The following ViewPoint was written by Jim Bright, Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy.
Are personality tests nothing more than motherhood statements and astrology? Well, that is the depressing conclusion that my colleague Caitlin Fitzsimmons came to writing for Fairfax Media (Are Personality tests like Myers-Briggs just corporate astrology? June 27).
This is, to say the least, a little unfair because asking the broad question ‘‘are personality tests just rubbish’’ is not very helpful. You may as well ask ‘‘are Mondays rubbish’’ or ‘‘is laughing nasty’’. The only sensible answer, is ‘‘it depends’’. Some Mondays can be wonderful, perhaps for some people Mondays are their favourite day of the week.
It should not be in the least surprising that there are some ‘‘tests’’ out there that have little or no value. Most free ‘‘quizzes’’ found in magazines and online – of the ‘‘20 questions that determine your personality’’ kind are almost all nothing more than entertaining diversions for those with too much time on their hands. They should be taken as seriously as a plastic fortune fish curling in your palm, or, for that matter, palm readings. The technical term for such things is ‘‘utter crap’’.
However, just because some ‘‘tests’’ fall into this category, it is a mistake and illogical to generalise that all tests of any kind are of no value. Critics are likely to argue that tests are not subject to regulation and therefore there is no quality control. However, this is not correct. There are well established criteria to establish the relevance and accuracy of a test. The branch of psychology, psychometrics, that relates to psychological measurement and accuracy has been around for a century.
There are two key criteria (and many that flow from these) that must be considered in determining the value of a test. These are called validity and reliability. Reliability relates to the ability of a test to provide the same results when the same person is tested on two or more occasions within a reasonably short period of time (think weeks or months). A highly reliable measure is a ruler – if used by a moderately skilled person it will record the same result when measuring the width of a piece of A4 every time, with only minor variations due to things like the paper moving, or the angle of the ruler varying slightly.
When good quality tests are developed they are checked to ensure they have high reliability so that they measure accurately like a ruler.