What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of a test that attempts to measure skills, abilities, or traits?

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Tests like the widely-used Vocational Aptitude Test or its Armed Forces equivalent, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), are useful in helping individuals identify potential career avenues by illuminating a natural proclivity for a certain field, for instance, mechanics or mechanical engineering.  By testing individuals in math, reading comprehension, reasoning, and knowledge, they can provide direction to students who otherwise may feel ill-suited to any profession.  Once proven to have an aptitude for a particular field of study or employment, they are then free to pursue that avenue with the knowledge that they are theoretically capable of attaining success.  In that sense, testing for skills, abilities or traits can prove very beneficial to many young people.

The potential drawbacks to aptitude tests lies in the impression the results can leave with highly impressionable teens, in effect, a sense that failure in a particular area of study or profession is preordained irrespective of effort.  Test results that display minimal aptitude for a career in a field that an individual may have hoped to pursue could dissuade him or her from even trying, despite the fact that study and effort can overcome many such obstacles.  In short, then, high scores can provide motivation and, in that sense, testing is beneficial.  Low scores, conversely, can instill pessimism that may not be warranted and that can deter individuals from pursuing their chosen fields of study or employment.  In that sense, reliance on aptitude tests can be a serious disservice to young people contemplating their futures.

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