over the last decade, psychometric assessments moved from being a luxury into becoming an industrial norm across different stages of the employee life cycle. They have become integral to businesses.

Demystifying Human Nature with Psychometric Evaluation

Psychometric Tests: Facets of Human Nature

In most cases, psychometrics includes a combination of personality and cognitive tests. And for the longest time, they’ve been splitting hairs in the organizational ecosystem.

It’s easy enough to find a camp of seasoned professionals labeling the test as a valuable resource, and another that brands the same as a pseudo-scientific pile of crock. If you’d like to know which side works stronger than the other, reading further would suffice the need.

Psychometric Tests: reasoning-psychometric-understanding-personality-behaviour-and-skills

It stands to reason that each person is built differently, or rather – they have an idea of their own personality type. It could perhaps remain within the realm of polar opposites; reserved or outgoing, sensitive or thick-skinned.

Psychometricians and psychologists have tried to tease the science out of what defines personality, and if it makes sense to attribute individual differences to the way people think, feel or behave. Psychologists have collectively taken a  stance to forfeit the idea of dividing humanity into types. They have instead laid emphasis on the concept of personality types.

The Big Five Model is one of the most adopted models in the traits theory:


ocean - Psychometric Tests

Introduction to the Big Five Model (OCEAN Model)

The Big Five Factor Model was developed in the 1970s by two research teams led by Robert R. McCrae, Paul Costa, Lewis Goldberg and Warren Norman. The model has a simplified human personality.

1. Openness

Individuals possessing this trait have a natural penchant towards adventure and art. They are curious, creative and open to change. Meanwhile, people averse to openness stick to their old routine, habits and keep new experiences at bay.

A shift in someone’s personality is next to impossible, however, the extent of openness tends to evolve in adulthood. This was observed by a group of researchers in 2011 when they analyzed the effects of psilocybin mushroom on a group of people. Consuming the hallucinogen made the controlled group more open with the effects lasting around a year. Thus, it was concluded that the results may have been permanent.

2. Conscientiousness

People high on conscientiousness are organized and have a sense of responsibility. They have the drive to achieve their goals and are highly reliable. This trait has shown marked achievement on the job. People on the opposite side, however, are spontaneous and careless.

3. Extraversion

Individuals that possess extraversion indicate various characteristics including sociability and talkativeness. They draw their energy from day-to-day social interactions or gatherings. Such individuals are mostly cheerful and assertive in their approach.

Meanwhile, introverts are a professor of ‘me time’. While the trait often gets mixed up with being shy, that’s not the case. Individuals with high introversion trait prefer smaller group activities when required and tend to enjoy their own company more.

4. Agreeableness:

Agreeableness is indicative of a person’s kindness. Such individuals are trusting and helpful. On the other hand, disagreeable people are cold, suspicious of others and less cooperative.

It is interesting to note that disagreeable men earn more compared to their counterparts and women as they conform to traditional gender roles. The research paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows how agreeableness and income are inversely proportional and more negative for men than women.

5. Neuroticism:

Individuals possessing this trait worry a lot and oftentimes find themselves feeling depressed and anxious. People low on neuroticism are emotionally stable and exhibit calm and composure when faced with problems.

In the famous sitcom Seinfield, George has seen constantly cribbing and blaming everyone for his problems. He even goes as far as quitting his job for having denied access to a private bathroom. This is a classic example of neurosis.

Can Personality Change?

The answer is maybe. In 2017, Psychological Bulletin furnished 207 published research papers that revealed studies about altering personality via therapy. The Nature vs. Nurture debate also plays part in fluctuating personalities through the course of time. It identifies with whether the environment determines human behavior – life experiences – against the concept of a person’s gene code.

  • Nature: This is pre-wiring and is influenced by biological factors, primarily genetic inheritance.
  • Nurture: Taken as the influence generated from external factors such as the experience, learning, or exposure on an individual.

As far back as the 1690s, John Locke coined the term tabula rasa. It depicted that behavioral traits are almost always a function of environmental influences. This was held in high regard for much of the 20th century.

However, as both nature and nurture factors were found to contribute exponentially, the idea of personality as a consequence of either nature or nurture was viewed as outdated or naïve by most scholars of human development by the early 2000s. In fact, the two parts are known to heavily influence each other.

It is now considered ancient – the complementary existence of the two concepts, nature and nurture. Before going any further, however, considering the varied use of the words personality and behavior, it seems appropriate to pause to distinguish the two almost interchangeable terms.

Difference Between Personality and Behavior

Author of the title, Performance: The Secrets of Successful Behavior, Robin Stuart-Kotze identified personality as a concept that solidified at about five years of age. While we, as human beings are known to be more flexible, it is still widely believed that the changing of one’s values, attitudes, aspirations, and beliefs – the core elements of personality – is difficult.

