Measure for measure
by Rosie Harrison
Imagine for a moment that you are going for a new job, or enrolling for
leadership training, or applying for a position on a new team, or being
selected as a life or business partner. Now think about the 'other' person or
group in whose hands the selection decision rests.
What will 'they' be looking for - how will 'they' recognise all your good
and exceptional qualities - and will they spot those little eccentricities?
Nowadays there is the distinct possibility that someone will use a
psychometric test to perform the evaluation and the selection.
Schools use psychometric tests to determine the kind of
education that would be best for a child. Assessment centres use them to
select people for jobs, and as part of leadership and coaching programmes.
As aptitude and career tests, their outcomes affects whether you can be a
pilot, a computer programmer, an analyst or hairdresser. At their lowest level
you can see them in magazines to find the perfect mate, job, career, house etc
How did testing get to be so popular, prevalent and powerful?
It all started with Sir Francis Galton, a man disappointed by his failure
to achieve the highest academic honours. In 1859 his reading of Darwin's On
The Origin of the Species provided him with an explanation - the higher
achievers must possess innate and inherited characteristics for superior
His belief in nature was so strong that he named and founded the eugenics
movement, proposing that the state should only permit the intelligent to
breed. To do this he needed a way of identifying the underachievers - before
they could multiply!
For Galton intelligence was a matter of neurological efficiency that
would be recognised by superior perceptual
and physical attributes unfortunately the results of testing 9,000
subjects proved the opposite. 'Bright' and 'Dull' subjects did not differ in
their ability to perceive small differences in weight or line lengths.
Meanwhile in France an alternative approach was being tried.
In the early 1900s the French government needed a way to differentiate
between the 3 levels of retarded, weak and normal children. Based on previous
research Binet got the job.
Working closely with teachers Binet devised a set of tests that produced
the results that teachers expected. Teacher's expectations were biased by such
traits as docility, neatness, and social skills so what was measured was not
To be fair, Binet never described his test as a measure of intelligence
and always maintained that a single number could not be used to describe an
individual's intelligence he also argued that argued that 'intelligence'
whatever else it was could never be isolated from the actual experiences,
circumstances, and personal associations of the individual.
In the US Binet's work was picked up and picked over by several different psychologists working on different projects.
When America entered World War I in 1917 the U.S. Army was faced with the
dilemma of quickly sorting huge numbers of draftees into suitable Army posts.
Robert Yerkes was selected to chair a committee, which included Henry Goddard,
Lewis Terman (coiner of the term "intelligence quotient") and Walter
A new test was quickly devised with significant changes from the Binet
style of test. The new test was pencil and paper testing where the recruits
were given 25 minutes to work through all the questions. They had to select
the correct answer from a set of choices. Points were awarded for correct
answers and the points were used to grade the recruit A to E.
Successful trials convinced the army to start full scale testing in 1918
at a rate of 200,000 recruits per month. By the end of the war approximately
two million recruits had been tested.
After the war a veritable flood of tests became available with over 350
intelligence, achievement, aptitude and personality tests available.
These were used by companies and schools to predict ability and
And so began the love affair with testing . . . but all was not well in
The massive amount of data from the army testing program was analysed by
Yerkes and Carl Brigham and produced three controversial findings. Firstly,
they suggested that intelligence was predicted by race, with immigrants behind
native Americans. Secondly it appeared as if America was losing its native
intelligence. Thirdly it was believed that black people were less intelligent
than white people.
The analysis failed to take into account that the amount of time an
immigrant had been in the country influenced his test score. Northern
Europeans, on the average, had been in the country much longer than the other
two groups. It would be years before the notion that the tests themselves were
culturally biased, and hence the results not as clear-cut as they seemed.
So what exactly were the testers measuring?
The short answer must be "who knows?"
The basic uncertainty stems from the fact that we have no real agreed
definition of what intelligence is and so no real way of judging what should
be measured and how.
There are numerous contenders for an explanation of intelligence:
a single unitary level of ability
that underlies everything
a cluster of related skills
a range of independent skill areas or
And numerous thoughts:
- oh no it's not
It's fixed - oh! no its not
it decreases with old age
- oh no it doesn't
you can't grow it - oh yes you can
With this amount of dispute over the fundamentals it would be impressive
and unlikely for current tests to accurately give the full measure of a
Flynn's recent research and response is that “IQ tests do not measure
intelligence but rather correlate with a weak causal link to
intelligence." This sounds a note of caution for all tests relying
heavily, as they do, on statistical correlation. For those not statistically
minded correlations point out potential relationships but do no pinpoint cause
Flynn also explains why tests need to be re-standardised. Cultural
practices and expectations change. What people need to learn and do in order
to be thought of as intelligent changes over time. Effectively what happens is
that culturally acceptable normal behaviour changes.
This may account for why old people are sometimes considered dumber than
younger folk. Old people and young people know different things. If you
compare old peoples' results with the results of their generation when it was
young the differences almost disappear.
Modern viewpoints of intelligence are much more complicated Wechsler
wrote in 1950 "general intelligence cannot be equated with intellectual
ability, but must be regarded as a manifestation of the personality as a whole
. . . factors other than intellectual enter into our concept of general
intelligence, and . . . in everyday practice, we make use of them knowingly or
not". He also said that some of the factors are drive, persistence, will,
Howard Gardner wrote in 1985 "An
intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are
valued within one or more cultural settings"
So taking all things into account are tests good and useful? Are they a
good indication of people’s abilities and future? Maybe. And
then again, maybe not. It depends very much on the content, the context and
the use to which they are put.
Does it matter? Yes it does if the wrong test is used for the wrong
reason. Also if tests are used to label people or put them into restricting
boxes. And if it provides people with limiting beliefs about their abilities
'I'm not the creative type' or gives them excuses for poor behaviours 'I can’t
be polite / tolerant/ concerned with details because: “I'm an xyz”.
Remember that tests measure small range of skill sets that the testers
are interested in and that the results are graded according to the cultural
social and business norms of the time they were created. They do not tell the
full story about a person and they are certainly no substitute for getting to
That apart, they can be fun. My results vary wildly. I'm too picky yet I
don't see the details because I am lost in the big picture. I'm a visionary
follower. I'm really empathic but don't like masses of people. I'm best with
small or large groups or individuals. I need facts but rely on intuition.
So many choices.
My favourite tests were the ones that said I had an IQ of 133 (that’s a
big improvement!!!) and I loved the inkblots that said I was curious. I hated
the one that said I was gifted with numbers.
“Yeuch!” I can't stand numbers.
Go on have a go. Take some tests, find some answers and have fun.
here are some places to visit
for pleasure and for profit
Ansir - a new stlye in relating
DiSC Personal Profile http://www.internalchange.com/
/ stable extravert/ introvert fanatic / liberal
secrets, personality assessment http://www.trans4mind.com/personality/index.html#start
Spiral dynamics / Graphics http://www.clarewgraves.com/
Keirsey temperament sorter
Discover your Natural genius http://www.kolbe.com/homeFrame.cfm
Work performance DNA
training international mindscreen
oodles of test http://www.emode.com/