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Applicant Tests: Proficiency, Aptitude, and Ability Tests

Applicant tests are business tools meant to measure specific aspects or qualities of applicants’ skills, knowledge, experience, intellect, personality or psychological makeup. As a Human Recources professional, you should figure out what you want to find out about a candidate and then choose the appropriate test.

Proficiency tests

What do they do? Measure how skillful an applicant is at a particular task (word processing, for example) or how knowledgeable he is in a particular field.

Why would you use them? Proficiency tests measure skills that applicants need for successful job performance. These are useful if a baseline of a particular skill (usually trade related) is essential.

How reliable are they? Generally quite good. This sort of testing has a good track record of validity in the business and industrial world.

Aptitude and ability tests

What do they do? Measure an applicant’s capability to learn and perform a particular job and her capability to learn job-related skills or tasks. These tests fall into the following three basic categories:

  • Mental abilities: Often called cognitive tests, these measure intelligence, verbal reasoning, perceptual speed, and so on. A classic example is the SAT, taken each year by college hopefuls.

  • Mechanical abilities: These tests gauge ability to recognize and visualize a mechanical relationship. For instance, applicants may be asked to distinguish between pulley and lever systems.

  • Psychomotor abilities: These test an individual’s skill and/or ability to make certain body movements or use certain senses.

Why would you use them? Aptitude and ability tests show a readiness to learn or perform a certain task. Whether you use them alone or in batteries of tests, they help many organizations, including governments, select the most likely applicants for specific jobs.

How reliable are they? Generally excellent to adequate so long as they don’t violate antidiscrimination laws. (Again, you need to make sure that hiring decisions based on the results of such tests [or any tests] do not work to the disadvantage of groups covered by EEO legislation.)

Physical ability

Definition: An individual’s health and physical condition or ability to perform certain tasks.

When important: For jobs that require physical abilities (for example, the ability to lift packages of a certain weight if this is vital to job performance).

How to measure: Any number of testing methodologies can test an individual’s physical ability to perform a job.

Requiring a physical or medical examination before employment is illegal under federal law. Employers may test for physical agility or ability if it’s a legitimate job requirement under federal law, but they may do so only after they have extended a conditional offer of employment to the candidate. Also, you must consistently administer the same test to other successful candidates conditionally offered employment for the same position.

Before you decide that some physical attribute or ability is necessary for the job, however, keep in mind that a number of fire departments around the country have been successfully sued because of their physical tests. Likewise, physical or medical examinations may be unlawful under applicable state law.

How reliable are they? Depends on who administers the exam, but they can be quite effective.

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