The science of… Psychometrics

Yesterday I started a series of posts on: The science of… Occupational Psychology. Today I continue with talking about psychometrics.

You mention psychometrics and people immediately think about profiling, being boxed in, being classed as unsuitable, and a host of other negative associations. It’s all hogwash of course. These things are spouted by those who have zero concept about how psychometrics should be used, their value and the insight they provide.<

Personality Theory

Where do we start? Well the first thing to understand is that psychometric tests are all about providing an easy to understand frame of reference for personality. This frame of reference is often steeped in two schools of thought. They are either based in trait theory or type theory.

Trait theory is about a scale of behaviour. The theory argues that we all have a range of behaviours, and we will exhibit various strengths of those behaviours. For example, we all have the capacity for ‘social boldness’ but we may differ the extent to which we display that behaviour. We can have a strength in this behaviour or it can be a weakness. The most popular psychometric that uses trait theory is the 16PF personality questionnaire – distributed by OPP Ltd in the UK.

Type theory is about either exhibiting a behaviour, or not. The theory argues that we will all have preferences for behaviour, and this is the place we will default to in any given situation. We might be able to learn the opposite behaviour, but this does not mean we can do both at the same time. It means that we develop a maturity in our understanding of behaviours and are able to exhibit both types. Thus, we may be extrovert by preference, but equally able to exhibit introvert behaviours when appropriate. The most popular psychometric tool that uses type theory is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator – distributed again by OPP Ltd in the UK.

Types of Psychometrics

As well as personality based psychometrics, there are also other types of psychometrics which are very commonplace – the biggest distributor of which is SHL in the UK.

Aptitude tests and ability tests measure your ability to do a certain task e.g. analytical skills, inference skills, deduction skills, critical reasoning.

Verbal reasoning tests measure your ability to understand verbal instruction.
Numerical reasoning tests measure your ability to understand mathematical problems

Construction of Psychometrics

The key thing that sets psychometrics apart from other questionnaires such as Belbin team roles or the Honey and Mumford Learning Styles, is that there is rigorous construction of the questionnaires. Every psychometric developed goes through a process of being validated.

This means it has to show to be reliable. That is, if you retake the questionnaire, your answers will be consistent.

It has to also show to be valid. That is, a set of or bank of questions measure what it purports to measure.

A set of norms is produced to enable a benchmark from the results. That is, whatever your results may show from a psychometric, you are measured against an appropriate norm group, and as such your results interpreted appropriately.

Standardised administration is a key part of psychometrics. Instructions on how to complete a questionnaire must be understood by anyone undertaking the test.

Feedback and Interpretation

The most important part of completing the questionnaires is receiving feedback from a fully qualified person. Qualification means they have attended a training programme where they learn about all the things I’ve mentioned above. Any person claiming they are qualified will have 2 certificates to prove this. One is the ability to administer and feedback results – a Level A qualification in occupational competence. The second is the ability to use, administer and interpret a specific personality tool. This is the Level B qualification in occupational competence.

A qualified person will be able to take your results and provide insight to you based on the answers you’ve provided. At no point should this be judgemental or profiling. Instead it should be only about feedback and insight.

Once you’ve received feedback you should always receive a report that explains the results.

Myths about Psychometrics

There are those who will tell you that you can fake a test, or answer it in your favour. The likelihood of you being able to do this is seriously slim. The construction of psychometrics means that the questions are designed to not be faked. that’s why you’ll often find that the same question seems to be asked several times in different ways. That’s done so you answer consistently. You might be clever, and you might think you can fake it, but you can’t. Trust me.

There are those who will tell you that you can’t change once you’ve been profiled. Oh that’s just nonsense. First you’re not being profiled. You’ve provided a set of answers and based on the information you’ve provided a set of results are produced. It’s totally based on the information you’ve given. Second – and importantly – you can change your behaviours. Significant life changing events can have profound impacts on us and they do. Death, birth, job change, redundancy, divorce, marriage, all have profound effects on our condition. And they can influence and change your behaviour. It does normally have to be something quite significant though in order for your behaviour to change.

There are those who will claim they can exhibit all behaviours all times of the day. Idiots. As I’ve explained above, you can learn behaviours, but that takes time and you will default to a way of being in most situations. You can and will learn how to act differently, but this will often be in relation to and dependent on the situation you are in.

