HR Guide to the Internet:
Personnel Selection: Methods: Cognitive Ability Measures

Cognitive Abilties Tests: Paper and pencil or individualized assessment measures of an individual's general mental ability or intelligence.

    These tests may be categorized as:
  • General Intelligence Tests
  • Aptitude Tests
    • Mechanical Aptitude
    • Clerical Aptitude
    • Spatial Aptitude

  • highly reliable
  • verbal reasoning and numerical tests have shown high validity for a wide range of jobs
  • the validity rises with increasing complexity of the job
  • combinations of aptitude tests have higher validities than individual tests alone
  • may be administered in group settings where many applicants can be tested at the same time
  • scoring of the tests may be completed by computer scanning equipment
  • lower cost than personality tests
  • non-minorities typically score one standard deviation above minorities which may result in adverse impact depending on how the scores are used in the selection process
  • differences between males and females in abilities (e.g., knowledge of mathematics) may negatively impact the scores of female applicants


Avoid pure intelligence tests Intelligence tests may require special administrive procedures and increased costs associated with administration, scoring, and interpreting the results. Aptitude tests are generally more suited for the employment area.

Job Analysis Before any test is administered, you should conduct a job analysis to identify the job requirements and duties. Tests should be chosen to measure aptitudes and abilities related to the job.

Adverse Impact Try to avoid tests that have demonstrated adverse impact. If a test is shown to have adverse impact, then the use of the test should be validated in accordance with the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.

Follow the Instructions Most tests include instructions for proper test administration and scoring.

Summary of Cognitive Ability Tests

Examples of Cognitive Ability Tests

  1. Employee Aptitude Survey A battery of employment tests designed to meet the practical requirements of a personnel office. Consists of 10 cognitive, perceptual, and psychomotor ability tests. Nine of the 10 tests have 5-minute time limits. The remaining test requires two to ten minutes of testing time. Is a tool for personnel selection and a useful diagnostic tool for vocational guidance and career counseling. For situations in which it is desirable to retest an individual on an alternate form, special retest norms are provided for interpreting retest scores.
    • Test 1--Verbal Comprehension. Each item consists of one word in capital letters followed by four words in small letters. The respondent is to choose the word in small letters that means about the same as the word in capital letters. Scoring is the number right minus 1/3 the number wrong.
    • Test 2--Numerical Ability. A battery of three tests: integers, decimal fractions and common fractions, each is timed separately. Designed to measure skill in the four basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
    • Test 3--Visual Pursuit. Designed to measure the ability to make rapid scanning movements of the eyes without being distracted by other irrelevant visual stimulation. Involves the visual tracing of lines through an entangled network.
    • Test 4--Visual Speed And Accuracy. The test consists of two columns of numbers; the respondent decides whether the number in the first column in exactly the same as the number in the second.
    • Test 5--Space Visualization. Designed to measure the ability to visualize forms in space and to manipulate these forms or objects mentally. The test taker is shown a group of numbered, piled blocks and must determine, for a specifically numbered block, how many other blocks touch it.
    • Test 6--Numerical Reasoning. Designed to measure the ability to analyze logical relationships and to see the underlying principles of such relationships. This is also known as the process of inductive reasoning--making generalizations from specific instances. The test taker is given a series of numbers and determines what the next number will be. Scoring is the number right minus 1/4 the number wrong.
    • Test 7--Verbal Reasoning, Revised. Designed to measure the ability to analyze verbally stated facts and to make valid judgments on the basis of the logical implications of such facts; and thus, the ability to analyze available information in order to make practical decisions. Scoring is the number of right answers minus 1/2 the wrong answers.
    • Test 8--Word Fluency. Designed to measure the ability to express oneself rapidly, easily and with flexibility. Word fluency involves the speed and freedom of word usage as opposed to understanding verbal meanings. People who measure high in this ability are particularly good at expressing themselves and in finding the right word at the right time. The test taker is given a letter of the alphabet and asked to write as many words as possible that begin with that letter.
    • Test 9--Manual Speed And Accuracy. Designed to measure the ability to make rapid and precise movements with the hands and fingers. Also measures, according to the authors, the temperamental willingness to perform highly repetitive, routine, and monotonous work. The test taker is to put a pencil dot in as many circles as he or she can in five minutes, without letting the dots touch the sides of the small circles.
    • Test 10-Symbolic Reasoning. : Designed to measure the ability to think and reason abstractly, using symbols rather than words or numbers; to manipulate abstract symbols mentally; and to make judgments and decisions which are logical and valid. Each problem contains a statement and a conclusion and uses certain symbols such as the equal sign and mathematical symbols for greater than and smaller than, etc. The test taker determines whether the conclusion is definitely true, definitely false, or impossible to determine on the basis of the statement. Scoring is the number of right answers minus 1/2 the wrong answers.
  2. Progressive Matrices, Advanced Sets I and II. A nonverbal test designed for use as an aid in assessing mental ability. Requires the examinee to solve problems presented in abstract figures and designs. Scores are said to correlate well with comprehensive intelligence tests. Set II provides a means of assessing all the analytical and integral operations involved in the higher thought processes and differentiates between people of superior intellectual ability.
  3. Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test. Brief individually administered measure of verbal and nonverbal intelligence for people aged 4-90. Developed specifically for screening purposes and for those situations where it would be difficult to do a more in-depth assessment. Norms are provided for all ages. Composed of two subtests, vocabulary and matrices. Vocabulary measures verbal, school-related skills by assessing word knowledge and verbal concept formation. Matrices measures nonverbal skills and ability to solve new problems. Items in matrices subtest involve pictures and designs.
  4. Short-term Memory Tests A form of cognitive ability test that are exemplified by short-term memory tasks such as forward digit span and serial rote learning, which do not require mental manipulation of inputs in order to provide an output. Short-term memory tests lack face validity in predicting job performance.
  5. Information Processing Tests Selection tests that have the same information processing requirements that occur on the job. In other words, the tests are tailored for each particular job. There is some evidence that adverse impact is reduced.

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