By Liesl Cloete and Lyné Maritz

“The Internet is the greatest medium ever invented for conducting standardised tests. Any company, or any executive, believing in the value of testing for intellectual acuity or emotional stability or managerial potential is going to treat the Net as an irresistible opportunity to poke into people’s psyches.(Schrage,1999, p.170)

Technological advancement, combined with a changing workforce in a digital era, has necessitated a new way of thinking about psychometrics in today’s corporate environment. The changes have resulted in great benefits in terms of time, cost and turnarounds; steering us continuously towards more ‘streamlined’ processes that meet the ever-growing demands of a world ‘fuelled’ by convenience and instant information and access.

With younger generations opting for mobile devices over laptops or desktops, traditional methods of assessment and test ‘delivery’ are increasingly being transformed into mobile-friendly designs. Utilisation of social networking sites within employee selection processes, gamification (the use of game elements in non-game contexts) as well app-based psychometrics are just some of the concepts being used.

The use of gamification has proved to be a very useful tool in talent acquisition as the assessor can obtain a more comprehensive view of the candidates’ skills and behavioural traits. It tests the candidate’s ability in a situational context which results in the assessor being able to collect more data (Schulz, 2017).

Today the Internet is ‘flooded’ with behavioural evaluations that are easily accessible, but in many instances not scientifically validated. In the South African context, the onus is on employers to ensure that the psychological tests they use are indeed classified as psychological tests by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and that those administering, interpreting and giving feedback on these tests have been trained as psychologists or psychometrists; registered with the HPCSA. Furthermore, tests should meet the standards of the Employment Equity Act for psychometric tests, if they are being used for recruitment or selection purposes.

Against this backdrop, the integrity of the field of psychometry needs to be secured so that we don’t lose sight of the main purpose of psychometrics within work environments ─ to increase an organisation’s ability to anticipate and make sense of behaviour as well as predict future performance and potential.

Online versus face-to-face assessments
The role of the psychologist and psychometrist remains central in any online testing in terms of managing the assessment process and any ethical considerations. Issues in this regard range from gaining informed consent, ensuring a controlled and standardised test environment, behavioural observation at the time of evaluation, as well as professional judgement and discretion involved in determining ‘how’ and ‘what’ information should be communicated during feedback. Despite computer systems’ ability to interpret and report on many psychological tests, it is the psychologist’s expertise, discretion and judgement that is needed to decide on the appropriate test battery which is most suitable. More importantly it is the psychologist who integrates results across tests; aligning it with behavioural observations made during the test taking process, as well as interview notes and/or information obtained from current or previous employers; providing a comprehensive and integrated interpretation of a candidate’s results in the context of specific job requirements.

Foxcroft and Roodt (2013) suggested the following advantages and disadvantages of computer-based and internet delivered testing to stimulate some thoughts on the topic of online assessments versus face-to-face assessments:

Figure 1. Advantages and disadvantages of computer-based and internet delivered testing. Adapted from Foxcroft and Roodt, 2013.

As we move forward and become more digitally oriented, the value and relevance of personal interaction cannot be discounted, nor the professional responsibility of psychometrists and psychologists in the assessment process. Sustained progress and credibility within the field of psychometrics will be greatly influenced by our ability to create a fine balance between more user and mobile friendly test designs that address clients’ needs, but at the same time do not compromise basic test principles.