Define Cognitive Ability Test

Adults take a cognitive ability test.
Adults take a cognitive ability test. (Image: Lisa F. Young/iStock/Getty Images)

A cognitive ability test is designed to measure either your general intelligence or your mental aptitude in a particular area. Tests are administrated individually, often in a paper-or-pencil format. They are used by human resources personnel for hiring purposes and also by school systems to assess the intellectual potential of their students. Scoring is typically completed by a computer, and most tests are considered reliable.

Several Types of Tests

Cognitive ability, or intelligence, tests may measure verbal, mathematical, spatial, mechanical or clerical ability. They can also assess short-term or long-term memory, visual or manual speed and symbolic reasoning, which is the capacity to think abstractly. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, the most commonly used intelligence tests for adults are the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales and Wechsler-Adult Intelligence Scale. For children, the two most popular tests are the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and Wechsler Primary and Preschool Scale of Intelligence.

A Little History Lesson

Alfred Binet, a French psychologist, developed the first intelligence test in 1904 at the behest of the French government. He designed this instrument, the Binet Scale, to identify which students performed at a subpar level intellectually so as to provide them with additional instruction and education. Soon afterward, the phrase "intelligence quotient" shortened to "IQ" was brought into the national vocabulary. Binet did not believe that intelligence was fixed, and he expressed concern that his test would be misused to rate the mental worth of students and limit their educational or employment opportunities.

Multiple Benefits of the Test

According to HR Guide, mathematical and verbal tests accurately predict success on the job, especially for positions of a complex nature. They have also been proven to predict academic achievement and sometimes reveal hidden talents or abilities. Cognitive ability tests may provide teachers an opportunity to nurture potential they didn't know existed in a pupil. When students are tested in a group, teachers can adapt their curriculum accordingly, depending on the strengths and developmental needs of their classes.

A Few Things to Consider

Some cognitive ability tests could have an adverse affect on minorities. HR Guide reports that non-minorities generally score one standard deviation above minorities. Not all cognitive ability tests may account for cultural biases. Further, if an intelligence test measures multiple abilities yet produces a single score, it sheds little light on where your true talents lie. If you have questions about your results, ask for details regarding how the test was scored.

Myths and Misconceptions

Some individuals believe that intelligence tests measure your inborn or native intelligence. The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders warns against making this assumption and asserts that such tests are actually measuring your interaction with the environment. Additionally, your knowledge of a specific subject, such as mathematics, could affect how well you test, even if the instrument is designed to capture aptitude. No test is infallible, and the results should not affect your motivation or desire to achieve.

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