Psychological Testing/Testing in Industrial and Business Settings


  • Basic understanding of what I/O psychology is, and what an I/O psychologist does.
  • Know the various types of selection tests in I/O psychology.
  • Understand the process of validating an employment test.
  • Know the legal issues associated with employee selection.

Industrial and Organization (I/O) PsychologyEdit

Industrial and organization psychology is the field of psychology that applies psychological principles to work related issues. I/O psychologists develop tests to predict and measure employee performance.

Selection TestsEdit

There are a variety of selection tests. They range from unstructured interviews to structured personality tests. The main goal of these tests is to predict job performance. Each test has its own relative strengths and weaknesses in this regard.

A very commonly employed selection test is a job interview. Job interviews can be structured or unstructured. In an unstructured interview, the interviewer engages in dialogue with the interviewee that does not follow a predetermined format, questions may vary from applicant to applicant, and there is usually no standardized scoring method. Consequently, validitating this technique as a job performance predictor is quite difficult (One applicant may have the opportunity to respond favorably to a question that was not asked of another or vice versa). By contrast, in a structured interview all applicants are judged on responses to the same questions asked in the same format. Structured interviews provide for more reliable and consistent scoring results.

Another tool used for selection is personality testing. Many personality tests now employ the five factor model of personality (FFM). These factors are conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness. A short description of each factor is listed below:

  • Neuroticism: a tendency to easily experience unpleasant emotions
  • Extraversion: a tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others
  • Agreeableness: a tendency to be compassionate rather than antagonistic about others
  • Conscientiousness: a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutiful, and aim for achievement and competence
  • Openness to experience: a tendency to enjoy new intellectual experiences and ideas

Of all the factors, conscientiousness has been found to positively correlate most with job performance ratings[citation needed]. This factor is higly related to self-discipline, attention to detail, and organization.

Mental ability tests measure intelligence and are the best predictor[citation needed] of job performance in all jobs and all organizations. Crystalized Intelligence relates to the ability of a person to use prior knowledge through learned processes to solve problems. Fluid Intelligence relates to a person's ability to solve a new problem utilizing novel or unlearned strategies. Employers employ both types of intelligence testing for varying job demands.

Much like IQ, EQ or emotional intelligence is used to predict job performance. This information is gained through emotional intelligence testing. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognized and control the emotions of oneself and others. This is a relatively new are being studied for predicting job satisfaction.

The next testing technique is the biodata technique. Biodata uses personal background information to predict job performance. The type of information is job history, family history, gender, and things of that sort. These factors are then derived empirically instead of theoretically like other selection tests.

An area of selection testing that relates to motor skills are psychomotor ability tests. These tests measure fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. These skills are important in jobs like carpentry where the worker needs to have control over a hammer to hit a small nail. Unlike psychomotor ability tests, physical ability tests measure gross motor skills, such as lifting and running. These skills are important in jobs like construction where strength is an important aspect.

Another selection test technique is taking a work sample of an applicant. During a work sample, an applicant completes a realistic job task. These tasks are highly realistic and are supposed to simulate the actual job one is applying for. One example of a work sample is a drivers test. During a drivers test simulates realistic driving. The goal is to assess how well an applicant can perform the tasks, or how well an applicant can learn the task.

Tasks are also performed when an employee or applicant visits an assessment centers. These centers are used to assess applicants potential for high-level jobs. The testing takes multiple days and is costly to the organization providing the assessment and that is why it is seldom used for jobs other then those of high-level. The assessment consists of a battery of psychological tests. One example of a psychological test given is the leaderless group exercise, where a group is given a task to complete without a leader this task is testing if any of the applicants will take the role of leader, thus showing leadership skills. Another exercise completed at an assessment center is a role-playing exercise. In these exercises applicants are asked to take a role in a job-related situation in order to study how well the applicants handle the situation. Another example of a psychological test is the in-basket exercise. In this exercise, applicants have a number of jobs in a "basket" that need to be completed in an allotted time. Each job has requirements in order to complete and they take a certain set amount of time to complete. This tests the organizational ability of applicants, how well applicants work together, leadership, among other things.

Like the role playing task in assessment centers, another selection test is the situational judgment test. This test is a paper and pencil test where a participant is presented with a hypothetical situation and asked to write what they would do in that situation.

Unlike hypothetical situations, often, jobs require knowledge of the job. The job knowledge test is used for that purpose. These tests measure how much knowledge a person has in the field they want to work in. An example of this is the State Medical Board test that needs to be taken before a person can practice medicine in a state. Another example are certification tests, such as the A+ Certification test for people who wish to show they have basic hardware and software computer knowledge.

Often times, people need help making decisions about their career. Occupational counselors use vocational interest tests in order to help guide career decisions. These tests measure different occupational interests.

The last type of selection test are tests of mental illness. These tests measure if a person has a mental illness. However, due to the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) they are illegal to give to job applicants. This is because it mental illness is considered a disability, and even if a person has one, it does not mean they cannot perform the job. If they can perform the job, then, in spite of their disability, the ADA protects them. Although, in some jobs mental illness can not be tolerated. This is because these jobs have interest in public welfare. One example of a job which where public welfare is at risk is a job as a police officer.

Validating Employee Selection TestsEdit

In order to use a selection test with confidence it must be validated. This validation process is important because it builds validity and reliability for using the test for a specific job. For example, if a fast food restaurant called Gopher Burger creates a selection test for employees by putting together a series of questions like "What is your favorite color?" it would have no basis for job performance theoretically nor empirically.

In order to establish validity in the select tests first, a job analysis must be conducted. A job analysis is a study that is used to determine the important tasks and skills needed for a specific job. In our example about Gopher Burger, the test creators would start brain storming about what skills a cook needs in the restaurant, such as manual dexterity for flipping the burgers, keen memory for remembering what goes on the burgers, and speed to make the food quickly.

The next step is to create a rudimentary test from the job analysis. This tests should then be administered to the employees or applicants. Then, predictive and concurrent validation would be calculated. The measures for the validation studies would be gotten from ratings (subjective measures) or objective measures. In Gopher Burger, an example of an objective measure would be the number of burgers the applicant can make it an hour; whereas, ratings can be gained from a supervisors observation of the applicant.

After the validation studies are complete, the test should be revised until validity and reliability are statistically significant in order to accurately predict job performance from the test.


Additional ResourcesEdit

Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 11: Standardized and Other Formal Assessments discusses testing in the context of education and schooling.

Last modified on 6 February 2011, at 09:20