Aptitude is a very complex term with different meanings and uses. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2003), aptitude can be defined as (1) an inclination, tendency, or a natural ability; (2) a capacity for learning; and (3) general suitability. The most common definition of aptitude involves an innate ability to perform an activity or task. It is, in essence, the predisposition we all come into the world with to do well in certain areas and maybe not so well in others. This ability supersedes environmental variables and “nurture”; we are born with a certain aptitude for particular domains, such as music, drawing, language, and so forth. Aptitude refers to a generalized ability to learn; the environment may contribute to us being able to manifest this ability but is not responsible for instilling it, if it was not present at birth.
Over the years, there has been much confusion surrounding the terms aptitude, achievement, and intelligence. These constructs are closely related, and often they have mistakenly been used interchangeably, especially in the educational setting. It thus becomes important to understand how these constructs differ. After many transitions throughout the history of psychological assessment, intelligence tests now assess generalized ability, learning that occurs in a wide variety of settings, and acquired experiences (e.g., verbal reasoning skills, spatial perceptual abilities, memory); achievement tests, such as reading and mathematics tests, seek to measure the specific learning that has already taken place in school or at home; and aptitude tests attempt to measure the individual’s capacity to be successful at a particular task (e.g., the Scholastic Aptitude Test attempts to measure how well an individual would perform in a higher education setting).
How do we measure aptitude, given that it is such a general and broad term? Aptitude tests are structured, systematic ways of evaluating how people perform tasks or react in different situations. They are characterized by standardized methods of administration and scoring, with the results quantified and compared with how others have done at the same tests (norms). Furthermore, aptitude tests are administered under timed conditions.
Aptitude assessment is widely used in career counseling because the process seeks to help the individual identify particular professional areas in which they might be successful. For example, the individual might take a variety of tests measuring different areas of ability and skill in order to identify those skills and abilities that not only are of interest but also are relatively well developed. Following the results, the individual then may choose a particular career more
closely affiliated with her or his identified strengths. Scores can be used in a variety of ways. In the employment arena, a perspective employer might have determined a particular score that must be achieved in order for the prospective employee to be considered for employment or for advancement.
Often, under the auspices of aptitude assessment, individuals may be administered Personality Questionnaires that may be used to ascertain reaction to particular situations, such as measuring the attitudes of an individual. Generally, these questionnaires are not timed, nor do they have right or wrong answers. As mentioned earlier, more traditional aptitude tests are typically designed to assess an individual’s ability to learn the skills necessary to succeed in a particular endeavor.
In conclusion, aptitude can be thought of as natural talents, special abilities, or the capacity to learn—traits that are considered highly stable over a long period of time. Currently, aptitude tests are used to determine how successful an individual will be at a particular task or which areas of strength exist within the individual’s skill set that might be helpful in making career or other decisions. Accurate development of a genuine understanding of one’s aptitude is a critical step that may well lead to more lifelong satisfaction.
- Anastasi, , & Urbina, S. (1997). Psychological testing (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (11th ). (2003). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.
- Saterfieland (2003). Employment testing and aptitude assessment products. Retrieved from http://www.employment-testing.com
- Sattler, (2001). Assessment of children: Cognitive applications (4th ed.). San Diego, CA: Jerome M. Sattler.