What Does a Psychometric Test Measure?
9th August 2022
Although, in theory, a psychometric assessment can measure pretty much any aspect of human behaviour under broadly standard conditions and assign some kind of score or category to it, there are certain things which are particularly commonly measured in this way.
Perhaps the most common is personality or the way that we prefer to behave (or find ourselves behaving most of the time – the two don't always correspond perfectly). When personality is being profiled in the workplace, the assessment will commonly focus on areas like how much detail and method someone enjoys, how readily they talk to other people, how calm or how anxious they feel as they go through life, how much they support and help other people and to what extent they are open to new ideas and experiences. It is important to note that there are no absolute ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ when it comes to personality: one job will require teamwork on an almost continual basis while another will require someone to work largely alone; one role might require regular risk-taking while extreme caution might be appropriate for another. The term ‘personality test’ is therefore perhaps an inappropriate one: personality questionnaire, profiler or instrument all fit the bill better. The Quest Profiler is a personality questionnaire specifically designed to pick up on aspects of personality relevant to the world of work.
People sometimes use the terms ‘personality assessment’ and ‘psychometric assessment’ interchangeably, but this should not be encouraged as psychometrics can assess more than simply personality. Another very common form of psychometric assessment is ability or aptitude testing. Here the term ‘test’ is entirely appropriate as there are right and wrong answers to the questions which often come in a multiple-choice format. Aptitude tests measure what might be termed skills or talents. In the workplace, this might include the ability to reason with written information or understand the numbers presented in graphs, tables and charts. There are tests of understanding basic mechanical principles and using abstract information to code for certain actions. Some tests are very specialist and will only really have relevance to very specific jobs. Others might be relevant to a much wider range of roles.
Aptitude/ability tests are a form of psychometrics where sticking to standard conditions during the assessment is applied particularly rigidly. This will be particularly true of timing which will be controlled very tightly, even if the test is carried out online. Sometimes special concessions may be made to allow reasonable adjustment if the person tested experiences conditions like dyslexia or colour blindness.
Personality and ability are not the only things that psychometric instruments measure and, even in a personality questionnaire, some of the themes addressed might wander into areas such as interests (particularly career aspirations), motivation and values.
Another frequently seen form of psychometrics in the workplace is what is known as 360 degree assessment. This is unlikely to be used in selection but is used to develop people in their role, helping them to identify areas that need further development, areas of strength (which can be encouraged to become even stronger) and perhaps untapped areas of talent which have so far been underused. It is really a systematic way of structuring the opinions of people who know the individual well because they work closely alongside them. They are from all around, hence the term ‘360 degree assessment’. Typically, they might include a manager, some colleagues, some people who report to that individual (if there are any) and sometimes more specialist forms of relationship, like the individual’s customer. Nobody’s view is necessarily the correct one – in fact, there are sometimes (but not always) quite substantial disagreements. It’s about gathering opinions in a structured way. To be on the receiving end of all this can seem a bit daunting at first, but ‘seeing ourselves as others see us’ can ultimately be very uplifting.
In recent years, organisations have used psychometric tests more and more. At eras, we’ve always believed that such instruments should not be considered intimidating but more an attempt to match what someone has to offer with what a potential employer is looking for. Getting the right people into the right jobs and then developing them further to help them fulfil their potential is good not just for the employer but for the employee too. It’s a win-win situation.