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Role of Psychometric Assessment in the Workplace

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2242 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Chapter 2-The role of psychometric assessment in the workplace and then examining issues around cross-cultural validity and reliability


  1. What is a psychometric test and where did testing originate?

Psychometrics means ‘measurements of the mind’ and the Psychometric tests are designed to measure the intrinsic mental characteristics of a person (Breakwell, 2009). Psychometric tests have been developed to measure an extensive range of mental characteristics, including aptitudes, competencies, personality traits, mood states, psychopathology, psychometric symptomatology, attitudes, motives and self-concepts (Breakwell, 2009).

Rust and Golombok(2015) explain that in 1969 Sir Francis Galton defined ‘Psychometrics’ as the theory and methods of measurement applied to psychological constructs that are not directly observable, such as cognitive abilities, behavioural dispositions, attitudes, values, skills, and knowledge. Commonly, these are usually assessed using objective tests, observer ratings, subjective judgments, structured interviews, questionnaires, and other written or verbal responses. Psychological assessments are defined as ‘process of measuring one or several variables of interest in order to make decisions about individuals or inferences about a population. It is the process of determining the presence of and the extent to which an object, person or group or system possesses a particular property, characteristic or attribute’ Moerdyk, 2009, p. 260; Rust and Golombok(2015).

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In 1887 the world’s first psychometric laboratory was established at the University of Cambridge in England by Francis Galton an anthropometric and James McKeen Cattell, an American scientist. Neither Galton’s anthropometric nor Cattell’s early psychometric tests were successful, but the techniques of observation and analysis which were developed at the time still form the basis of present-day psychometrics(Rust and Golombok 2013).

Although psychometric testing was developed in England, China was the first country to use psychometric testing for the selection of talents. Confucius had argued over 500 years ago, that people were different from each other, stating that ‘their nature might be similar, but behaviours are far apart’, and he differentiated between ‘the superior and intelligent’ and ‘the inferior and dim’ (Jin 2001). Mencius (372 BC to 289 BC) believed these differences were measurable. He advised ‘assess, to tell light from heavy; evaluate, to know long from short’ (Jin 2001). Xun Zi (310 BC to 238 BC) built on this theory and advocated the idea that we should ‘measure a candidate’s ability to determine his position (in the court)’ (Qi 2003). Thus, over 2000 years ago, much of the original thinking that underpins intelligence testing was already in place, as were systems that used testing in the selection of talents. There is evidence that talent selection systems appeared in China even before Confucius. In the Xia Dynasty (between the 21st century BC and the 17th century BC), the tradition of selecting officers by competition placed heavy emphasis on physical strength and skills, but by the time of the Xi Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC to 771 BC) the content of the tests had changed. The Emperor did not only assessed candidates on the basis of their shooting skills but also in terms of their courteous conduct and good manners. Furthermore,the criteria used for the selection of talent grew to include the ‘Six Skills’ (arithmetic, archery, horsemanship, music, writing and skills in the performance of rituals and ceremonies), the ‘Six Conducts’ (filial piety, friendship, harmony, love, responsibility and compassion) and the ‘Six Virtues’ (insight, kindness, judgement, courage, loyalty and Concord).

B. What are psychometric tests used for generally?

The are many different types of psychometric tests that can be used, each using a different strategy for data elicitation (Breakwell, 2009; Rust and Golombok, 2013). Psychometric assessments are used in a wide field of activities, not just in the field of psychology. These tests can be used for educational purposes such as tests at school to monitor performance and at the end of school to provide with first academic credentials, a process that will continue throughout learning. Both practical and written tests need to be passed to obtain a driving licence and to be able to practise any professions. Psychometric assessments are used to test in order to gain special provision for example for learning difficulties and to observe that illiterate individual can have a more rich and differentiated perception, but they lack skills in the categorization and generalization processes trained at school. Employees are tested at work, when applying for promotions, and when they seek another job. The forms of assessment can also take on various forms like interview, examination, multiple-choice, diagnostic, practical, continuous assessment. Psychometric assessments can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of offending programmes in prisons. For example, if a specific offending behaviour programme targets problem-solving ability, a more suitable psychometric assessment that measures an individual’s problem-solving ability can be administered. These psychometric assessments also offer a time-efficient manner by which to evaluate offending behaviour programmes (Gobbett and Sellen, 2013).

However, despite the wide variety of applications and manifestations, all assessments share a standard set of fundamental characteristics – they should be reliable, valid, standardised and free from bias. There are functional assessments and inadequate assessments, and there is a science of how to maximise the quality of assessment (Rust and Golombok, 2013).

C. What is the specific purpose of psychometric testing in an employment setting?

The downfall of many organisations is caused by employee incompetence, person-job mismatch or unethical conduct. This is the reason why many organisations are willing to invest in specialised methods to select and develop employees. These methods include psychological tests and other means of assessment e.g Assessment Centres (Muleya et al., 2017).

