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The Psychometrics Centre

Cambridge Judge Business School

Ian Florance

When I was 12 I bought a copy of a paperback called 'TEST YOUR OWN IQ'. The answers to the questions were included at the back of the book. It seemed to me the most intelligent thing to do would be to look up the answers. I turned out to be a genius. Later events have shown the weakness of this 'cheating' strategy; I've been something of a failure in my successive attempts to be the new Shakespeare, Einstein and Michelangelo.

Ultimately 'cheating' is a bad strategy for taking a test. Of course you can manipulate badly constructed tests easily enough. If you're applying for a sales job, for instance, it seems unlikely that you'd want to give the impression that you don't like travelling and prefer not to talk to people! But if that is what you're like, do you really want a job in which you have to drive 5 hours a day in order to give presentations to strangers?

An invisible radio link will feed you the answers on that difficult Maths test, but when you pass you're going to face even more difficult Maths. Do you really want that? Isn't it the path to greater problems in the future?

Good tests use a number of techniques to highlight odd patterns of responses which suggest cheating and manipulation. So, in addition to ending up in a situation you're not suited to, cheating can get you into trouble if you're found out.

There are better strategies for coping with tests.

Let's say you're going for a job or applying for an educational course. Change is stressful at the best of times... but if you're asked to do a test as part of the process you may get a panic attack! How can ensure you do your best?

Here are some simple tips:

  • Read the instructions and the text at the start of any question very carefully. Many people make mistakes because they've misunderstood what they're supposed to do, not because they can't do it.
  • Some tests start with practice questions. They're quite often designed to ensure you make silly mistakes and explain why before you get into the real test. So don't worry about getting them wrong.
  • Some tests get more difficult as they go on, some easier, some ask questions randomly. So don't spend too long on any one question. You can usually go back to the ones that are holding you up.
  • Mark your answers carefully, particularly on computer-scored answer sheets. If you change your answer, make sure your final choice is clear.
  • In multiple choice tests, rule out the obviously untrue answers and concentrate on those that are left.
  • Spend some time at the beginning looking at the amount of time you have and the number of questions you have to answer. Check as you go along. (BUT, if this sort of structured working is not natural to you, don't force it. You'll end up feeling unsure of yourself and won't perform optimally.
  • If there's time at the end, go back over your answers.
  • If anything disturbs you (noises from in or outside the room for instance) or something goes wrong (your pencil breaks or, even, you suspect a mistake in the test), let the person supervising you know straight away.
  • Like athletes and actors, you'll do your best if there's some adrenalin in your system, so don't worry about worrying.

It's good to remember that tests aren't intended to make a fool out of you. In fact they're usually designed to measure one of two things:

(1) Measures of areas like personality try to find out how you typically act: in other words they're trying to get an accurate picture of what you normally do.

(2) Ability tests (of areas like numerical and verbal reasoning) try to ensure that you're performing at your best. They are designed to let you show yourself in your best light.

Finally, it's important to remember that "testing" isn't just done "to" you. It's a two way process in which you're an active participant. If you're unhappy with the process, say so. How professionally an organisation runs its testing will give you some idea about whether you want anything to do with it in the future.

Who can administer psychometric tests?

Human Resource professionals need to be specially qualified in order to administer psychometric tests. Both psychologists and non-psychologists can obtain these qualifications. A Level A certificate is required for the administration of ability tests, and a Level B certificate for personality testing. The Psychometrics Centre offers training courses in London and Cambridge leading to both of these qualifications (issued by the British Psychological Society).

Careers in psychometrics

The Psychometrics Centre also offers full-time and part-time advanced training in psychometrics that is suitable for numerate and highly motivated human resource professionals, as well as for graduates with a good science degree who wish to follow a career in psychometrics.

© Ian Florance, January 2008, All rights reserved

Ian Florance is a Consultant to The Psychometrics Centre and Director of Only Connect Ltd

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