Since the early 1900’s, psychologists have employed testing in an effort to quantify people’s intelligence, preferences, and behaviors. Today these assessments--called psychometric tests--are used in schools, the military, mental health clinics, psychotherapists’ offices, correctional facilities, and in corporations.
Market analysts commonly use psychometric testing to determine people’s preferences for products, packaging, and branding. A consumer might be asked, for example, if he or she prefers one product color to another, or which packaging type they are most likely to purchase.
Employment specialists use these tests to determine if someone is a good fit for a job. For example, personality, intelligence, and aptitude tests can be used to capture specific preferences and skills for required tasks and responsibilities. Those preferences are then matched by the employer to particular job functions.
Clinical psychologists use psychometric testing to determine the extent to which someone is affected by a condition such as a death in the family or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Questions are crafted by the psychometrician that quantify the effects of these emotions on personal attitudes and behavioral motivations, so that the therapist has a baseline to begin treatment.
Psychologists and counselors use these tests when working with substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and with those accused of crimes, to determine behavioral motivations. Tests used in substance abuse counseling are designed to uncover, for example, frequency of use of alcohol and drugs, and precipitating factors for use.
Psychometric tests are used to assess the level of parent-child bonding that has taken place after an adoption as well as to gauge someone’s attitude toward people with disabilities. They also are used to measure the effects of sleeplessness or anxiety on decision making.
Tests can be given in groups such as teams at work or classrooms, or to individuals in a counseling session, and range from multiple-choice exams to question-and-answer open-ended questionnaires. All psychometric tests use a scoring system to quantify the traits and aptitudes they are measuring.
Many different measurement theories and statistical analysis models are used for scoring psychometric tests. The application of statistical analysis in psychometrics gives validity to the tests. Validity is understood as consistency in test results and among subjects in different populations and over time. Many different types of validity are measured, including content validity, validity of construction, and validity of criterion, to name just a few.
Understanding the statistical concepts and the theories of measurement--such as the classical test theory, item response theory, factor analysis, and multidimensional scaling--are not within the scope of this article. However, a basic understanding of the predominant modern psychometric tests and their principles is important.
Categories of Psychometric Tests
Psychometric tests most often fall into two primary categories:
- Attitude, personality, and interest tests are designed to measure an individual’s “typical” performance. These open-ended tests have no right or wrong answers but are instead subjected to standardized psychological analysis and comparison for each test.
- Aptitude or ability tests are designed to measure what is called a person’s “maximum” performance. Aptitude tests are timed and require subjects to choose from multiple-choice options with right and wrong answers, known as closed-ended tests.
Psychometricians define a number of different types of tests to create a better understanding of what is being tested and the data being measured.
Following are some of the commonly defined types of psychometric tests:
-Personality. Personality tests measure unobservable psychological factors such as an individual’s attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors in relation to others.
- Interest - Interest tests or interest inventories measure a person’s preferences and motivations, including what types of activities a person enjoys, the products he or she are most likely to purchase, and motivational factors such as things that make an individual feel happy versus neutral.
- Aptitude - Aptitude or ability tests measure an individual’s attained skill level in any number of subjects such as mathematics, reading comprehension, or problem solving. Aptitude testing is also known as educational testing.
- Intelligence - Intelligence tests are designed to measure, through a refined testing process combining various approaches to aptitude testing, a person’s innate level of intelligence.
- Achievement - Achievement tests are a form of aptitude testing that measure maximum performance of learned skills.
- Occupational - Occupational tests are a combination of aptitude and interest tests utilized in social service agencies, career counseling, high school counseling, and in recruitment and employee development.
- Behavioral - Behavioral tests are a part of personality testing used in determining why people make decisions, environmental factors that precipitate behaviors, how people react to consequences, and how they learn. They are often used in substance abuse counseling, correctional facilities and mental health centers; as well as when testing children for behavioral disorders.
- Creativity - Creativity tests use pictures, drawing and sentence completion to measure thought processes. They are used in early childhood development testing such as in preschools and kindergartens, in private counseling such as art therapy, and in school counseling in determining special needs education and giftedness.
- Neuropsychological - Neuropsychological testing includes clinical testing for an individual’s perceptions, sensory functions, cognitive functions, and motor functions. These tests are applied to patients with mental or behavioral disabilities, brain injuries, those suffering from depression or trauma, and other clinical applications. Neuropsychological assessment is often administered in batteries, or groups of tests designed to cover all possible areas of brain impairment.