On the other hand, despite much of behavior being a result of an individual’s values or beliefs, it is considered easier to behave differently – if only for a short moment of time – than to change core beliefs. However, different behaviors that convert to successful outcomes have been known to change even deeply held views or beliefs.

Another popular definition of personality hinges on predictability. According to Wright, personality finds its roots in the relatively stable and enduring aspects of an individual that sets them apart from other people. It formed the basis of predictions concerning future behavior also. [8]

Personality, in this sense, is neither about social skills nor evaluation. It instead manifests into those aspects of a person said to account for behavior and therefore their situational judgments in the future.

Understanding the difference is necessary. For example, self-awareness is the fundamental facet of all phenomenal leaders. If an individual is self-aware of preferred behaviors given the situation, it becomes easier to thereby adapt or change outcomes with respect to the same.

Aptitude: The Second-Half of Psychometric Assessment Test

At the turn of the 19th century, Charles Edward Spearman, an English psychologist, and the pioneer of factor analysis coined the ‘G’ or General Intelligence Factor. It was the underlying commonality to all aptitude, and a part of his two-factor theory of intelligence that also accounted for an s-factor of specific intellectual abilities. [9]

Modern researchers continue to expand on the concept despite early criticism of the same. However, there is no denying that intelligence is complicated. An aptitude is a combination of characteristics indicative of an individual’s capacity to acquire, with training, some specific knowledge, skill or set of organized responses, such as the ability to speak a language, to become a musician, to do mechanical work, by definition at least.

Therefore, it is possible to say that aptitude defines a person’s potential ability in an activity of a specialized kind, but within a restricted range. [10]

In terms of an example, when we identify an individual as someone with an aptitude for teaching, it implies that he or she has the capacity or ability to acquire proficiency in teaching under appropriate conditions.

Surprisingly, the nature vs. nurture debate finds its presence within cognitive intelligence also. Is it reasonable to assume a person showing musical aptitude to possess a musical throat? Yes. It is, however, equally possible for that individual to have developed musical aptitude in the company of good musicians.

Just as it is with personality though, it is safer to conclude that the cognitive intelligence or aptitude of an individual – at any instant of time – is a consequence of both heredity and environmental factors.

Interestingly, aptitude may also remain a function of a part of the brain called the neocortex, which makes roughly two-thirds of the brain. As probably the most advanced part of the brain, it also determines what we’ve popularly come to know as the left or right brain dominance.

This attributes left-brain dominant individuals as cold, clinical, or linguistically proficient among others. While right-brain dominant individuals exhibit bouts of brilliance in creativity, emotional expression, and intuitiveness.

It forms an important aspect of psychometrics simply because of its versatility. Oxford tests for aptitude in history, astronauts test for spatial aptitude, pilots test for psychomotor aptitude to ascertain fitness for the sky. It’s because of this feature that aptitude also translates to the effectiveness with which an individual acquires specific skills.

How Can Organizations Use Personality and Aptitude Tests

In an organizational context, psychometrics has a lot to do with testing both before and after employment. Aptitude measurement covers the understanding of an individual’s intelligence and ability to acquire new skills, becoming a future indicator for high performance.

Contrarily, personality and behavioral tests account for the assessment of traits that attribute to the positive impact of the individual based on the environment that exists within the organization, to begin with. In simple words, if the aptitude tests tell whether a person can do the job, psychometrics assure if the candidate actually fits the role in

It’s this combination perhaps, that necessitates the requirement of psychometrics across stages in the employee lifecycle, impacting business outcomes and bottom lines based on apt implementation.

Introduction to Role-Based Tests

Skill tests are designed to measure the level of skill in an applicant or employee across a variety of topics and areas important in the workplace. For example, it may include data entry, coding or even typing. It also covers the broad spectrum of tools that would be required in an organizational setup.

There are several advantages of utilizing a well-made skill test as a part of a pre-employment selection process or maybe an employee development program.

At the same time, when it comes to the development of said tests: they are meant to be valid. For instance, an MS Excel test would test the applicant’s knowledge of Excel and its features without straying from the topic in question. There are different levels within the skills test to consider also, ensuring that the questions become more difficult through the rising levels of difficulty.

Validity is not the only criterion of consideration though. A good test for skills is also reliable and consistent. The idea is that if an employee or candidate tests for a similar assessment at two different points of time, they ought to perform in a reasonably similar manner. The idea being that an individual with sound working knowledge of MS Excel is unlikely to no longer possess said skills at a later time.

In terms of reliability, it is also important for the test-maker to consider:

  • Opportunities for Trial and Error
  • Too much or too little time for the completion of questions
  • Updation of content for the test to account for newer aspects of the skill

Lastly, a sound skills test does not discriminate against people based on anything but their ability to demonstrate and apply said skills. Everyone with the appropriate level of skill must be allowed passage into the next stage.

What are Personality Tests?

Pen-and-paper personality tests in an organizational context were near nonexistent prior to the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, the contemporary application of these measures and tests for personnel selection could be attributed to the field of management science and turn-of-the-century industrial psychologists.

