There's such an argument in practitioner circles about which psychometric test to use. Some say 'simpler the better' whilst others say 'accuracy first'. Others focus on the moral and ethical issues in providing any unfiltered information to test respondents. So how to make sense of this debate? So which psychometric test to use?
This blog discusses the background. It centres on the purpose to which the test results are to be put. And it concludes that context is everything. The test chosen depends what the test beneficiary wants to achieve from administering tests.
What is psychometric testing?
Psychologists have concluded that each person can be described by a unique set of characteristics: personality, intelligence, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and competencies. Research into each of these characteristic descriptions over the past seventy years or so has permitted each characteristic to be ‘metricated’ or quantified.
The psychology research community has developed a number of inventories or question banks that allow the psychological aspects of a person’s profile to be described. So by asking a person to respond to an inventory of say 200 questions, their personality can be determined.
The generally accepted definition of a psychometric test is ‘an instrument used to produce a quantitative assessment of one or more attributes of an individual’. Psychometric tests are used in the work setting to aid decision making about staff and managers. In the workplace it’s very useful to know an individual’s aptitude (particularly prior to recruitment) or to know what kind of personality an individual has.
Psychometric tests provide a quantitative assessment of aspects of a candidate or current employee which generally cannot otherwise be determined or estimated through discussion or casual interaction.
Why is context important?
Psychometric tests are built from research over the past seventy years. This research has analysed a huge number of discrete human characteristics and has standardised various human tendencies. A completed inventory (completed by a respondent during testing) builds a model of a personality, ability or the like. But this model is constrained in its validity. It is only valid if the context of the model is the same as the context of the original research and if any conditions of generalizability are obeyed.
It is therefore hugely important that the inventory selected is appropriate for the purpose for which it is intended. Selection needs care.
Psychometric instruments to test personality
Basis of Tests
There are many tests available. Tests fall into two broad categories: those in the public domain, requiring little or no special competency to administer or interpret and those in the restricted domain, available only to certified, trained psychologists and practitioners.
Typically the publically available assessments, or those available online for a modest fee, assess personality type. The result is a high-level statement of either likely behaviour or behaviour preference. Assessments requiring a skilled analyst tend to use the Big Five personality trait theory. Broadly personality type gives a cursory diagramatic overview while trait gives detail and is much more useful and accurate.
There are many arguments about which test is best - both between type tests and trait tests, and between the various trit tests available. The central issue in deciding is acknowledgement that making people aware of personal characteristics carries with it a huge moral responsibility requiring considerable ethical consideration. Therefore anything that is available without constraint, payment or explanation is likely to be very general, involving looking up a textual description that could apply in many contexts. Anything that is accurate and specific is likely to require a trained practitioner to administer, analyse and discuss with the respondent (the person taking the test and about whom assertions are to be made).
Any decision about tools must centre on their predictive validity – the quality measure that is derived from research. Tools based on the Big Five personality characteristics exhibit the highest validity and are the most respected worldwide. Tools centring on The Big Five are only available to trained practitioners.
Type Versus Trait
There are many tests that are on the periphery of the psychometric testing domain. One such test is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Strictly this is not a personality assessment tool commenting on traits but a type indicator that expresses a preference towards bahaviour. Preference tools tend to report black and white preferences such as ‘introvert’ as opposed to ‘extrovert’.
There is significant difference between trait-based tools and type-based preference tools. MAPP and DISC are self-reported preference tools whilst 16PF and 15FQ+ (discussed below) are trait tools based on the Big Five.
Type tests do tend to more popular - simnpy because they are supeficial and easier to interpret by the layman. But simplicity is traded with accuracy - and most consultants like TimelessTime ensure that their trait assessments are suitably simplified without loss of accuracy or context.
MAPP (Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential) centres on motivation and is designed to help individuals understand where they should focus their career. This is based on the idea that if the career choices and life choices are in harmony then higher motivation will occur. The tool reports temperament, aptitude, vocational interests, and learning style preference. Free versions of MAPP are available on line.
This tool might be useful in career counselling along with other instruments and associated discussion. TimelessTime does not offer this tool.
DiSC assesses a person’s dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. It centres on predicting typical behaviours. The output provides a quadrant report which gives a person’s preferred style. Once assessed, people are then matched to one of 15 profiles, for example the achiever, the coach, the results-orientated. Free versions of DiSC are available on line.
This tool might be useful in discussing team member behaviours when combined with other tools and associated discussion. TimelessTime does not normally offer this tool.
16PF and 15FQ+
The 16PF is based on the work of Raymond Cattell and has been built on over the past sixty years. He identified 16 primary factors which can be resolved into five major factors which are termed as ‘The Big Five’. 16PF is the intellectual property of the Institute of Personality and Ability Testing, Inc.