Muleya et al., (2017)further explained that it is incontrovertible that this world of work cannot effectively function without human resources, and through the consistent application of knowledge skills and wisdom, the workforce increases the quality and quantity of labour output. Human Resources play an essential in achieving the overall strategic business objectives, this means that the selection of the workforce is a fundamental aspect of the organisation’s strategic planning initiative. Organisations need to tactically engineer a methodology to match talent supply with the current and future talent demand. There is a critical need for the human resource selection processes to indicate the potential employee that has a realistic possibility to be successful and failure to do so can have dire consequences for the organisation. Various methods and techniques are thus employed in human resource selection to increase the organisation’s productivity and competitiveness organisations have indicated the increasing trend towards using psychological assessments.

One of the most critical management decision is the appropriate selection of a candidate for a vacant position. Recruitment and selection are, however, costly human resource management exercise and errors in judgement can be extensive in terms of the time, energy and money. There is no set, typical and/or generally accepted human resource selection process and no two organisations conduct the selection process and no two organisations conduct selection in the same manner. A widely used technique, the multiple-hurdles (or successive-hurdle) approach, results in the candidate pool decreases after each stage in the selection process. Assisting in the decision-making process, the various tool is used to assist recruitment and selection practitioners, including the initial screening of candidates’ curricula vitae, reviewing application forms, conducting interviews, carrying out assessment and testing, as well as doing medical and reference checks(Muleya et al., 2017).


D. What typical tests are used for employment purpose i.e what is measured and what is this info used?


Cognitive ability tests (CATs) measures the specific mental abilities such as verbal skills, quantitative or numerical skills and reasoning ability (Puchert et al., 2017). Perceptual speed and spatial ability tests can be incorporated in aptitude tests. The finger dexterity, wrist-finger speed and manual dexterity are examples of abilities analysed in psychomotor aptitude instruments (Byars & Rue, 2011). While often tested individually, it should be noted that the combination of two or more specific aptitudes is a measure of general cognitive ability (GCA) (Brown et al., 2006; Domino, 2002; Foxcroft and Roodt, 2013; Schmidt, 2002 and Puchert et al., 2017). Puchert et al., (2017) explain that making use of psychometric tests in occupational selection can be justified based on concrete evidence, as scores can accurately predict real-world success and have sufficient value at both practical and theoretical levels. The tests are also useful in making employment decisions, as the GCA tests have been used in the field of human resource selection for over 80 years (Outtz, 2002; Puchert et al., 2017).

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The reason why Psychological tests are considered as valuable instruments is that they can predict what the person can do at a particular moment as they reflect existing skills and knowledge, they can provide insight on how well an individual is likely to benefit from training and develop in the future (Puchert et al., 2017). In a meta-analysis conducted by Bertua et al., 2017; Puchert et al., (2017)the validity of GMA and specific cognitive abilities (i.e. verbal, numerical, perceptual and spatial) for predicting job performance and training success, both were found to be valid predictors of the two criteria across a wide variety of occupational groups. With the use of a multi-intelligence aptitude test battery, Tao, Chen and Chen, (2009); Puchert et al., (2017) concluded that an organisation could evaluate if job respondent has the required aptitude rapidly and effectively and use this as an essential selection technique.

Personality assessment has dramatically increased in the recent years, and it’s commonplace in today’s organisation is as apart of executive coaching, OD, Leadership Development, Talent Management, vocational counselling, and selection programmes(Church et al. 2016).

The use of Personality tools in organisationsis quite common today for leaders to be currently using similar data in other contexts (e.g., coaching or leadership

development programs), and/or to have received some traitor preference-based feedback at some point in their career (e.g., via the MBTI, FIRO-B, Hogan, or other). These same leaders are now likely to be assessed with personality measures to make talent decisions. OD Professionals well versed in the application of personality assessments will have the foresight to consider how they should be positioned when introduced to their organisations or to successfully manage the transition to leveraging personality data for decision making (e.g., the DV-DM condition). Communicating honestly and effectively to employees about how personality data should be used, and adeptly designing the change efforts required are as critical as gaining a fundamental understanding of the data itself. This level of transparency is also consistent with the values in the practice of OD (Burke, 1982; Church, 2001).


  • Church, A., Fleck, C., Foster, G., Levine, R., Lopez, F., Rotolo, C. (2016) “Does Purpose Matter? The Stability of Personality Assessments in Organization Development and Talent Management Applications Over Time”, The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 52(4), 450-481.
  • Puchert, J., Dodd, N., Viljoen, K. (2017) “Secondary education as a predictor of aptitude: Implications for selection in the automotive sector”, SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 43(0).
  • Rust, J., & Golombok, S. (2014). Modern psychometrics: The science of psychological assessment. Routledge.
  • Muleya, V., Fourie, L., Schlebusch, S. (2017) “Ethical challenges in assessment centres in South Africa”, SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 43(0).
  • Gobbett, M., Sellen, J. (2013) “An Evaluation of the HM Prison Service “Thinking Skills Programme” Using Psychometric Assessments”, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 58(4), 454-473.


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