Sales Performance

28 Mar 2012

Psychometric tests and skills tests – what’s the difference and what’s the value

Psychometric tests and skills tests are often used in job selection. Both can be vital tools to help you find the best people for the job.  But what exactly are they, and what are the differences between these two types of tests?

Psychometric tests are instruments that tell us about individual differences: such as personal characteristics or cognitive ability (intelligence), compared to other people. Skills tests tell us about whether a person can perform a certain set of tasks, and how well. While they might sound quite similar, they are actually different. The main differences between psychometric and skills tests are their design, their applicability and what conclusions can be drawn.

Test design

Good psychometric tests are based on sound theory, data gathered on large groups of people and complex statistical analyses. Because they are based on this research there is a level of assurance that the test is measuring what it is designed to measure, and further, an individual’s results can be compared to the data gathered on other people – known as normative data.

An example would be a cognitive test that examined fluid intelligence, or the ability to solve novel problems. Research and theories about fluid intelligence have shown that a good test to measure these skills is Matrices – solving a puzzle by finding the next piece that completes the pattern.  The Matrices test has been developed based on this research, tested on large groups of people and refined.  When it is given to a job candidate performance can be compared to the normative data – was their performance average, above average or below?

Skills tests are based on more concrete and discrete abilities. For instance, Microsoft Office skills tests assess knowledge of and ability to use the features of the MS Office applications, Word, Excel, Outlook and so on.  Rather than being based on theories they are based on the features of the individual programs. An individual’s results will show which skills they do and do not have.  Packages assess basic, intermediate and advanced skills.


Cognitive ability tests and personality tests are useful indicators of performance in virtually any job. Together they can account for up to approximately 60% of the variance in performance by employees (Bertua et al., 2005; Schmidt & Huntert, 2004; Salgado et al.,2003). Cognitive ability tests have the widest applicability, followed by certain aspects of personality (e.g., Conscientiousness).

Skills tests tell us whether an individual can use a certain program that is likely to be necessary for a job. They don’t tell us anything else about their broader abilities or suitability for a job.  For instance, an accountant would likely require solid skills in MS Excel and other programs such as MYOB, and a secretary would require skills in MS Word and general typing skills. An office assistant may require only basic MS Word skills, whereas a personal assistant may require intermediate or advanced skills.

What conclusions can be drawn

Psychometric tests have wide applicability. The research underlying the psychometric tests can help us to draw conclusions about what this is likely to mean in the workplace. Performance on a cognitive ability test can reveal whether a person is suitable for a complex job or a job requiring a high level of attention to detail, for instance and performance on a personality measure can reveal whether a person is suitable for a job requiring high levels of sociability or teamwork and how they are likely to react in an emergency.

Skills tests have a relatively narrow applicability. They can show whether the candidate has a basic, moderate or high level of skill on a certain test that is needed for the job. These skills are necessary but are only one small aspect of the job.

Finding the right tests can be confusing. RightPeople understands this.  We have the expertise to help you find the best tests for your business. Contact us and let us help you tailor a package of tests that will best suit your needs.

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