Posts in this series:

The science of… Assessment Centres
The science of… Competency Frameworks
The science of… Ergonomics
The science of… Appraisals
The science of… Learning and Development
The science of… Occupational Psychology

>The Myers Briggs Type Indicator for everyone

>So I’d rule the world with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I think it’s a fantastic psychometric tool that can help you understand so much about yourself. I qualified to use it in 2005 I think and have been using it at every opportunity since! I often reflect on my preferences and what I’m doing to either strenghten them or develop my non-preferences. So what’s the purpose of today’s blog? To keep it simple and easy for everyone to read and decipher.

I won’t go into the history of the MBTI. As important as it is, I want to focus on the preferences.

So firstly, are you an ‘extrovert’ or an ‘introvert’? It’s important to remember that although behaviours are what are observable, behaviours alone do not dictate preference. For an extrovert, they gain their energy from people and being active and interactive. That can take any form deemed appropriate. For an introvert they gain their energy from their own world. That means removing themselves from normal activity to have time they can use to reflect and find that energy they’re looking for. Both are fully capable and often display behvaiours that are described as ‘extrovert’ and as ‘introvert’. Because of this, people often say ‘I’m both’. Poppy cock. Do you prefer using your left or right hand regardless of how well you may use either? It’s the same principle. We have a natural pull that means we either gain our energy from others (extrovert) or from ourselves (introvert).

Next is do you have a ‘sensing’ or ‘intuiting’ preference. A sensing person is someone who tends to prefer things such as facts, practicalities, data, proven methods. An intuiting person is someone who tends to prefer things such as ideas, interpreting meanings, finding connections. It’s startling how observable the behaviours are for a sensing person compared to an intuiting person. Sensing people describe things very literally, do things practically and enjoy working according to tried and tested methods. Intuiting people like to work with uncertainties and find out solutions to problems in interesting and creative ways.

The third set of preferences are ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’. A person who has thinking preference is someone who makes decisions about the world using logic as their key vehicle. A person with feeling preference uses their personal values system as their driver for making decisions. A thinking person is all about the process and making sure it works – business first, relationships second. A feeling person is all about harmony and ensuring that others are consulted – relationships first, business second. What I like best about trying to figure this set of preferences is how people see themselves. They define ‘feeling’ as being ’emotional’, or ‘thinking’ as being more ‘rational’ where that isn’t how Myers and Briggs define it at all. You can display just as much emotion/passion and rational thought using either thinking or feeling preference.

Last is to consider if you have ‘judging’ or ‘perceiving’ preference. A judging person likes to plan the world they work in. For them it’s all about schedules, keeping things on plan, having closure with things, being tidy and very deliberate about what they do. A perceiving person likes to work in a way which seems to make no sense. They have rough plans, out of date to-do-lists and generally seem haphazard in their approach to the world. The best example of thinking how the two differ comes in seeing how weekends are planned. A judging person will know what is happening in the weekend to come from Friday evening through to Sunday night. They will have times things are meant to happen, who with, when, where, and how. Perceiving people will have an idea of what’s happening over the weekend and will likely finalise plans minute before the next event is meant to take place.

So that’s an overview of the MBTI. The next step normally is to assign yourself a 4 letter ‘type’: E = Extrovert, I = Introvert, S = Sensing, N = iNtuition, T = Thinking, F = Feeling, J = Judging and P = Perceiving. A possible 16 types exist. There’s no best or worst type. It’s all about helping you to understand how you best operate. You are then able to define how best to work best with others. So for example, my type is ENFP. This is technically defined as extroverted intuiting with introverted feeling. That means nothing if you haven’t been through a formal training process to understand ‘type dynamics’. For me though, it helps me to think about what my strengths are, how these influence my life decisions, what weaknesses I’m likely to display and how I can employ methods to counter these.

The great thing about the MBTI is that it’s easy to understand and gives an easy overview of self-awareness. If you take the time to study it further though you begin to understand more about yourself, insights into your own life and how to use the tool to help you do more.

The downfall of the MBTI though is that too many people think they get it when they really don’t. Language becomes easily confused. They try to define others according to MBTI behaviours when they don’t really understand the language. Because there are 16 types, people feel they are blocked in and pigeon holed. The classic response is, “surely I’m all of these things at different times in my life?” This line of responses is mainly due to a lack of appreciation for the tool.

So hopefully the above gives a brief overview to the MBTI. There are a lot of available online resources to help find out more. If you want to get a true picture though please find someone who is formally qualified by OPP in the EU or CAPT in the US. They will give you full feedback on the tool, give you the full and proper questionnaire to complete and help you go through a full self selection about what type best fits your personality.