Psychometric Tests: South Africa Then and Now

When it comes to psychometric tests, South Africa boasts a long history with its involvement, application, and development of this assessment method. It is generally agreed that the first form of psychometric tests was brought to South Africa by the British settlers during the 1800s. Louis Leipoldt and A.L. Moll then created the first pencil and paper version for the local market based on the Binet-Simon Scale created by Theodore Simon and Alfred Binet around 1904 in France. Similar to the Binet-Simon Scale in its country of origin, the Leipoldt-Moll Scale was used by the then Education Department of the Orange Free State to identify special needs children in school.

In the years following its inauguration of its new Department of Psychology in 1917, the University of Stellenbosch played a large role in advocating for the use of psychometric tests in South Africa, specifically in the workplace. In 1922, Livie-Noble promoted this notion in an address to the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, stating that “the employers’ aim should be to have a place for every man, and every man in his place”.

During the following tumultuous political years in South Africa, psychometric tests were used by certain nefarious characters to vilify different racial groups and promote their own agenda. This caused a number of people to lose trust in existing testing methods, claiming that it was an unscientific tool to segregate and profile different racial groups.

Because of the reason above, employers and other institutions were initially banned from using psychometric tests in South Africa after the abolishment of apartheid and the introduction of democracy in 1994. Local tests were not adapted to accommodate the diverse indigenous South African population, thus allowing a loophole for unscientific “deductions” and subsequent discrimination.

In 1999, the Employment Equity Act was revised to allow psychometric testing in South Africa. It, however, came with the provision that testing had to be fair, reliable, and valid for all employees and job applicants to be allowed.

History has pointed out both the uses and shortcomings of psychometric testing in South Africa. While it is certainly a powerful tool that can be used to evaluate and promote all types of people, it can also be used as a tool for discrimination in the wrong hands. Through vigorous development and stringent monitoring, it has become easier to use it for the good it was intended for, and to identify and discredit methods that are biased or unscientific.

Over time, psychometric tests have been developed further – in South Africa and internationally – to be more inclusive and sensitive to context. They have also been expanded upon to include a number of psychological and aptitudinal assessments, from personality tests to task specific assessments. Today, with the correct controls in place, these tests are once again gaining in popularity, and companies are more and more coming to realise the exceptional benefits they offer.

Some of the advantages that psychometric tests can offer employers in South Africa include:

  • Gaining valuable insight on an individual’s drive and ambition and how they fit into your team or organisation
  • Measuring characteristics that predict performance and future potential in a specific role
  • Identifying candidates with the right abilities and potential to excel in a specific role
  • Identifying high-calibre talent, efficiently, accurately, and securely, and predicting job success by measuring relevant abilities and character traits.
  • Measuring emotional and social skills and competencies that influence our overall capability to cope effectively with the demands and pressures of work.
  • Identifying motivation, culture and values, and potential opportunities for improvement within a team.
  • Determining whether an individual has the ability, potential, and cultural fit to succeed.
  • Identifying attitudes and behaviours that are associated with counterproductive work behaviour.
  • Matching likes, interests, and strengths to potential roles and careers.
  • Assessing an individual’s ability to perform certain tasks by evaluating their fluid intelligence, combined with the ability to apply reasoning, logic, and the ability to work with information.

Is it not time that you joined the rising number of leading companies making use of psychometric tests in South Africa to get an edge on their competitors? Find out how you can benefit from accurate talent placement and optimal team performance. Get in touch with FWA Organisational Development, a leader in conducting psychometric tests in South Africa, and discover how we can help your organisation’s true potential.

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