Friday, 7 August 2020

Aptitude & achievement tests

We talk about assessments often in career practice, but we very rarely get down and dirty and define exactly what it is that we are talking about.

Aptitude is a "specified proficiency or the ability to acquire a certain proficiency" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 53), which might be a skill we have now OR one we have yet to develop. They can also be thought of as "a tendency, capacity, or inclination to do a certain tasks", and are "the result of both heredity and environment; an individual is born with certain capacities that might or might not be nurtured by the environment" (p. 53). So an aptitude test is a test which identifies "existing knowledge and skills", and uses that "to predict the ability to be successful in future training or education and to learn new skills within a certain aptitude" that we have. This then allows us to "reflect the interaction of heredity and environment and predict the capacity to learn" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 54).

Achievement is the development of a particular piece of knowledge or skill, or "the competence a person [may] have in a area of content" (Algarabel & Das, 2001, p. 44). This type of testing assesses competence levels in a range of specified areas of academic proficiency, such as "reading, language usage, [or] mathematics" with the roles or courses of study they are interested in. Their resulting performance "may be the key to rejection or consideration of certain educational and vocational plans" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 68).

"Aptitude [and achievement] tests have been associated with career counseling since the time of the early trait-and-factor approach", and help us to "identify existing knowledge and skills". These tests "are also used to predict [our] ability to be successful in future training or education and to learn new skills" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 54).

"Both aptitude and achievement tests measure learning experience". However, achievement tests measure a narrow range, and benchmarks the results (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 68).

The authors explain that aptitude testing became popular after WW2, with the return of those who served in the armed services (Osborn & Zunker, 2016). The GI Bill allowed veterans a grant to go to university, which initially drove research into testing, which the US armed services also adopted to attract 'the right stuff' for forays into Korea, the Cold War, and Vietnam.

What is also interesting is how "Early vocational counseling programs advocated psychological testing in vocational counseling specifically to analyze an individual's potential in relation to requirements of training programs and occupations". This in turn "inspired the study of job descriptions and job requirements in an attempt to predict success on the job from the measurement of job-related traits" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 55). What are now common Human Resource Management tools came from career development.

Many US tests - both aptitude AND achievement - are not available in New Zealand, including the military test batteries and SkillTRAN database and test (though the latter would be VERY useful when working with ACC claimants!). Additionally, many US standardised tests - MCAT, GMAT & LSAT - are not used in New Zealand. Further, I think that culturally we would be disinclined to adopt them. Research evidence indicates that standardised testing is not that useful (Gunzelmann, 2005), and New Zealand's recent foray into it under the last National government was certainly not very successful.

An interesting topic!



  • Algarabel, S., & Dasi, C. (2001). The definition of achievement and the construction of tests for its measurement: A review of the main trends. Psicologica, 22(1), 43-66.
  • Gunzelmann, B. (2005). Toxic Testing: It's Time to Reflect upon Our Current Testing Practices. Educational Horizons, 83(3), 212-220.
  • Osborn, D. S., & Zunker, V. G. (2016). Using Assessment Results for Career Development (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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