Aptitude tests are standardized instruments assessing specific cognitive, perceptual, or physical skills. These tests are frequently used in industry to inform decisions about hiring, placement, and advancement. In addition, aptitude tests are used in selection procedures for college, professional programs, and career planning. Aptitude tests are also useful for program evaluation and answering research questions based on scientific inquiry. In most cases, aptitude tests are administered in group format.
Although there may be some overlap in skills assessed, aptitude tests differ from intelligence tests primarily in their purpose and scope. Whereas intelligence tests assess global ability, aptitude tests target a specific domain or set of domains. In fact, aptitude tests were originally derived from subcomponents of intelligence tests. The development of aptitude tests corresponds with the discovery of a statistical technique called factor analysis. Using factor analysis, relationships among various items are revealed. These interrelationships are grouped together to create a test assessing specific skills or abilities.
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Hugo Munsterberg and Walter Dill Scott were two of the earliest contributors to the creation of modern-day aptitude testing. Before World War I, Munsterberg’s research resulted in the prototype for career-based aptitude tests described in his industrial psychology textbook, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (1913). Scott’s 1915 landmark article, “The Scientific Selection of Salesmen,” called for the use of aptitude tests to identify the most highly qualified personnel. In 1928, Clark Hull published Aptitude Testing, in which he advocated for a more objective approach to vocational guidance.
Both World Wars I and II sparked an increased interest in developing tools for applied work in psychology. In particular, the Army’s need for an efficient method of selecting individuals for a range of task-specific jobs spurred the development of the Army Alpha and Beta tests to aid in decisions about military placements. The Army Alpha was administered in written form, and the Army Beta used a nonverbal format. The results of these tests were used to determine suitability for specific work (i.e., artillery, flight engineer, navigator, or potential leader). Also during this time, consulting firms began to specialize in publishing tests to aid in industry. In addition to World Wars I and II, other momentous events in the United States stimulated the advancement of aptitude test development. For instance, attention to fairness in employment practices was heightened by the passage of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The passage of Title VII led to practices in aptitude test construction and use that minimized test bias. However, debates about the fairness of using aptitude tests to make employment and admission decisions about minority groups continue.
The Differential Aptitude Test (DAT), a popular multiple-aptitude battery to guide vocational and academic planning, consists of eight independent tests addressing several areas of aptitude, such as verbal reasoning, perceptual speed and accuracy, and language usage. The General Aptitude Test battery (GATB), developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, is another multiple-aptitude battery and includes 12 tests predicting training success in cognitive, perceptual, and psychomotor skills of high school seniors and adults for different levels of job complexity. Although these aptitude batteries are useful in predicting scholastic aptitude, they are less useful in predicting specific technical abilities. Aptitude tests such as the Seashore Tests of Musical Aptitude, the Modern Language Aptitude Test, and the Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test measure specific sets of skills and are often part of selection or admission procedures. In addition, the Armed Services Vocational Battery (ASVAB) screens potential recruits and assigns personnel to different jobs and training programs. Consisting of 10 subtests, it is the most widely used pencil-and-paper test in existence. Other aptitude batteries, such as the Scholastic Assessment Test and the American College Test, serve as entrance criteria into college, universities, and professional training programs.
- Hull, L. (1928). Aptitude testing. Yonkers-on-Hudson, NY: World Book.
- Scott, W. (1915). The scientific selection of salesmen. Advertising and Selling, 5, 5–7.
- Te Nijenjuis, , Evers, A., & Jakko, M. P. (2000). Validity of the Differential Aptitude Test for the assessment of immigrant children. Educational Psychology, 20, 99–115.