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Personality Testing

For thousands of years the Chinese have read faces to analyze character, and the Greeks have described people by temperament and humors. Modern personality testing using questionnaires is relatively young, going back about 100 years. Using self-reporting questionnaires, people answer questions describing their behavior, qualities, preferences and attitudes. The test results are analyzed by a person or, more commonly, with a computer program. The outcome is some type of portrait of the test taker. A less common methodology is when a test taker is asked to subjectively interpret a test item and the test giver assesses the response. The Rorschach Test is a famous example of this kind of assessment.

There are two approaches used to develop modern personality questionnaires. Some are based on a personality theory with questions designed to sort people into the different types within the theory. Others tests find statistically meaningful groups of traits through the analysis of large amounts of data. Tests based on theories face the challenge of being accurate and consistent instruments, whereas statistically validated tests which identify general traits challenge us to make meaning out of the results. Ultimately we benefit from a combination of these approaches as we use scientific data to refine theories, and create new understandings about personality based on statistically significant results.

quality testing

Quality of Personality Testing

The quality of a test is determined by how accurately the scored questions indicate the correct personality type, and the usefulness of the personality description. Accuracy helps the test taker to find their type, and the usefulness enables the test taker to learn something and to develop self awareness. Ultimately for this to be of value the test taker must ultimately see their reflection in the results and the description of their personality.

When someone retakes a test he should get the same or similar results. With many retakes, the results should only vary over a small range to be useful. These small differences in results are sometimes seen as inaccuracy within the test (and sometimes may be!), but more likely they reflect the range of personality within a type or the mood of the test taker at that particular time.

Another influence affecting the quality of a person’s test results may be that he has learned or adopted responses and attitudes (often from his family) to certain situations. This may be inconsistent with other parts of personality, but still an aspect of who he is. Rather than indicating a problem with the test, this simply underscores how complex people are and the inherent limitations of any typing system.

A common concern with personality testing is that people may fake their answers, giving incorrect results. While this may be a concern when the test is used for some type of evaluative purpose, when the purpose is personal development there is no advantage to the test taker to be untruthful. Of greater concern is that these questionnaires require a degree of self awareness to answer accurately. Blind spots and a preferred self image may interfere with accurate responses, as almost everyone prefers to describe themselves in a positive light. Anonymity of answers and results may minimize this tendency, especially when the goal is greater self awareness as with the MPM Personality Test.

Given all of the factors that can skew test results, it is important to be knowledgeable about what any given test can and cannot reveal about a person, and to be careful about how tests are administered and used. This is particularly true in work environments, where job performance is often more complex than the factors identified in a test and where there are important issues of equal opportunity. Employers should investigate the legal ramifications of using and interpreting personality tests for hiring or promotion. The MPM Personality Test has not been designed for employment purposes and is better suited for personal development.


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