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How to Avoid Interpretation Errors

31 Mar 2011

How to Avoid Interpretation Errors

In the world of personality testing, there are no right or wrong answers. To make an accurate interpretation of a person's responses, evaluators should consider six essential points.

Analyse the need

Evaluators must first understand what qualities they are looking for in a candidate in order to correctly interpret test results. No personality profile is intrinsically better or worse than any other. The qualities and skills required for a specific job in a particular context determine what traits should be looked for in a test. Without this kind of prior reflection, evaluators risk under-interpreting or over-interpreting the data gathered by a test.

Social desirability

For an accurate interpretation of test results, it is important to consider the human desire to be seen in a favourable light – we call this the social desirability phenomenon. It's the impulse that prompts candidates to select the answer that they think shows them in the best light rather than the answer that truly reflects their personalities. Evaluators should take this into account when choosing which test to administer, and again when interpreting results. Depending on how they are constructed, some tests control the social desirability phenomenon and others measure it. In tests where this phenomenon is measured, it's important to consider the obtained scores before interpreting the test results.

Recognising the most pertinent scores

Evaluators should not place equal weight on all the pieces of information collected by a test. It's the extreme scores that need to be studied, because they illuminate the points that distinguish one profile from another.

Diving deeply in the interview

To refine and validate candidates' test results, evaluators should dive more deeply into their most striking traits during face-to-face interviews. If a heightened score indicates, for instance, "poor stress management", an evaluator might want to ask for a concrete example of when the candidate remained calm under pressure. Using real-life examples is the best way to ensure you are interpreting the test results correctly.

Using multiple sources of information

One test on its own will not reveal all the answers. Having access to a number of tools helps you to avoid placing too much emphasis on one element. And using multiple sources of information, such as references and personal interviews, reduces the risk of over-interpretation – while providing a more coherent and holistic view of the candidate.

The importance of training

The prevalence and user-friendliness of online assessments could make you feel that these tools do not require training. This is not the case. No matter how simple tests might seem, evaluators still need to spend some time learning about them. Whether this training is self-administered or delivered by the publisher, getting to know the testing instrument is imperative for interpreting the results correctly. Taking one or more tests yourself is a good way to learn about the different dimensions that they examine.

Mariya Jilinskaya, Head of Research and Development, Central Test