Tests on test

Increasingly, employers in the UK are using cognitive ability tests to help them recruit the best candidates. Now Cristina Bertua and colleagues have performed the first ever meta-analysis of UK research looking at how accurately these tests predict candidate employees’ subsequent work and training performance once they’ve got the job. Meta-analysis is a technique used for combining the results of multiple studies.

From a search of the literature dating from the 1950s, Bertua’s team found 56 individual papers and books containing relevant data. This amounted to 283 independent samples comparing 13,262 people’s scores on different cognitive tests with their later job performance, and 223 independent samples comparing 75,311 people’s test scores with their later success at job training.

“…HR professionals in UK organisations should be encouraged to use psychometrically developed cognitive ability tests…”

The researchers found cognitive tests strongly predicted employees’ work and training performance, across all different job types investigated: clerical, engineer, professional, driver, operator, manager and sales. Both general mental ability tests and more specific tests (e.g. perceptual tests) predicted job performance. There was a tendency for the tests to be stronger predictors of performance for more complex jobs. The authors said: “Practitioners may believe, and indeed may have experienced, that such tests are less popular for senior appointments due to a misbelieve that they lack job-related validity; the results of our meta-analysis on a large sample of UK occupational groups strongly refutes this erroneous belief”.

In conclusion, the researchers advised: “Selection practitioners and HR professionals in UK organisations should be encouraged to use psychometrically developed cognitive ability tests regardless of job type, hierarchical seniority, potential future changes in job role composition, or whether the tests are principally for general or specific cognitive abilities”.
Bertua, C., Anderson, N. & Salgado, J.F. (2005). The predictive validity of cognitive ability tests: a UK meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, In Press. DOI: 10.11348/096317905X26994.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.