Aptitude Testing Research Paper Starter

Aptitude Testing

Aptitude tests or ability tests are used to predict students' future performance in a new situation or setting. They measure students' potential capacity or ability to learn or acquire knowledge and skills when given an opportunity. They have a common origin and history with intelligence tests, which were the standard measure of academic aptitude for over a century. Because of controversies over the use of intelligence tests in public schools and the prevalent negative connotations associated with intelligence-quotient, or IQ measurement, aptitude tests have assumed a more prominent role within the last few decades.

Keywords Achievement Tests; Aptitude; Aptitude Tests; Batteries; Criterion Validity; Diagnostic Tests; Equating Groups; Group Tests; Individual Tests; Intelligence Quotient (IQ); Intelligence Tests; Interest Tests; Multiple Intelligences; Norm-Referenced; Predictive Validity; Prognostic Tests; Self-Fulfilling Prophecy



An aptitude test's main purpose or function is "not to measure what has been learned, but what can be learned" (Karmel & Karmel, 1978, p. 219). As such, they are designed to predict students' future learning, behavioral, or performance outcomes. However, because it is impossible to isolate aptitude from past learning experiences, aptitude tests may indirectly measure what has been learned as well as what can be learned (Borg & Gall, 1989; Gage & Berliner, 1988; Karmel & Karmel, 1978; McMillan, 2001; National Academy Press, 2001; Weber, 1991).

Aptitude tests aim to measure specific kinds of abilities across a wide range of academic and occupational fields. Among the most commonly used aptitude tests are those measuring verbal, mathematical, spatial, mechanical, and clerical aptitudes or abilities (Borg & Gall, 1989; Gage & Berliner, 1988).

Standardized aptitude tests or assessments are also referred to as ability tests-tests that assess academic, learning, and cognitive abilities (McMillan, 2001). Aptitude tests are quite often compared, contrasted, and occasionally confused with other types of assessments. Fine distinctions and differentiations can be made for example between aptitude tests and intelligence tests. Intelligence tests, which were a precursor to aptitude tests, are meant to measure an individual's innate, unchanging intellectual capacities; aptitude tests, on the other hand, do not measure immutable, innate capacities, but rather an individual's potential to improve upon existing capacities (Karmel & Karmel, 1978; McMillan, 2001).

Aptitude tests are often compared to achievement tests as well. Achievement tests are designed to assess and measure current levels of performance (i.e. the skills and knowledge currently possessed by students in a particular subject area). Achievement tests must be high in 'taughtness'-what is actually taught in the classroom by teachers-and in content validity. Ultimately, though, achievement tests measure what an individual has learned both inside and outside of school, as well as his or her inherited academic aptitudes (Gage & Berliner, 1988; McMillan, 2001; National Academy Press, 2001; Popham, 2003; Weber, 1991).

Aptitude tests can also be confused with interest tests. Interest tests are inventories that are used primarily in a vocational counseling setting to assist individuals in making a career choice. By the end of high school, student interests are typically stable enough to permit reliable measurement and valid prediction. A student's individual responses on an interest test are compared to those of successful members of different occupational groups to determine which occupations would best suit the student's interests. Two examples of interest inventories are the Kuder Preference Record and the Strong Vocational Interest Inventory (Karmel & Karmel, 1978; Weber, 1991).

In contrast, aptitude tests are used for making educational and occupational decisions and for selection and placement in schools, colleges, government, business and industry (Gage & Berliner, 1988; Stuit, 1950; Weber, 1991). While aptitude tests are norm-referenced and do provide information for student counseling and guidance, their results are used differently. According to their scores, students are placed in special classes and are treated differently in regular classes.


The Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation (2003) defines aptitude as "a student's capability or potential for performing a particular task or skill" (p. 225). Aptitude can also be defined as a student's capacity, or "suitability," to benefit from training in a certain field or subject. Aptitude is sometimes referred to as "academic aptitude" or "scholastic aptitude" because students seem to be able to develop this ability in school (Haladyna, 1997; Hursh & Kerns, 1988; Kirk & Gallagher, 1989).

Aptitude and ability are often mistakenly used synonymously with achievement and intelligence. Aptitude and ability differ from achievement in that the former are developed over a long time period whereas achievement is occurs within a relatively short time period. The psychological trait of intelligence is so elusive that even psychologists have generally defined it as that which is measured by intelligence tests. However, whereas the term intelligence places the focus on innate, inherited characteristics, the terms aptitude and ability communicate both innate and experiential influences (Haladyna, 1997; McMillan, 2001).


Intelligence tests were, in fact, the standard measure of academic aptitude for over a century with early aptitude tests like the Stanford-Binet Test based on Alfred Binet's theory of intelligence. However, because the term "intelligence" conveys at least to some, if not many, an immutable characteristic, "aptitude tests" are no longer referred to and strictly interpreted as "intelligence tests" (Gage & Berliner, 1988; McMillan, 2001; Popham, 2003).

Intelligence tests and aptitude tests had been used for some time before the French experimental psychologists Alfred Binet (1857-1911) and Théodore Simon developed the standardized Binet or Binet-Simon Test. This testing instrument, published in 1905, was based on Binet's intelligence scale and allowed individuals' intelligences to be compared to a norm (Merriam-Webster Inc., 1988; Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 1992). In 1916, the test was revised by the U.S. psychologist Lewis Madison Terman (1877-1956) to become the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. Terman also developed the "intelligence quotient" or IQ, a number indicating an individual's level of mental development (Merriam-Webster Inc., 1988; Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 1992).

World War I was a major factor that spurred growth in the measurement movement. With its massive mobilization of manpower, the military needed a way to quickly and easily determine which men were suited for which branches of service. Group intelligence tests were developed to fill this need. The U. S. Army commissioned the then president of the American Psychological Association, Robert M. Yerkes (1876-1956), to devise a group-administered test called the 'Army Alpha' to help identify recruits most likely to succeed in the officer-training program.

The Alpha assessment strategy represented the first widespread use of a norm-referenced or comparative testing approach. The Alpha was both a group intelligence test and an aptitude test, or "predictor test", in that it was able to accurately predict the likely success of recruits in the officer-training program. High Alpha-scorers were sent to the officer-training facilities, the average Alpha-scorers were sent to fight the war in the trenches, and the low Alpha-scorers were encouraged to leave the service. With this first mass-scale psychological testing program, the military also discovered that large numbers of young men had educational deficiencies, especially among rural youth, and about a quarter of all recruits were judged to be illiterate. The Army Alpha served as the template for almost all later standardized testing in the U.S.A., irrespective of whether these tests were to function as aptitude tests or an achievement tests (Borg, 1987; Popham, 2001; Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 1992).

Within a decade after the war, students were being classified, compared, and assigned to educational programs on the basis of tests meant to assess individual differences and diagnose learning difficulties. The educational tests that began to appear after World War I were not only intelligence-focused aptitude tests, but also achievement tests, like the Stanford Achievement Tests first published in 1923 (Popham, 2001; Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 1992).

In the 1920s, Terman, Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949), and other psychologists involved in the development of the measurement movement established a cornerstone of educational psychology with their research into human intelligence. Most notably, Thorndike developed scales for measuring achievement in arithmetic, spelling, language, and other subject areas (Merriam-Webster Inc., 1988; Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 1992). By the 1930s, the measurement movement had become a permanent part of American education. At that time, about 200 aptitude tests had been designed and developed (Toops & Kuder, 1935; Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 1992).

Aptitude testing was also used during World War II. The Army General Classification Test (AGCT), a...

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