The Use of Psychological Tests: A Guide for Management

Article excerpt

The field of psychological testing is a controversial one which is little known and understood by the general public. Management are also often at a loss about how to value the advice given by so-called experts in psychological testing. The following short article is an attempt to offer a few guidelines about the possible help that psychological tests may provide.

In the first place, it should be noted that it is impossible to tell whether a certain psychological test will work in a particular situation unless an objective research study has been carried out. When the many studies into this question are carefully examined, it can be seen that for the most part psychological tests do work. By this industrial psychologists simply mean that the use of psychological tests usually results in some significant degree of improvement over other methods.

In this respect, psychological tests are evaluated, not in terms of whether they achieve perfection, but instead whether the ratio of successes to failures in personnel selection is better after using the tests than it was before. For instance, if the labour turnover in a given department has been 25 percent per year among employees placed by previous methods, and it is found that new employees placed by psychological tests consistently show a turnover of only 20 percent per year, and if the expense of administering the testing programme is less than the amount saved by the reduction in labour turnover, then the testing programme would be considered a sound investment - even though it did not achieve perfection in reducing labour turnover to zero. When psychological tests are examined in this light it can definitely be said that they work. However, not all tests or products are equally effective.

Background Questionnaires

The greatest success industrial psychologists have had so far is with the personal background questionnaire or, the weighted application blank in which the applicant is asked about his hobbies, school performance, previous jobs, attitudes towards past experiences etc. However, instead of answering in his own words (as he would in an interview) the applicant checks one of several alternative answers in the questionnaire. There is a growing body of evidence that questionnaires of this nature - if they are developed and analysed in accordance with standard research procedures - can result in the selection of better employees and reduce labour turnover.

In the development of a weighted application blank, the industrial psychologist first determines the extent, if any, of the relationships between responses to the items in the questionnaire (or blank) and some criterion of the employee's success on the job. Items which are shown to be related to the criterion (or criteria), such as industrial productivity for supervisors' ratings, are then weighted to reflect the extent of this relationship and the total questionnaire is 'scored' by summing the weights of responses to the items.

It should be stressed that in the development of such weighted application blanks only those questions are retained which have been proved to be related to the job success.

For instance, a question regarding number of children would only be included if, say, applicants with many children perform much better than applicants with few children (or vice versa). If there is no difference between the performance of applicants with few or many children, this item would be dropped.

It is not possible to structure a weighted application blank that will be usable for all jobs in a given organisation or even for similar jobs in different organisations. Every selection programme presents a unique set of problems with respect to the phrasing of items to be included in the blank and the weighting of responses to these items. However, when weighted application blanks are specially tailored to meet the needs of a specific set of jobs in a given firm, the results are impressive. …