Interestingly, through the aftermath of World War I, with the expansion of American business in terms of size, complexity, competition and employee regulation, the development of rational management systems pushed into the spotlight. It recommended the application of scientific methods to organizational problems.[11]

I think we need a topic on understanding human personality, behavior and inherent traits and abilities, Knowledge and externally acquired skills  before we deep dive into Psychometric Tests, It is important for the reader to develop the understanding of how different traits, skills, abilities interact to form personality and behavior of individual

Can You Trust Personality Tests?

By raw definition, personality tests gather information about an individual to make inferences about personal characteristics. These include feelings, behaviors or thoughts. They are designed to measure aspects of personality that determine – or are predictive of – successful performance at work, thinking style, workplace relationships, task management, feelings, and motivation.

But coming to the basic question, would you trust personality tests? Models of personality have ranged from Eysenck’s 2-dimensional personality model to Cattell’s 171 traits with a ton of others in between.[12] With the development of sophisticated meta-analytic techniques, researchers have been able to aggregate specific traits into broad behaviors that define job performance. [13]

In the 1990s, estimates of the validity of personality testing inched toward the development of factorial approaches that have come to be known as the Big-Five Personality Dimensions – Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness. These factors have shown to reliably predict ratings of job and training proficiencies.[14] Despite modern flaws, and even those mentioned above, these tests have proven to be successful also.

Personality Tests: grow-leadership-developement-initiative

It’s interesting to note that from this example, and also from many others – personality assessments are rarely among tests to be considered on a stand-alone basis. They do function best in combination with a battery of others. It’s why you’re likely to find different recipes to psychometric assessments, the most common pairing being between personality and cognitive tests.

What are Cognitive Tests?

Cognitive tests are all about measuring your competence and intellectual capabilities. It also works into understanding your logical and analytical reasoning abilities in a very specific area. This translates to a reasonably accurate assessment of your abilities to use specific job-related skills and to predict consequent job performance.

They are generally time-limited with results measured against past test-takers; this extrapolates into a comparable assessment of a person’s level of ability or aptitude.

How Cognitive Ability Tests Provide Fairness in Selection

Despite high utility and predictive validity by cognitive tests, few use them as selection tools. A reason for this is in cognitive tests’ inherent issue in producing group differences or adverse impact.[16] For example, African-Americans or Hispanics score lower in comparison to the general population. At the same time, Asian-Americans tended to score higher.[17]

Interestingly, legal challenges to cognitive ability testing began with the famous 1971 Griggs v. Duke Power case. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that when a selection test produces an adverse impact against protected groups, the company must furnish a defense by showing that use of the test is a business necessity.

Historically, courts have held narrow interpretations of business necessity that require companies to show that no other plausible or acceptable selection alternative exists. In consequence, several companies abandoned the use of cognitive tests.[18]

Over the years, there have been several attempts to mitigate this such as norming or banding.

When to Use Cognitive Tests

To reach a conclusion using an aptitude or cognitive test is erroneous, to say the least. But the test doesn’t come without its benefits. There are instances where cognitive tests find popular and legitimate use; the opposite holds true also.

  • When you have a large candidate pool, you require a filtration method which can usually be in the form of a cognitive test since it’s a faster and efficient means of filtering top talent.
  • A higher role of responsibility requires close monitoring of the prospect’s aptitude to get an understanding of his or her potential. 
  • Cognitive tests like verbal comprehension, numerical ability, critical thinking or problem-solving cater to more niche job roles, thus providing measurable and credible outcomes. 
  • For high complexity jobs like that of a secret agent, aptitude tests are better indicators of performance. In such job profiles where candidates have to go through rigorous and multiple rounds of assessment, cognitive tests play an important role. 

When Not to Use Cognitive Tests

  • It is to be noted that cognitive tests are a part of the picture that also takes into account role-specific skills and behaviors at the workplace. So, taking decisions based solely on cognitive tests may not be the best approach to recruitment and selection.
  • For managerial roles, competencies like leadership, planning and organization, networking and others play a more crucial role, so introducing managers to mere cognitive tests won’t yield desired results.
  • Consequently, aptitude tests are not the right measure for succession planning because it is the merit and experience of individuals that weigh in more for such positions of responsibility.

In definition, a standardized test is administered and scored in a consistent, or “standard”, manner. They are, in fact, designed in a way that stabilizes questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations as consistent.

Standardized testing could be composed of true-false, multiple-choice, authentic assessments or essays. It’s possible to shape any form of assessment into standardized tests. When it comes to the creation of psychometric assessments, questions are measured in scales.[19] And these too are often most valid with standardization post-creation.

Three factors when creating/standardizing psychometric tests:

  • Nature of Reliability
  • Understanding Validity
  • Importance of Norming

Originally published April 12 2018, Updated June 16 2020

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