This is the first of a two-part article on the use of psychometrics in organisations. In this first part there is a brief introduction to psychometrics and some good practice guidelines intended for HR managers and other organisational users who have not had access to training in the use of these tests.
The second part of the article will look specifically how psychometrics can be used in Development.


What do we mean by psychometric tests?
Psychometric tests are developed to give as objective an assessment as possible of a given human characteristic. Test developers usually spend considerable time researching and testing the questions and checking out how well the tests work in practice. In particular, tests should achieve a good degree of reliability (measures what it measures consistently) and validity (measures what it claims to measure). For example, you step onto a weighing scale that tells you that you weigh 5 pounds. Since you are an adult, you know that this is not your real weight, yet every time you step on, the scale still reads 5 pounds. The scale would be reliable (measures consistently) but not valid (measures what it is designed to measure).
Another feature of psychometric tests is that care is taken to ensure that they are administered in a standardised way, so that factors such as the way the test is explained do not influence the outcome.

What are the main types of test?
Broadly there are four types of test:

  • Attainment tests: these measure what you are able to do after a period of instruction eg. driving test
  • Ability tests: measure a particular ability eg. numerical reasoning
  • Interest inventories
  • Personality inventories
The first two measure the best performance an individual is capable of - there are right and wrong answers. Interest and Personality inventories ask about how people typically behave or what they prefer to do in a given situation. There are no right or wrong answers.

Good Practice Guidelines

Valuable as they are in measuring aptitudes, abilities, interests and behaviour preferences, psychometric instruments must be used with care, in their selection, their administration, their interpretation and the safeguarding of data.

Use a qualified practitioner
Psychometric tests are only made available to those trained in their use. HR managers may balk at the cost of bringing in consultants and buying restricted materials. Some find ways around this, but the use of test can be an ethical and even legal minefield for the unwary. Also, test results are only reliable if the test has been administered and interpreted properly.
In the UK, practitioners should ideally be registered with the British Psychological Society. BPS Level A, means the practitioner is qualified to use ability and interest inventories. BPS Level B means they have a further qualification in the use of personality inventories.

Use psychometrics for appropriate purposes
Be clear about what information will be gained from the test, and how it will contribute to the process you have in mind - selection, development, team effectiveness etc.
Choose tests that are relevant for their intended purpose - ask your practitioner to explain their choice of tests. For example, I have come across Belbin, designed to look at optimal team composition and not really a psychometric test anyway, used for individual personality assessment. Choose tests that have been thoroughly researched and tested on a broad population.
Never use tests as the sole basis for a decision eg. entry to a fast track programme or selection for a job. Avoid tests that may introduce cultural bias or discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, religion or language.

Test Administration
Gain the informed consent of those completing the tests. Inform them in advance of the purpose and nature of the test, the feedback they can expect to receive and who will have access to their data.
Ensure that test administration is conducted as recommended in the Test manual to ensure that the resulting data can be relied upon.

    Example: It is easy to overlook these details, and to be honest, when I went through my training I thought administration was rather boring and trivial compared to interpretation. That was before I personally experienced poor test administration. I was under consideration for a role with a major consultancy. I was asked to complete some psychometrics including a numerical reasoning test. The administrator handed me the test remarking ' you'll probably find most of the questions a bit Mickey Mouse. I'm supposed to give you a calculator - it's there if you want it but you probably won't need it.' Needless to say, she was more used to recruiting accountants than management developers. As I looked at the questions and found them none too straightforward I felt my stress levels rising. It brought back all the nightmares I had ever had about not being able to answer the questions in exams! Not the ideal state to complete the test.

It may not always be possible to give individual face-to-face feedback to all those completing the tests, but this is something to incorporate wherever possible. Feedback should include an explanation of the test results, and how they relate to other available data about the individual. Test results should be related to the purpose for which the test was completed.
Maintain the confidentiality of the test results. Normally they will be regarded as confidential to the individual and will not be disclosed to any other person, including the individual's manager or the company HR manager, except where this was intended and consented to by the individual at the outset.

Access to test data
There may be specific legal considerations regarding storage of, and access to, test data. For example in the UK the Data Protection Act applies. Generally though, you should:

  • Inform individuals before completing the test, who will have access to the test data and any reports based upon them.
  • Tell them where, and for how long their data will be stored
  • Never provide actual scores to anyone who is not trained and qualified in their interpretation
  • Use test results only for the purpose for which consent has been given

Next month - how psychometrics can help Development - self-awareness, relationships, career choice, personal development and team effectiveness.

Published on HBC Web-site 07/2000

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