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Aptitude Assessment for Career and Educational Guidance   - Conference Presentation by John F. Reeves, MA   

What is Aptitude Assessment? 

Suppose that two persons of equal intelligence have the same opportunities to learn a job or develop a skill. They attend the same on-the-job training or classes, study the same material, and practice the same length of time. One of them acquires the knowledge or skill easily; the other has difficulty and takes more time, if they ever master the skill. These two people differ in aptitude for this type of work or skill acquisition.

Aptitude is variously defined as innate learning ability, the specific ability needed to facilitate learning a job, aptness, knack, suitability, readiness, tendency, natural or acquired disposition or capacity for a particular activity, or innate component of a competency.   

Aptitude assessments are used to predict success or failure in an undertaking. For vocational/career guidance and planning they are used to measure different aptitudes such as general learning ability, numerical ability, verbal ability, spatial perception, and clerical perception. Objective aptitude tests are based on timed sub-tests - results are compared to age-group norms or other criteria - as opposed to self-report inventories of abilities often found in computerized career exploration systems.  For helping a person find and pursue a career, course of study, or work experience program; aptitude assessment should logically precede achievement testing or skills assessment.

History of Aptitude Assessment

The General Aptitude Test Battery, or G.A.T.B . was developed by the U.S. Employment Service with extensive reseach in the 1930's and implemented by the U.S.E.S. from 1942 to 1947.  The G.A.T.B. was used through to the 1990's for both job screening and career guidance. Other aptitude tests such as APTICOM began to appear in the 1980's. APTICOM is a dedicated-computer replacement for the G.A.T.B. - developed with a U.S. Department of Labor grant by the Vocational Research Institute. In 1995, a PC and MacIntosh-based version of APTICOM was developed by VRI - called CareerScope®. The U.S. Department of Labor has attempted to replace the G.A.T.B. with the O*NET Ability Profiler, to be used with its new O*Net occupational classification system. Privately developed assessments such as CareerScope® already link with the O*Net system.  A completely internet-delivered version of interest and aptitude assessment, called CareerScope Online®, became available in fall 2009.

Aptitude vs. "Skills Gap" Testing

APTITUDE & SKILLS TESTS = APPLES & ORANGES   An Interest and Aptitude assessment like CareerScope helps to objectively clarify what you would like to do and would likely succeed in.  It is used to objectively plan for future learning and work.  It is an objective career guidance test. 

A skills test tells you what you can do now, given your previous learning.  If you have not had much previous learning, it can only tell you that you lack skills - but not your potential or what your innate strengths are.  Despite its backward focus, skills assessments are often used as a screening test for employers (incumbent scores provide a criterion reference) and as a prescriptive test for educators (or, perhaps more often, the skills assessment vendors' on-line training programs). 

Using a skills assessment as a screening tool can help find the best applicant, but there can be dire consequences for using the wrong test, or using the test wrong.  The US Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance found in 2012 that using a pre-employment test called WorkKeys to select hires for on-call laborer positions resulted in discrimination against African-American job applicants and applicants of Asian and Hispanic descent. This resulted in a $550,000 settlement.  More information at http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/ofccp/OFCCP20121443.htm.

Even for helping individuals find a job or enter training, a skills assessment usually requires analyzing the requirements of individual local jobs to determine their requirements, testing the incumbents, assessing individual applicants to determine "skills gaps," and then, ideally, providing training to close those gaps.

Both kinds of assessments are useful (as are both apples and oranges, but you can eat an apple right out of the box, and make more things out of it - like apple pie and apple sauce, etc.).  Assessing aptitude and interest first will help focus the job seeker, make the comparative skills testing and any subsequent training more likely to produce a trained worker who is more likely to stay on the job.  Also, CareerScope can be taken with only a fourth grade reading ability.  Skills tests typically require a higher reading level.  A white paper that addresses the combination of using an interest/aptitude assessment first, followed by skills testing, can be seen at http://www.usotalent.org/NR/rdonlyres/000038c2/guqhuvmgzkbbluretvmqmzeknnaqdnpy/Effective_Tools_For_Workforce_Assesment11.pdf.

Some argue that Skills become obsolete - but not Aptitudes.

Aptitude vs. Achievement Testing

Aptitude tests are used to predict success in a career path or course of study. Achievement tests are designed to measure how much a person has already achieved or learned in academic knowledge. Achievement testing is becoming ever more important as the accountability increases to prove that students are learning. But for guidance, aptitude might be a better measure for showing potential. For instance, a student who has not learned "the basics" in primary and secondary education - for any number of reasons - can still have the "aptitude" to do well in a career and related studies - especially if they are interested - although they might have some catching up to do academically.

Aptitude vs. IQ Testing 

Aptitudes might be thought of as separate types of intelligence, each perhaps having relative strength or weakness in an individual.  This can be of high value for determining what training or career to pursue.  Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is usually seen as one score summarizing a person's overall intelligence based on a broad range of abilities.  An IQ score will indicate that you are smart, average, or not smart, but it is not a precise tool for career guidance.  Two people with the same IQ might have very different scores for their individual aptitudes.   The GATB-related score for general learning ability, or "G" score, is correlated to IQ score, but is not considered to be the same.  The G score, in this case, is an aptitude score based on three aptitude subtests: pattern recognition, numerical reasoning, and word meanings.  A person who scores very high on pattern recognition and numerical reasoning, but low on word meanings, might have a high G score . . . but because of their low verbal aptitude, or "V" score, a career counselor or automated career guidance system would not point them toward language-intensive occupations.  A similar high IQ score, by itself, would not indicate whether a person is strong or weak in verbal ability, and language-intensive occupations would seem as viable as any other.

