10 Pros and Cons of Aptitude Tests (Accuracy & Measurements)

Mike Dalley
Mike Dalley

HR and Learning & Development Expert

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

The Pros and Cons of Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests are a common part of job or college applications, being used in one of the first — and most stressful — stages of the selection process.

They come in many different formats and are used ostensibly to support assessors or hiring managers in making the best selection decisions possible. They’re relied upon more and more in the professional world and, as with all selection methods, come with their strengths and weaknesses.

This article discusses aptitude tests in detail, what they measure, how accurate they are, and the pros and cons of using them.

What are aptitude tests?

The chances are that you would have come across an aptitude test at some point in your career. Contrary to popular belief, aptitude tests don’t measure intelligence. Instead, they assess skills and abilities, core competencies or propensities. In this context, an aptitude test covers how intelligence is used, whereas an IQ test assesses intelligence overall.

Aptitude tests come in many different forms, such as recruitment personality tests, psychometric tests or judgment tests to assess how someone acts in unfamiliar situations. They’re used in a variety of settings, such as assessing school students’ fit for certain subjects or courses, or used at certain stages of an organization’s recruitment process — for example, after the interview stage, to assess work experiences and fit for the role.

In any setting, aptitude tests are useful for creating objective comparisons and understanding how people might act in various situations.

What do they measure?

Aptitude tests might be used in various contexts, but they all measure roughly the same things.

These tests will quantitatively assess aptitudes such as verbal competence, problem-solving skills, mental ability or numerical reasoning. These outcomes are often mapped out to measurable parameters such as job competencies or college entry criteria.

Aptitude tests also measure test results against each other and present the data in a format that allows the various test-takers to be objectively compared as well. The results are usually presented in dashboards or a report that can be issued to assessors for consistent review.

Our very collection of tests over at CareerHunter, for example, offer results in both formats: in a personalized dashboard and in a detailed report.

The pros of aptitude tests

Aptitude tests are so frequently used that it’s easy to take their advantages for granted. This section covers the five main perks of aptitude tests.

1. They save time

Aptitude tests are often software-based, and even if they’re not, they come with a pre-defined list of instructions and tools to facilitate administrators pulling results. This means that they can generate complex results in a short amount of time, without the need for manual calculations or in-person panels to discuss or interpret results.

Additionally, aptitude tests are passive interventions, as candidates can complete them at home, so there’s no need for an assessor to oversee the test. The benefit of these attributes mean that aptitude tests can increase the efficiency of an organization’s hiring process, reducing the time it takes to process an applicant and analyze detailed information about their test performance.

2. They’re cost-effective

Despite their complexities and the high level of detail and analysis that aptitude tests can provide, they can be very cost-effective.

While there may be an outlay for organizations that wish to buy or license the test, the return on investment can be significant. ROI from using aptitude tests is generated through evidence-based outcomes that are linked to accurate indicators of performance.

Aptitude tests also save costs through the time-saving advantages discussed above, as less time — and therefore labor hours — are spent on running and analyzing selection processes. Some more basic aptitude tests are available for free or can be obtained through copyright waiver, eliminating any cost.

3. They remove bias from selection processes

One of the biggest challenges of selection processes is that they’re prone to conscious or unconscious bias; it’s human nature to lean on such biases, especially when there are multiple interviewers or recruitment stages.

Aptitude assessments are standardized tests administered to groups of candidates in exactly the same way, including the same information and parameters, and generating the same kind of results.

They don’t take into account unfair variables that unconscious bias might impact, such as ethnicity, names, age, gender or other stereotypes, making them a fair and equal way of selecting people. The tests are often taken anonymously so that personal candidate information is not recorded.

4. They add data and detail to selection processes

One of the most apparent advantages of aptitude tests is the sheer volume of information and detail they can offer selection processes. This data can be used to separate closely matched candidates or add a high level of justification to selecting critical roles or where a selection process carries risk.

The amount of data contained in aptitude tests can tell assessors a great deal about the candidate, giving them valuable insights into how the person might work or behave in various settings. This can help craft working or academic environments that ensure organizations get the best out of their people.

5. They complement other selection processes

Aptitude tests are excellent at providing in-depth analysis of certain competencies and, therefore, provide detail to certain parts of the selection processes. However, they don’t — and can’t — replace other selection methods, such as “fit” interviews or soft skills.

Nevertheless, aptitude tests can support other recruitment tools by bringing details, data and analysis into otherwise ambiguous processes. These tests can help recruiters or administration teams make evidence-based decisions while running typical, company-specific selection processes. By working alongside other selection processes, aptitude tests can truly come into their own.

