Skills tests assess skill levels of applicants or employees on a variety of topics and areas that are important in the workplace. These may include typing and data entry, Microsoft Office and other commonly used software tools, Web development and basic literacy and numeracy skills, to name just a few.
There are a number of key advantages to using well designed skills tests as part of a pre-employment selection process or employee development program. Read on to find out more about these advantages, and about what you should be looking for to ensure that you select the best skills tests for your organisation.
Firstly, well designed skills tests are valid: they measure what they are supposed to measure. It can be seen immediately that they have face validity. For instance, a MS Word test should test the applicant’s knowledge and understanding of MS Word and its features. If there are different levels to the skills test, the questions should become more difficult as you proceed through the various levels. It should be clear to an employer or potential employer that those who do well on the test have a good understanding of the program.
This may require the tests to be adapted to the needs of the organisation. For instance, a Not-for-Profit organisation may require their employees to have a good working knowledge of MS Word features such as letter templates and mail merge, while a Public Relations firm may be more interested in Clip Art and Word Art. A well designed, valid skills test should be able to cater for the different needs of these organisations.
Secondly, well designed tests are reliable and consistent. If an applicant is tested at two time points they should perform reasonably similarly, allowing for the effects of practice (Stanley, 2004). It is unlikely that someone who has a good working knowledge of a program, or a fast typing speed would no longer possess these skills at a later time. If there is a big difference in their performance then the test is not well designed. For instance, it may allow the test-taker too many chances to use trial-and-error or it may allow too little or too much time for the questions to be completed. Well designed tests take these into consideration.
Thirdly, good skills tests do not discriminate between people based on anything other than their ability to demonstrate and apply their skills. Everyone who does well enough on the test has the opportunity to go on to the next stage of the employment screening, or to be considered for the next stage of development. Organisations that administer good skills tests will also not make absolute statements. They will report that the test-takers performance indicates xyz and also give the organisation tips on how to overcome any areas of weakness (e.g., training), if they would like to.
Not all skills tests are created equal. Any test that is not well developed in conjunction with the organisation and their needs, by individuals with a background in test development and research, and which does not appear to measure what it should, could do more harm than good and mislead the organisation.