Sunday, December 23, 2012

Do not rely on aptitude tests to decide your child's career path

Aptitude tests have become popular mechanisms of assessing child's abilities when the child is in Xth class. These tests consists of hundreds of questions with multiple but fixed choices. These tests typically measure 8 abilities. Although, some of them have started including other abilities, aptitude tests typically follow the framework of multiple intelligences of Howard Gardner

These 8 abilities are logical, linguistic, visual, natural, musical, kinesthetic,  intrapersonal and interpersonal. Now a days, some institutes have attempted to increase the breadth by redefining the scope of abilities. For instance, some institutes have attempted to understand the depth of an ability such as mechanical ability to identify the mechanical aptitude. To reduce the errors of measurement, some aptitude tests have also increased the number of questions, changed the nature of questions, and extended the test over a longer period . 

However, despite their increasing breadth and depth, these tests do not measure the abilities accurately, cannot help us predict the future course of ability, and therefore do not help in taking better career decisions. There are many technical reasons why static aptitude tests with multiple choices cannot increase their accuracy beyond a specific level. Here i am attempting to explain to you in simple English, some of the big reasons, why aptitude tests are not useful in helping you to evaluate your child's abilities:

1. Aptitude tests do not measure potential

Many parents and students believe that aptitude tests measure the 'hidden' potential of a student. This is a myth. In an earlier blog, we had discussed in quite details, why this is not technically possible. 

In this study of 120 highly talented individuals who were tracked from their childhood to adult age, for instance, only two of the 120  had won 'local competitions' while one of them had won a 'national competition' by the age of 10. But none of the 3 had shown skill that was comparable to the 'masters' in their respective field. Aptitude tests therefore cannot measure your potential. 

Aptitude tests can measure only your current abilities that you have 'demonstrated' and used in your life. For instance, only if you have used and played with 'mechanical' objects, the aptitude test will be able to measure your 'mechanical ability' with reasonable degree of accuracy.  This is very important caveat to remember. 

2. Aptitude tests are better at measuring 2 cognitive abilities ( like logical, linguistic) 

Out of the 8 distinct abilities , these aptitude tests are better in measuring two abilities: logical and linguistic. However, one has to be cautious in relying on them due to two reasons. 

First reason is language and culture-specific. Many of the tests are designed in English. Understanding of English language and its nuances is important to ensure that the child's response is accurate. Secondly, some responses are culture-specific. A response from a urban student and rural student varies because they come from different cultures. These variations are not captured in these 'general tests'.

Second reason is more critical. As these two cognitive abilities are measured at a very young age of 13-15, where they have just stared developing, one cannot predict the domain in which the student can develop these abilities in the future. Please remember that this cognitive ability can be used in multiple domains such as legal, chartered accountantany, medcine, engineering, software and basic research. So, even if the cognitive ability is found to be higher, aptitude tests cannot help you make any career choice ! Now a days, some institutes have attempted to bridge this gap, by covering 'domains' such as software, however as you would have realised, it is impractical to cover all of them till the age of 15. 

3. Aptitude tests cannot measure 3 senses-based abilities (kinesthetic, visual and musical ability ) better than real-life observations and assessments 

If you are good in drawing/painting, music, or sports, it is easily demonstrated by your proficiency in these activities. If you are good in one of these five senses ( sense of hearing, body-eye coordination, and visual sense), you naturally develop that ability better with practice. Any expert in that field ( be it animation, sport, or music) can evaluate your child's ability and his readiness with far more accuracy than any aptitude test.  

Aptitude tests , because they are measured on class-room questions and fixed choices, cannot measure these senses-based abilities better than real-life assessments and observations of an expert in that field. If your child has these abilities, it is far more safer to rely on experts in these fields. 

4. Aptitude tests measures intrapersonal abiliy very poorly. This ability spells a big difference between good and excellent performance. 

You must have heard about two young cricketers who showed extraordinary potential at a young age,Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, who were studying in the same school. Vinod Kambli however could not achieve as much his classmate despite his acknowledged prodigous cricketing talent, because of his inadequate 'intrapersonal ability'. It is also called as mental growth in layman's language. With inadequate mental ability, even high amount of prodigious talent is not enough to ensure good performance in the future. 

For example,  one of the important component of intrapersonal ability is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is measured by recognizing emotion in faces and asking you to respond to situations like 'what would you do if you find your friend crying'. The answers are multiple choice, and limited. They do not capture your 'real-time response'. The same is true about stress responses, or your ability to manage distractions - the two sub-components of your intrapersonal ability. When we respond to these questions in a test, we tend to be far more logical and smart, than what we actually are in real situations. As these tests cannot measure our real-time response on such issues, these tests are highly inaccurate in measuring intrapersonal ability. 

5.  Aptitude tests measures interpersonal ability very poorly. This ability is one of the key ability of entrepreneurs.  

You will find many entrepreneurs succeeding with very little academic qualification. Examples like Larry Ellison, Dhirubhai Ambani are some of the popular examples. One of the critical ability they possess is the interpersonal ability, an ability to relate with people and collaborate with them. 

Because aptitude tests cannot measure our 'real time response' to people, aptitude tests also cannot measure this ability. We tend to be far more different in answering these questions than when we are responding in real situations. And because of this deficiency, aptitude tests fail to measure this interpersonal ability well. 


Out of the 8 abilities that aptitude tests typically measure, 5 abilities ( visual, musical, kinesthetic,  intrapersonal and interpersonal) are either not measured at all, or are measured so poorly that you cannot rely on their scores. 

Two cognitive abilities - logical and linguistic - are measured with some degree of accuracy but far higher accuracy can be achieved by relying on student's school marks in languages and logical subjects like physics, chemistry or mathematics. And more importantly, they lack the predictive capacity. This means, that even if a child find this cognitive ability as high, he cannot predict the domain ( Engineering, medicine, or accounancy) in which he can use it the best. So the aptitude test score, even though right, is not useful to take any decision. 

We have not discused the measurement of naturalistic ability, the eighth ability. This ability enables child to appreciate and engage with nature. Once again, this ability is not 'measurable' by aptitude tests accurately, as the scope of nature-oriented activity for a urban student is too narrow. It may be more accurate for a rural student !

In other words, aptitude tests do not measure your abilities with any degree of accuracy, and when it measures, it is not useful in making any career choice 

If aptitude tests is not a viable alternative in assessing your child's ability and choosing the career path, what is a better alternative? We shall discuss about a more robust, practical and technically correct alternative in the next blog. 

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