The cons of aptitude tests

This section covers five main drawbacks of aptitude tests that users and administrators should be aware of before they use them.

1. They need to be administered correctly

Although aptitude tests are great at saving time in the long run, they can be time-consuming or complicated to administer. The sheer amount of data that aptitude tests can generate can lead to challenges in interpreting this data or drawing the appropriate conclusions from what it shows.

Ultimately, the main advantage of aptitude tests can also be their downfall: they are only as effective as the person who is running them. If the test is administered incorrectly or the data is used in the wrong way, the issues this causes mean that it would have been better not to use the test at all.

2. They can create stress or anxiety

If you have completed an aptitude test, then you’ll know that it’s not a huge amount of fun to do! The tests are usually timed, cannot be retaken, and are long. The questions can be complicated, and in the case of some tests, such as personality tests, are ambiguous.

This creates a fair amount of stress for test-takers. The result of this stress means that, in some cases, the candidate’s performance on aptitude tests can be impacted, leading to skewed outcomes. If organizations cannot somehow manage this risk, they might lose suitable candidates from the selection process.

3. They don’t factor in context or personality

Despite aptitude tests being great at eliminating variables and biases from selection processes, sometimes seeing the grey, as well as the black and white, can be advantageous.

Traditional selection methods such as screening interviews or assessment centers enable assessors to get a “feel” for candidates. They also help in understanding candidates’ personalities, how they generate rapport with colleagues, and other traits that can tell assessors a great deal about how the person might work or interact with others.

Aptitude tests miss this and may filter out candidates who might not score highly on a test but could be a great fit for the organization in many other ways.

4. They don’t measure all areas

Aptitude tests are effective at measuring and analyzing the skills and aptitudes they are designed for, but will completely ignore other areas not in their remit.

This means that important skills, especially soft skills like leadership, time management, listening ability, as well as the aforementioned interpersonal skills, will not be assessed, even if they’re important for the role in question.

Aptitude tests will rarely be geared towards assessing more ambiguous abilities such as creativity or innovation or negotiating or influencing skills. These areas need to be experienced or assessed in real time for assessors to get a feel of how the candidate might perform.

5. They’re more challenging to complete for some

Because they’re complicated to take, aptitude tests might inadvertently select out people who might be great candidates. This could be because the candidate might excel in areas not assessed on the test.

Those who are neurodivergent or have physical disabilities might have particular challenges with aptitude tests, and although some of them will offer accessibility provisions in their software, the challenges will remain.

Similarly, those who are not completely IT-literate or who suffer from anxiety will also have difficulties completing aptitude tests, even if they’re well-suited to the role they’re applying for.

Are aptitude tests accurate?

Some aptitude tests, such as the Drive, Influence, Support and Clarity (DISC) Assessment or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), have been around for many years and have been independently assessed, verified and used by millions of people without major challenges.

However, contemporary analysis of these more established tests has found flaws in their use, ranging from them suiting certain situations but not others (eg: DISC is not recommended for organizational hiring processes), as well as issues with how they are administered.

Nevertheless, there is significant evidence to show that when compared to other academic or organizational selection methods, aptitude tests, in general, can be better indicators of performance overall. One piece of research undertaken by Schmidt and Hunter in 1986 suggested that these tests are the single best assessment method to use, even better than structured behavioral interviews, and can positively impact candidate selection.

Ultimately, the accuracy of aptitude tests rests on one key variable: how well they are administered. These tests need to be properly used and carefully analyzed to provide the best accuracy in real-life situations.

Key takeaways

Aptitude tests offer a lot to selection processes. They are popular with many kinds of businesses and are regarded as an important and useful part of any recruitment process. When considering how to use aptitude tests, take note of these key points:

  • Aptitude tests assess competencies and behaviors but do not measure general intelligence, soft skills or general performance.
  • Aptitude tests are generally proven to be accurate in most settings, but some older ones have been deemed unsuitable for recruitment activities.
  • The pros of aptitude tests are that they can save time and money, remove bias, and add detail to selection processes.
  • The cons of aptitude tests are that they can be difficult to administer, disadvantage some candidates, ignore key competencies, and create excessive stress.

The key to getting the most out of aptitude tests is to administer them correctly and carefully interpret the results. This way, you can maximize the pros and minimize the cons, and use them to find great candidates.

What’s your take? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on December 22, 2016.