Aptitude vs. Attitude

Although it might sound counterintuitive to some, there are indications that attitude can outweigh aptitude in determining whether skills are attained.  While marketing skills assessment to the business community, many educators have heard employers say something to the equivalent of, "just give me a person with the right attitude, who will show up and stay on the job, and we'll train them."  A study entitled Attitude versus Aptitude, by Côté and Levine, published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, found that motivation was a better predictor than IQ for skills acquisition.  You can assess these attitudinal soft skills with tools like the Employment Inventory to find students or workers who will work hard and stay on the job longer, but it still stands to reason that you would be far better off with a student or job candidate who aligns their aptitudes, interests, and existing skills with the job goal, in addition to having good attitude.  

Combining Interest and Aptitude for Guidance

The results of an interest assessment can be combined with aptitude results to show types of work that a person would most likely enjoy and perform well. Two models of interest groupings supported by the U.S. Department of Labor: the six "Holland" type codes and the 12 "Guide for Occupational Exploration" (GOE) codes. While Holland codes are the most often used in this country (Self-directed Search, O*Net Interest Profiler, etc.) it is the GOE interest categories that tie directly to the U.S. DOL Occupational Aptitude Pattern (OAP) and other extensive research relating to aptitude requirements for occupation categories. Since there are 12 categories, the GOE areas also give more precise definitions of the world of work.

Aptitude and Career Clusters

The potential benefit of aptitude testing for placement in Career Clusters is an exciting development.  Career Clusters, Career Academies, Small Learning Communities - all focus on teaching skills and academics in the context of a field of work.  Extensive research has already been done on determining which aptitudes are required for learning various types of work.  The U.S. Department of Education's 16 Career Clusters are tied directly to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Aptitude Patterns in the latest versions of CareerScope® - allowing reports that show a student's interest and "aptness" for the 16 Career Clusters, the Career Pathway subsets, and even the 1800 Career Specialties defined in the U.S. DOE system.

 


If you are (still) really interested in aptitude testing - try searching the internet for research on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery).  The military relies heavily on aptitude testing for determining enlistment eligibility and job placement . . . and " to predict future academic and occupational success in military occupations".  A comprehensive paper on ASVAB was at the National Assessment Governing Board's site, but these reports are now unavailable to the public, perhaps because of the advantage that aptitude testing provides our military. 

If you have read all this way, you might also want to know about Frank Parsons, considered the father of career guidance in the U.S., who said, back in the 1890's:  

"In the wise choice of vocation there are three broad factors:
1) a clear understanding of your self, your aptitudes, abilities, interests, ambitions, resources, limitations and their causes;
2) a knowledge of the requirements and conditions of success, advantages and disadvantages, compensation, opportunities, and prospects in different lines of work;
3) true reasoning on the relations of these two groups of facts." 

and

"An occupation out of harmony with the worker's aptitudes and capacities means inefficiency, unenthusiastic and perhaps distasteful labor, and low pay; while an occupation in harmony with the nature of the man means enthusiasm, love of work, and high economic values-superior product, efficient service, and good pay." (Choosing a Vocation p. 3)

Any good library should have a biography written about Frank Parsons - and a short bio can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Parsons

On trying to close "skills gaps" while ignoring aptitude, as heard at a seminar on corporate training strategy"Never try to teach a pig to sing . . . it's a waste of your time . . . and it annoys the pig."   -Quote Attributed to Robert Heinlein (apologies that this is somewhat tone-deaf on political correctness)
Einstein on the value of special abilities (that can be identified with aptitude assessment): “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
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Resources and Links

Click here to learn more about CareerScope® at the Vocational Research Institute web site: www.vri.org.

You can read more about aptitude at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aptitude

Is the "Skills Gap" a myth?  Abstract of compelling academic research at http://www4.uwm.edu/ced/publications/skillsgap_2013-2.cfm

A quick description of Standardized Testing at http://lor.rrc.mb.ca/items/bb6c4ad1-b5e6-52ed-6163-34c77e85ff9d/1/Module3_HTML.zip/page_08.htm 

You can read more about Career Clusters at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Career_Clusters 

Good description of how aptitude connects to learning at: http://it.coe.uga.edu/~treeves/WebPaper.pdf

Attitude versus Aptitude, by Côté and Levine, abstract at http://jar.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/15/1/58

Occupational Interests and Aptitudes of Juvenile Offenders: Influence of Special Education Experience and Gender  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4111/is_200712/ai_n21186147/?tag=content;col1

General Learning Ability "G" score education referral recommendations in a scanned copy of the U.S. Department of Labor G.A.T.B. manual at: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED164579.pdf 
  • On the printed page number 208, which is accessed by going to page 255 or 436 in the pdf reader, they make the following recommendations:

    • Junior college - G Score 100
    • 4-year college - G Score 110
    • Professional college - G Score 120
  • The pages preceding 208 give more context for this application of the aptitude G scores.
  • CareerScope's "G" score has a .81 correlation to the GATB "G" score.  A .80 correlation is considered high.  Many State Vocational Rehabilitation, Veterans Administration, and other agencies who are required to make objective referrals are using CareerScope in lieu of the now-discontinued GATB.