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Dear Workforce How Should We Use Cognitive Tests

What types of cognitive tests are available? Our company is leery about administering them because of the legal ramifications of excluding people on the basis of tests. What suggestions or justifications could we use for allowing such tests? Also, I wanted to know the price of some of the cognitive tests available.
July 9, 2004
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Dear Cautious:

While cognitive-ability tests represent one of the most effective assessment tools, using them properly requires doing your homework. I hope the following offers you some useful information about cognitive tests and some of the major issues related to their use.
Q: What is a cognitive test and what types of cognitive tests are available?
A: In a nutshell, cognitive-ability tests measure how intelligent an applicant is. It is important to understand that there are many different facets of intelligence. Luckily, there are tests for almost all of them. Available types of cognitive tests include ones that measure general mental ability (IQ is one such type of test, but not all general mental-ability tests are necessarily IQ tests), as well as specific tests for verbal ability, math ability, spatial perception, inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, etc. Technically, tests that measure psychomotor abilities such as reaction time and response time are also cognitive tests, but these are not nearly as common as thinking-related tests.
Q: How do I make sure I am using cognitive tests correctly?
A: Using cognitive tests represents a very interesting dilemma. On one hand, these tests are said to be the most highly effective predictor of job performance. This means that, when properly used, cognitive tests do an excellent job of helping you determine which applicants have the mental horsepower to be good at their jobs. Even better, many cognitive tests also will tell you how easily applicants can apply their brainpower to fulfill certain job requirements, such as problem solving. This predictive power helps companies hire capable employees. This almost always saves companies lots of money.
Now for the bad news. Using cognitive tests can create legal issues because some minorities do not do as well on them as members of other groups. This doesn't mean that minorities are any less smart or capable than others. No one has been able to clearly explain the reason for these score differences, but they do exist. However, this issue should not necessarily keep you from reaping the benefits of cognitive tests. There are strategies that can help ensure that you are using these tests in a legally defensible manner.
Q: How do I use cognitive tests?
A: If you feel comfortable using a cognitive test, you need to make sure your strategy includes the following steps.
1. Establish how it's related to the job. Use a job-analysis process to gather information needed to develop a thorough picture of critical job requirements. This is the best way to implement cognitive tests (and thus help to defend against legal challenges).
2. Choose appropriate tests. With job-analysis information in hand, you can then find cognitive tests that have been designed specifically to measure these requirements. In this part of the process, choose a test that has been documented to work effectively in situations similar to those in which you are planning to use it. Any reputable test vendor should have information to document these types of things.
3. Don't rely on cognitive tests alone. Many people feel that cognitive tests offer such strong predictive power because intelligence is the most important factor in any applicant's ability to do a job. While this may be true, there is still value in measuring traits that are not related to intelligence. For instance, combining cognitive-ability tests with other selection tests that measure traits unrelated to intelligence (e.g., personality) can add incremental predictive power beyond that provided by cognitive-ability tests alone. This means that it's a good practice to use cognitive-ability tests as one part of a selection system that includes other measures. In general, it's a bad idea to give too much value to any one piece of information when you are making selection decisions.
4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the tests. When using any test, especially a cognitive test, do follow-up work to establish that the test is working and to make sure the test is not causing you to hire a disproportionate number of non-minority applicants. This is called a validation study and is an important part of a legal defensibility strategy.
Q: How much do cognitive-ability tests cost?
A: This is a difficult question to answer. It's like asking how much a car costs. There are a wide range of choices and different models to choose from. The cost of the test itself is usually pretty small (from $5 to $250). The expense comes from doing the work needed to establish job-relatedness and conduct a validation study. This type of work is complicated and is best left to experts who have a background in test validation.
In conclusion, despite the expenses related to using cognitive tests correctly, they are a good investment. Thousands of organizations have used them to ensure that their employees have the basic skills to be successful in their jobs, and have saved millions in the process. By avoiding hiring people who don't have the mental ability levels required by a specific job, you can save huge sums of money related to poor-quality work and turnover, while increasing the chances that you hire the best of the best applicants.
SOURCE: Charles A. Handler, Ph.D., PHR, Rocket-Hire, New Orleans, August 20, 2003.
LEARN MORE:Putting Job Candidates to the Test.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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