Interpreting Test Results

Aptitude & Ability tests are used to make inferences about your competencies, capabilities, and likely future performance on the job. But what do your test scores mean and how are they interpreted?


There are two distinct methods that employers use to interpret your scores. These are called criterion-referenced interpretation and norm-referenced interpretation.

Criterion-Referenced Interpretation.
In criterion-referenced tests, your test score indicates the amount of skill or knowledge that you have in a particular subject area. The test score is not used to indicate how well you compare to others - it relates solely to your degree of competence in the specific area assessed. Criterion-referenced assessment is generally associated with achievement testing and certification.

A particular test score is chosen as the minimum acceptable level of competence. This can either be set by the test publisher who will convert test scores into proficiency standards, or the company may use its own experience to do this.


For example, suppose a company needs clerical staff with word processing proficiency. The test publisher may provide a conversion table relating word processing skill to various levels of proficiency, or the companies own experience with current clerical employees may help them to determine the passing score. They may decide that a minimum of 50 words per minute with no more than two errors per 100 words is sufficient for a job with occasional word processing duties. Alternatively, if they have a job with high production demands, they may set the minimum at 100 words per minute with no more than 1 error per 100 words.

Norm-Referenced Interpretation
In norm-referenced test interpretation, your scores are compared with the test performance of a particular reference group, called the norm group. The norm group usually consists of large representative samples of individuals from specific populations, undergraduates, senior managers or clerical workers. It is the average performance and distribution of their scores that become the test norms of the group.


This illustration shows the distribution and mean scores for a variety of groups for a specific test. A score of 150 on this test would be average for someone working for the organization at an administrative level but would be below average compared to the organizations graduate trainees, where the average score was 210.

Within the field of occupational testing, a wide variety of individuals are assessed for a broad range of different jobs. Clearly, people vary markedly in their abilities and qualities, and the norm group against which you are compared is of crucial importance. To make sure that the test results can be interpreted in a meaningful way, the test administrator will identify the most appropriate norm group. This is done by comparing the educational level, the occupational, language and cultural backgrounds, and other demographic characteristics of the individuals making up the two groups (norm group & test group) to establish their similarity.

You may also be interested in:

Aptitude Tests IntroductionQuestion Types & ScoringThe Difference between Speed & Power TestsVerbal Ability TestsNumerical Ability TestsAbstract Reasoning TestsSpatial Ability TestsMechanical Aptitude TestsData Checking TestsWork Sample TestsInterpreting Aptitude Test ResultsDifferent Types of Scoring Systems,  Standard Scores, Percentiles & Norming and Using the Results to Make Selection Decisions.

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