Understanding the Psychology behind Psychometric Testing

Understanding the Psychology behind Psychometric Testing
Understanding the Psychology behind Psychometric Testing

We are often asked how a simple questionnaire on a personality or psychometric testing application can give such precise results and offer such accurate insight into how an individual may behave in particular situations.  

A response from a recent session involving 100 under 18’s yielded this response from the group leader: “I think we all found it quite spooky how accurate the profiles were.  In fact, a number of the young people commented that they thought you must have been spying on them or had asked the teachers to comment as their profiles were so like them. Just goes to show how good the programme is.”

What is a Psychometric Test?

The definition of 'psychometric' combines the words 'psyche' meaning 'mind', as well as the word 'meter' meaning 'measure'. Therefore, Psychometrics in short means the measurement of the mind. Psychometric Testing is a way of measuring an individual’s mental capabilities and behavioural style.

Initially psychometric tests were designed for educational and psychological situations only. However, psychometric assessments are today also used by employers to choose the best candidates for a job, by determining their suitability for the role based on the required personality characteristics. These assessments can also be named as a Personality Test or Aptitude Test.

The reason why psychometric tests are used for recruitment, selection and assessment purposes is that the results have been statistically correlated with high job performance. Correlation is a statistical relationship between two different sets of data-  and so in relation, psychometric test scores and job performance is a strong positive correlation, meaning the higher the test scores, the higher the job performance tends to be.

Psychometric testing has outperformed every other major selection procedure, from interviews to assessment centre exercises in predictive ability. Research has also found that the predictive power of psychometric tests does compound with the addition of other selection procedures, boosting predictive power.

The Evolution of Psychometric Testing

The use of psychometrics as a science goes back as far as the late 19th century however the first use of psychometric testing began back in 1917 when Robert Woodworth developed a simple yes or no checklist of symptoms called Personal Data Sheet to screen WW1 recruits for psychoneurosis. His development then paved the way for other psychometric inventions.

Choice of Questionnaire Wording is Key

The questionnaire is the starting point.  Jungian psychology talks about preferences; the questionnaire asks you to choose or rank your preferred choices in order.

A typical question may be as follows:

Particular, analytical, correct

Strategic, bold, driving

Steady, accommodating, considerate

Popular, informal, animated

You are asked to rank these groups of 3 words, in order of which is the most like you, which is the second, then third and finally which is least like you.

The choice of words for the questionnaire is really sensitive. Many people comment that they don’t like a particular word; something is not at all like them but the other two words in the selection are just like them. It is not a question of liking or not liking but when forced to choose the order of the four elements and then repeat the process 15 times, we get an accurate measure of the individual’s personality. Each set of words represents a quadrant on the Jungian model: Extraverted thinking, Extraverted Feeling, Introverted Feeling and Introverted Thinking.

Many people in business would consider themselves “strategic” but only someone with high Red energy would choose Bold, Driving, Strategic when listed together with the other options.

The Science of Validation

When asked the same question, albeit using different word choices, we repeatedly arrive at an individual’s preferences. In the 1950s, many thousands of hours were spent with tables to analyse results.  In the 1990s, spreadsheets changed validation of questionnaires from years to weeks. Now, sophisticated online tools can show the accuracy of a new questionnaire or word choice at the click of a button after it has been completed by a selection of people.

If one word is changed in the twelve words displayed for one frame of the questionnaire, the results may be less accurate; the questionnaire wording is really sensitive. Even with software, the process is trial and error in the beginning. At each stage we balance the needs of the psychologist with the statistician to give an end result of 15 questions that accurately measure individual’s personality preference.

With this measure, the report is the knowledge, experience and word crafting ability of the authors to write statements that reflect the preferences, a process, like wine, that improves with time.

Do we get it right? The report is only as good as the questionnaire results. Every time we get a comment that the report was spookily accurate or that someone thinks we have spoken to their colleagues/boss/spouse/teacher/mother it helps to show that the careful validation analysis is working…and it makes us feel good that we are making a difference.

Interested in how a psychometric test could be beneficial within your company? Skillsarena offer Psychometric Testing – Character DNA to understand how personality drives aspects of behaviour. Get your entire work team to complete and the Character DNA wheel can position everyone based on their personality and preferred communication style in an easy-to-use, practical and everyday application.

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Comments (2)

  • Simon Elvin
    Simon Elvin
    Tue, 29 Aug 2017 1:35pm BST
    I agree with Tameron's comment about distinguishing between Type and Trait theories - and would add that this is an important distinction, especially for anyone hoping to recruit or select for positions and roles. Type theory deals with a person's innate mental functions (as Jung called them), preferences in how we gather information, make decisions, etc. However, it says nothing of the person's skills, which can be developed 'against type'. (This is where Trait theory comes in.) As such, it is considered unethical to use Type theory alone for selection, whilst it's a great developmental tool.
    So a word of caution, whilst psychometrics are very powerful and revealing, they should be used appropriately.
  • Tameron Chappell, Ch
    Tameron Chappell, Ch
    Thu, 27 Jul 2017 1:12pm BST
    Great plain-English description of psychometrics and their evolution and how the tool itself impacts the quality of the predictability. As an introductory article in the use of psychomterics for assessment and development I think it would have been important to distinguish between TYPE and TRAIT. Specifically how the former lends itself to development and the latter to assessment.
    I see many cases where organisations are using a Type-tool for assessment purposes without realising the limitation of this in terms of predictability of future performance. The marketing of some type-tools are vague enough to allow users to believe they are following the most rigorous methods.
    Given the clear and approachable style in which the article was written it's an opportunity missed to add this essential distinction.