The Pros and Cons of Aptitude Testing

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Many organisations use aptitude tests as part of their recruitment process. These tests can be very useful for showing a person’s strengths, talents and limitations. Aptitude tests not only focus on someone’s past accomplishments but can also preclude recruiters to their candidates’ capacity to perform in future.

As with any tool though it has it’s drawbacks. A hammer is a great tool to drive nails into materials, but can also hurt the user even when used as intended; aptitude tests are similar they can be effective for certain types of evaluations but unfortunately, fall flat in others areas. First and foremost according to various studies, coaching programs can adequately prepare a test-taker and misrepresent their talents and abilities.

When choosing an aptitude test, you should first decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want to test intelligence, professional ability or general vocational skill?

What aptitude tests evaluate

  • Abstract reasoning – This is the ability to contextualise information and quickly recognise patterns, a critical metric for individuals that seek to enter management
  • Spatial visualisation – this section evaluates a candidate’s ability to manipulate two and three dimensional shapes cognitively
  • Manual dexterity – tests ability to perform manual tasks and micro-manual tasks
  • Numerical aptitude – an assessment of the candidate’s proficiency at maths
  • Creative skills – this gauges the test-takers ability at non-divergent thinking
  • Literary skills – evaluates literary abilities
  • Organisational skills – rates the person’s skills in managing multiple dynamic variables
  • Leadership skills – this will show you if the applicant can manage human resources if placed in an executive role
  • Spelling – a further evaluation of the candidate's linguistic skills
  • Perceptual speed and accuracy – if applicable for the position this can also be part of the abstract reasoning or spatial visualisation
  • Scientific skills – again where applicable this assesses base knowledge in science. May be part of a test for lab technicians for example
  • Mechanical reasoning and understanding – this evaluates the test-takers ability to comprehend machine workings cognitively

Advantages of aptitude tests

  • Negates cultural effects – Some candidates might be able to use certain cultural advantages to achieve success in both education and industry. Luckily standardised/aptitude tests put all test-takers on an equal playing field. Or at least they are designed not to have a cultural or socio-economic bias. Much like the metaphor in the introduction, it’s not intended to create a bias, but sometimes it does.
  • Objective, efficient comparisons – Many organisations use aptitude testing to help them make better promoting or hiring decisions. Compared with interviews, such tests are usually more efficient at establishing if someone can handle responsibility. Also, aptitude tests allow employers to compare various candidates in a fair manner, without creating (mostly unconscious) leanings due to attractiveness or ethnicity for example.
  • Standardisation – Since many aptitude tests are standardised, you can be assured of reliable and valid results. If any legal dispute arises about your recruitment practices, you can challenge them using the test results. Therefore, before using any aptitude test as part of your recruitment process, find out if it is standardised and applicable to your country’s employment law.
  • Training needs assessment – Different people in your organisation require different skills to be efficient in their work. For instance, some people might need to improve their customer care skills, while others might need to improve their time management. Aptitude tests can help you establish the training needs of your employees and thus organise an appropriate training program.
  • Minimises anxiety – many people might behave erratically or uncharacteristically when subjected to the pressure of a one to one assessment. This allows applicants to show their true colours without the filter of an interviewer that could compromise or completely change a person’s response.
  • Cost effectiveness – Most aptitude and career tests are carried out on computers. As a result, they are very cost-effective and easy to administer. It also expedites the grading process, minimising the period that a position (maybe even an important position) is left vacant and the labour hours dedicated to recruitment, as it’s possible to have a viable candidate much sooner.

Disadvantages of aptitude tests

  • Cultural bias – Our abilities and accomplishments are based on experiences such as our upbringing, home setting, education and opportunities. All these will have an impact on the results of the aptitude test. For example, an aptitude test might require proficiency in the English language. If this is not your mother tongue, then you might be disqualified in spite of your other abilities. An expensive preparatory course is an excellent tool for succeeding.
  • Aptitude does not necessarily result in good performance – The fact that someone has an aptitude for something does not necessarily mean that they will perform well. Besides aptitude, there are also other factors that affect performance. This includes training, motivation and interest.
  • It strips test-takers of identity – This is actually what behavioural, aptitude and career tests do best, completely strip the person taking the test of their identity, so there is no discernable difference between the results. It ensures that the process is kept ethical and avoids nepotism or favouritism. As the job market has evolved beyond the 'keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone' paradigm, individualism is respected and even commended; some hiring managers consider individual interests and characteristics an asset that can be used to the company’s benefit. Furthermore, enthusiasm, drive and quick thinking (are all very valuable attributes) will all but be expunged by a standardised.
  • It can favour “non-thinkers” – I’m not calling anyone names here, but it's undeniable that standardised tests favour people that memorise. You can learn how to take standardised tests, essentially “hacking” them. For example, you can achieve a median score in multiple choice mathematics, by using very rough estimation to eliminate the most outlying answers. This is just one simple technique that can be used to either circumvent an aptitude test or increase your chances exponentially.
  • Test anxiety – There is a psychological effect that may negatively affect the performance of candidates known as test anxiety. This type of stress can manifest itself psychosomatically in various symptoms; increased blood pressure and heart rate, dizziness, chest tightening and shortness of breath. The emotional effects can inhibit an individual's ability to perform, which might cost you a viable and valid candidate

More and more industries are realising how valuable creative, non-divergent thinkers are. Because these types of individuals are extremely talented problem solvers and can assist in brainstorming, contextualization and conceptualisation. Effective communicators are also becoming increasingly sought-after since they can bridge the gap between administration and production. These are all things that can be extrapolated in an aptitude test. If you use this evaluation in combination with a traditional interview process, then you will almost be guaranteed a viable and capable candidate.

The process of evaluating prospective or current employees can be very subjective. Many managers and employers find themselves being influenced by their personal beliefs, feelings, life experiences and judgments. Aptitude tests can be very useful tools for making objective promoting or hiring decisions. However, such decisions should not be made solely based on test results. Instead, aptitude tests should only be used as part of the overall recruitment process.

Do you use aptitude tests in your recruitment process? Do you thin they are effective? Let us know in the comments section below…