Common Tests and What they Measure
Psychometric tests exist to quantify almost every facet of the human condition. Although there are hundreds in use, the following lists some of better known tests:
- Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) - The Wechsler scale is the most commonly used clinical tool for testing adult, adolescent and childhood intelligence quotient, or IQ.
- Bender Visual-Motor Gestalt Test - This test is used to assess development of visual-motor skills in people with brain injuries and learning disabilities.
- Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) - The MMPI is one of the most commonly used tests to measure personality. It uses true/false questions measured against a series of scales to diagnose aspects of an individual’s personality such as need for control, emotional sensitivity, perception of health, and other factors. A number of variations of this test exist.
- California Psychological Inventory (CPI) - The CPI is very similar to the MMPI but is made up of 240 questions in addition to the MMPI’s 194 questions. The CPI is designed to test the personality traits of “normal” individuals.
- Rorschach Inkblot Test - One of the oldest psychometric tests in existence, this test is also referred to as the Rorschach test or the inkblot test and is used to analyze an individual’s personality and creative and emotional thought patterns.
- Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) - The TAT test is also known as a picture interpretation test, used to determine personality, motivations, and problem-solving abilities. It is widely accepted as a tool to understand a person’s subconscious or repressed thoughts. The TAT test and the Rorschach tests are both known as projective psychological tests.
- Sentence Completion Test - In sentence completion tests, individuals are given the beginning of a sentence (called a stem) and asked to complete the sentence. These tests are designed to give insights into a respondent’s personality, preferences, attitudes, motivations, and mental state. These tests are used in marketing, career counseling, and for psychotherapeutic assessments.
- Goodenough-Harris Draw-A-Person Test - Variations of this test are used to measure childhood and adolescence intelligence, thought processes, and development. Children are asked to make three different drawings: a man, a woman, and themselves. The test is then scored based on an established quantitative scoring system consisting of analyzing 14 different aspects of each drawing, such as presence or absence of limbs and proportion of body parts.
- House-Tree-Person Test - Another test for creativity, intelligence, and development in children, the subject is asked to draw a house, a tree, and a person on three different sheets of paper. They are then asked specific psychological questions about each drawing.
- Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale - Based on one of the oldest and most reliable tests for intelligence and development in children, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale is commonly used on people of all age groups to test for learning disabilities, mental retardation, developmental delay, and giftedness. The test scores four areas of cognitive ability designed to assess an individual’s problem-solving skills.
- Strong Interest Inventory - The Strong Interest assessment is the most commonly used psychometric test to aid people in educational and career decision making. It measures people’s interest in four categories: general occupational themes, basic interest scales, personal style scales, and occupational scales.
- Career Interest Profiler - This assessment can be found in a number of different forms but is designed to correlate a person’s interests and personality to careers.
- Career Values Scale - The Career Values Scale is commonly used in career testing to determine personal values of an individual that might influence his or her career choices and levels of satisfaction in certain jobs.
- Work Personality Index (WPI) - The WPI is another test considered reliable to measure a subject’s personality in relation to career effectiveness. The WPI measures 17 distinct personality traits in relation to job performance.
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the best-known personality tests. It measures psychological preferences in people in how they perceive themselves, their environment, and how they make decisions. It uses a four-part matrix to assign 16 different personality types to individuals and goes on to explain how these types interact with each other.
- Individual Style Survey - The Individual Style Survey is a reputable but broad psychometric test for how individuals respond to others and to their environments. It categorizes people in one of four major style groups (dominant, influencing, harmonious, cautious) and in one of two major orientation groups (people/task or introspective/interactive). The subject rates him or herself and asks three other people to rate him or her using the same categories.
To learn more about psychometric testing and careers in Psychometrics, request information from schools offering degree programs in psychometry or related psychology degree programs. Also, learn more about the psychologist licensing process and the requirements for licensure in your state.
Tips for Test Takers
According to the British Psychological Society, the following tips should be helpful for anyone asked to take a psychometric test. In addition to these tips, a test taker should ask him or herself what purpose the test is serving, who is delivering the test, and what the test taker (and administrator) hopes to get out of the test.
- Answer questions honestly - Trying to outsmart a test or over thinking what a tester might be looking for will skew the results of the test. Tests have built-in questions that quantify consistency to try and eliminate deceit.
- Don’t spend too much time on any particular question - Your first thought or initial response is typically the best and most accurate answer. If you are stuck on a difficult question, move on.
- Do not worry about not finishing the test - Most personality tests are scored only on the number of questions answered.
- Work as quickly and accurately as possible - Some tests score both speed and accuracy. Aptitude tests typically have set time limits.
- Prepare for the test if applicable - Practice basic arithmetic with and without a calculator.