Modern-day human capital needs pose challenges for both organizations and job seekers. Organizations want their job openings to be highly visible, in order to attract as many qualified applicants as possible. However, this often attracts a slew of unqualified applicants as well, costing the organization time and money. Job seekers, on the other hand, often become frustrated by investing time in applications when they have little chance of being selected, an issue that is often accentuated for members of minority groups. However, the researchers of this study (Campion et al., 2019) assert that practice tests can be a tool that mitigates problems associated with high-volume recruiting.
WHAT ARE PRACTICE EMPLOYMENT TESTS?
A practice test is developed as an equivalent to an organization’s actual employment test used for selection purposes. The practice employment test is made freely available to potential applicants. Completion of the practice test is anonymous and is not required in order to complete an actual application for the available position. By completing the practice test, potential applicants can receive information on their probability of scoring well on the actual employment test if they were to start the application process. In addition, practice test takers can review the correct answer for each test item and receive additional test preparation tips.
USING EMPLOYMENT PRACTICE TESTS FOR PERSONNEL SELECTION
The researchers used a sample of over 25,000 potential and actual job applicants of an organization to verify the benefits of employment practice tests. They analyzed scores from those who only took the practice test, those who took the practice test and applied for the job, and those who applied for the job but did not complete a practice test. Results indicated that those who scored higher on the practice test were more likely to apply for the position than those who scored lower. Further, they found that the passing rate on the actual employment test was increased by about 11% for applicants who completed a practice test compared to applicants who did not. When taking a closer look at score increases from practice test to actual test, the researchers found that Black and Hispanic test takers had higher score increases than White test takers, which means that this method could lead to a reduced chance of adverse impact.
In further support of the value of practice tests, additional analyses indicated that the score increases from practice to actual test were not due to a lack of motivation when completing the practice test. Also, it was not the case that higher quality candidates were generally more inclined to take the practice test and prepare for the actual test. Taken together, the evidence says that the option of a practice test led to a more diverse, qualified applicant pool.
WHY DO PRACTICE TESTS WORK?
The researchers use concepts from signaling theory and human capital theory to explain how practice testing can benefit both organizations and potential job applicants. They assert that the practice test sends a “costly signal” to job seekers, communicating that the organization is both serious and fair in their selection procedures. This helps organizations stand out among industry competitors in the eyes of job seekers.
Further, under human capital theory, job seekers appreciate the clear communication of what the organization is looking for and what qualities the organization has–saving job seekers the time of looking for information or applying to a position for which they are not a good fit. And finally, the information provided by practice tests increases actual test scores of applicants through increased accessibility to the relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the job. Additionally, this process provides test preparation guidance, which is particularly useful for minority groups who may face adverse impact from employment tests.
Organizations face the recruiting challenge of attracting a high volume of qualified candidates while minimizing the number of unqualified applicants. Sifting through a high volume of unqualified candidates costs time and money and can come at an increased detriment to minority candidates. This process also proves frustrating for job candidates with a low chance of being selected. This case study suggests that practice employment tests are a viable, cost-effective option for resolving these recruiting issues for both the organization and the applicant.
However, it is important to note that this method may not be suitable for all types of employment testing, such as for stable characteristics like personality, or assessments that require a test administrator (e.g., a face-to-face interview). And finally, while the implementation of practice testing is low-cost when compared to re-testing applicants, it may require upfront time and resources for test development if the organization does not already have two equivalent employment tests.
Campion, M.C., Campion, E.D., & Campion, M.A. (2019). Using practice employment tests to improve recruitment and personnel selection outcomes for organizations and job seekers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(9), 1089-1102.