The Fallibility of Psychological Testing
Psychological Testing has become rampant across industries, more so in
the case of Information Technology, BPOs and ITES companies. These
tests are used to ‘throw up’ personality profiles and competency
descriptions that would help companies recruit the ‘right’ candidate.
The Human Resources department in most organizations is responsible for
the administering of Psychometric tests.
The International body that sets guidelines for testing is the
International Test Commission ( ITC ) which stipulates guidelines for
adaptation and usage of tests. ITC has issued guidelines to cover the
Professional and ethical standards in testing
Rights of the test candidate and other parties involved in the testing
Choice and evaluation of alternative tests
Test administration, scoring and interpretation
Report writing and feedback.
ITC has defined competence in test usage as, ” A Competent test user
will use tests appropriately, professionally and in an ethical manner,
paying due regard to the needs and rights of those involved in the
testing process, the reasons for testing, and the broader context in
which the testing takes place.”
There are many reasons why a test can be fallible –
1. Inappropriate usage of Tests
The norms for which the tests have been designed have to be considered
carefully. They cannot be administered to a population that is
different from the norm population ( Norm Population for example could
be, adolescents, Senior Executives; norms could be based on age,
occupation, gender, economic status etc. ). That is, a test designed
for adolescents cannot be administered on Senior Executives and vice
versa because the results of such administration would be faulty.
2. Culture Fair Testing
Another common flaw is in the usage of tests which are not culture fair.
Many psychological tests have been designed for the western population
and can be used appropriately only in that culture. Unfortunately many
of these tests are used on the Indian population giving rise to faulty
3. Design of Test
The psychological test can only be designed by professionals qualified
in psychometrics. Many a time lay people design tests using the help of
information accessed through the internet or sometimes even from their
own common sense. Such tests are not valid.
4. Validation of tests
Every test that has been designed has to be validated. The process of
validation would involve administering the test on a large population
over a period of time before it is certified as ‘ready for use’. This
cannot be done from tests that are fabricated overnight.
5. Downloaded Tests
Often tests are downloaded from the Internet and are used for purposes
other than for which they have been designed. For example, a
personality test being used to test the Emotional Intelligence or Team
Skills of a person.
6. Wrong Customization
Sometimes the items of a test are changed to suit the user. In such
instances the test cannot give valid results. For example an item ( a
question / statement in the test ) would state –
” Do you usually date on weekends ?” , could be changed to
” Do you socialize on weekends? ”
to fit the Indian scenario. The results of the test with such changed
‘items’will not be not valid.
7. Test Administration
The test administration should be systematically standardized, i.e., the
test should be administered under exactly the same conditions to all
users. This means that the actual test environment, the instructions,
the timing and the materials are the same on every test occasion.
Before administering the test the user must consider the following
o What is the purpose of testing?
o What outcomes will be achieved through testing?
o Why are these specific tests being used?
o Why are these tests relevant to the outcomes being sought?
o What evidence is there that these tests are appropriate for the people
who are to be assessed?
8. Confidentiality of Test Results
All results of tests must be maintained by the administrator in strict
confidence. Revealing the results could lead to unfair discrimination
in the workplace. This happens when a test used for selection is
disadvantageous to certain ‘groups’ within the organization. In the US,
the use of IQ tests in employee selection has been prohibited. This was
due to the lack of confidentiality maintained by the administrators
which resulted in employees being unfairly discriminated. At present
any psychometric test has to be administered with utmost care and after
the requisite permissions is obtained.
To ensure confidentiality, the following guidelines should be
1. Ensure that test materials are kept securely
2. Ensure secure storage of and control access to test materials.
3. Respect copyright law and agreements that exist with respect to a
test including any prohibitions on the copying or transmission of
materials in electronic or other forms to other people, whether
qualified or otherwise.
4. Protect the integrity of the test by not coaching individuals on
actual test materials or other practice materials that might unfairly
influence their test performance.
5. Ensure that test techniques are not described publicly in such a way
that their usefulness is impaired.
9. Competence of Test Administrator and Interpreter
The personnel administering the tests have to be strict in following the
instructions stipulated by the test designers. The interpretations too
have to be done by qualified personnel who are psychologists.
10. Limitation of tests
The tests are ‘limited’ for the purposes for which they have been
designed. For a holistic assessment of an individual, it is required
that the test results are supplemented by information from interviews
and group discussions. In addition the test results are not valid after
eighteen months of its administration.
11. Test Copyrights
It is an offence to copy tests that have been copyrighted. They can only
be used after the necessary permission is obtained from the designers.
Otherwise this illegal copying may lead to lack of standardization in
Test conditions and poor control of materials.
12. Test feedback
Often times the guidelines for feedback are not followed by the Users.
The British Psychological Society has set out the following guidelines
for written and oral feedback:
o Ensure that the technical and linguistic levels of any reports are
appropriate for the level of understanding of the recipients.
o Make clear that the test data represent just one source of information
and should always be considered in conjunction with other information.
o Explain how the importance of the test results should be weighted in
relation to other information about the people being assessed.
o Use a form and structure for a report that is appropriate to the
context of the assessment.
o When appropriate, provide third parties with information on how
results may be used to inform their decisions.
o Explain and support the use of test results used to classify people
into categories (e.g. for diagnostic purposes or for job selection).
o Include within written reports a clear summary, and when relevant,
o Present oral feedback to test takers in a constructive and supportive