A test taker's guide to psychometric testing

Psychometric tests allow us to assess individuals on areas such as ability, personality and motivation. The tests have been developed using a complex technical procedure to ensure that they really do measure what they claim to measure. Psychometric tests are mainly used for role selection, personal development or career guidance. They help us to find out a little bit more about someone in a way that is reliable and accurate, and allow us to see differences between people. In general, psychometric tests fall into two main categories:

1. Measures of typical performance

These measures aim to assess how an individual is likely to behave or their typical style of behaving. These can include things such as our interests or our personality. There is no right or wrong answer, as these types of assessments measure what you think.

An example of a typical performance question is:

Question 1: On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree, to what extent do you agree with the following statement?
‘I like most people that I meet’

Another example is:

Question 2: On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree, to what extent do you agree with the following statement?
‘I would rather keep my options open than plan in advance’

This type of measure is often referred to as a personality assessment or behavioural test.

2. Measures of maximum performance

Tests of particular abilities or aptitude are known as maximum performance tests. For these types of assessments there are usually right or wrong answers, and you should try to answer the questions correctly. Although a higher score is usually better, most people score around 50%.
An example of a maximum performance question is:

Question 1: All the houses in Winscombe were built this century or shortly before, but Ferrydale, 20 miles to the north east, has many lovely old houses. Milton is 15 miles north of Ferrydale, with building of much the same type. Westwood is a small village south east of Winscombe, with several eighteenth century cottages.

Which is least likely to have an eighteenth century house?

A. Winscombe
B. Ferrydale
C. Milton
D. Westwood

Another example is:

Question 2: Please select the correct answer:

18 / 6 + 2 =

A. 6
B. 5
C. 3
D. 2

Your scores from both typical and maximum performance measures are compared to lots of other people who have taken the test, which is called a norm or comparison group. This allows us to see how typical or similar you are to other people. For example, if you scored 30% on an ability test you might think that this is not very good, however if everyone else scores 20% then in actual fact you score is better than most other people.

Only individuals who are trained to British Psychological Society (BPS) Level A or B can have access to psychometric tests in the UK. When you are asked to take a psychometric test you can check the name of the person responsible for the testing (known as the test user), and ask what their qualifications are by contacting the Psychological Testing Centre (PTC). All qualified individuals are held on a record that you can access through the PTC. You can also do some research on the test itself, and check whether it is sold by a reliable provider. Essentially though, the onus is on the person who has asked you to complete the test to act in a responsible, fair and ethical way when using psychometrics. Organisations and individuals using psychometric tests must follow guidelines for data protection (Data Protection Act 1994), and also those set out by the BPS.

When you are asked to take a psychometric test you should be given the following information:

  • Why the test is being used
  • How the results will be used
  • How the tests will be scored and by whom
  • What feedback you will receive on your test scores
  • Who will have access to the results and how long they will be stored for.

When used appropriately and by suitable qualified individuals, psychometric tests can provide valuable insight to increase our self-awareness. It is understandable to feel anxious, worried or even nervous about taking a test. The person who has asked you to complete the test should be able to provide you with reassurance and advice, and use the checklist above to make sure that you get the right information.

Further information and guidance can be found on the Psychological Testing Centre website www.psychtesting.org.uk