15FQ+ is a similar inventory and is the intellectual property of Psytech International Ltd. Both 16PF and 15FQ+ tests measure the same personality information.
TimelessTime opts to use a UK-based organisation for supply of testing material. We therefore administer and analyse the 15FQ+ tool. The table below shows the personality factors that are reported on. The phrases represent two opposing extremes for each trait.
- crack under pressure OR cope well with pressure
- lack motivation and drive OR are self starters
- create conflict and discord OR resolve disagreements
- are insubordinate and defiant OR are team players
- avoid decisions OR are decisive and action-orientated
- are rule breakers OR are diligent and compliant
- obstruct change OR embrace change
- are careless and error prone OR are attentive to detail
- are cold and callous OR are participative and engaging
- are needy and dependent OR are confident and self-insured
- are culturally insensitive OR are culturally sensitive
- are hostile and suspicious OR are open and accepting
In addition to personality, the 15FQ+ reports on Response Style (interpersonal style, thinking style, coping style); Behavioural Style (preferred team roles, leadership styles, subordinate style and influencing styles). It also reports on Career-Theme Styles matching the individual’s personality to occupational themes, for example Realistic, Conventional, Investigative, Enterprising. Finally the tool reports potential strengths and areas for development based on the output from the personality profile.
TimelessTime offers 15FQ+. 15FQ+ is an important tool in determining how an individual is likely to behave in the work setting and its additional reports provide information useful in team settings and in career management.
Jung Type Indicator
This is an alternative to Myers-Briggs discussed above. It assesses a person’s preferred ‘type’ or preference in four dimensions. These are Extroversion v Introversion, Thinking v Feeling, Sensing v Intuiting and Judging v Perceiving.
TimelessTime offers JTI but only as part of a full trait-based assessment using 15FQ+.
Choosing a psychometric instrument
Psychometric instruments are used to make inference about individuals. When choosing a test it is important to know how the test is being constructed, what norm group is being used when an individual is being compared with others, and the availability of technical data to support the tool. The British Psychological Society certifies users as either test administrators or test analysts. A further distinction is made between those competent to use ability tests and the more complicated personality tests.
Sue Berry of TimelessTime is a registered test user for both ability and personality testing. Her British Psychological Society RQTU membership number is 248258.
Providing psychometric test data for the respondent
There are many occasions where test users or analysts provide information to decision makers, and indeed to the respondent (person taking the test). The competency required in psychometric concepts in order to interpret psychometric tests is high. In any environment where high competency is needed to interpret results, moral and ethical issues ensue. This occurs here since the chance of misunderstanding data and meaning by both the decision maker and the respondent is high. Such misunderstanding can only be mitigated by one-to-one discussion.
Raw data is provided to a test user on the basis that they have been trained to understand the concepts involved. For example reporting to an individual or a decision maker that somebody is an ‘introvert’ is likely to send a message that the individual is somewhat of a recluse. However, this really means that the individual is very happy with their own company and will not seek to be in a group scenario. Nor will they be constantly chatting with colleagues. For a role that requires complete dedication to intricate work or manipulation of figures, this trait is likely to be very important and hence will be viewed in a positive light. The terminologies of psychometrics are complex and extreme. Training is needed to interpret results.
Since raw test data on all but the simplest tools is open to interpretation and is context sensitive, TimelessTime does not provide a testing service where individuals immediately receive a report on completion of the inventory. Every test undertaken is assessed for context and an individual report generated which explains the data in layman’s terms. Furthermore information is also provided to help subsequent dialogue with the individual. Such dialogue may be used during recruitment interviews or developmental discussions within a company’s performance management system.
Sometimes individual personality tools are not the best tools for the job in hand. Where the firm faces a wide range of challenges requiring consideration of the workforce as a whole or in groups, these contexts can be better assessed and managed using a culture model. Further information on one such tool can be found on our website
TimelessTime offers the Denison tool. You can learn more about the Denison culture tool elsewhere on our website.
So which psychometric?
The above information discusses a range of personality profiling tools and explains why TimelessTime has chosen specific tools on which to focus.
Broadly, your decision must be made by aliging the information that the tool will give with your business needs. If you are discussing collectively with your team how each behaves in an effort to increase understanding, it's possible that DiSC simplicity might serve you well. If you want to determine who will likely fit best in the organisation, and who might perform well in a job, use something based on the Big Five every time.
We will be happy to provide sample reports of any of the tools we administer, analyse and report on. We also offer psychometric ability tests and again can provide sample reports.