Predicting the Future with Situational Judgment Tests

Situational judgment tests are often given to prospective new hires. They ask test takers how they would respond to possible scenarios they might later face on the job. Typically, a situation is presented in written form, and test-takers choose between several options of how they would respond. Experts determine which response is most appropriate, which in turn allows us to predict who might succeed at the job. According to new research (Lievens & Sackett, 2012), when these tests are given to medical school applicants, they can even predict job performance many years later.


In this study, the researchers investigated a situational judgment test given to a large group of medical school applicants. The situations in the test were presented on video. Trained actors performed common scenarios that were designed to test interpersonal
skills. These skills, which are important for success as a doctor, consisted of building and maintaining relationships, as well as communication skills. Test-takers were faced with scenarios that required listening, conveying bad news in a sensitive manner, and dealing with the anxious patient who refuses to listen to doctor’s orders.

What did these tests predict? Interestingly, these tests successfully predicted performance during internships and performance during post-graduation careers almost a decade later. This was true even though doctors may have trained to improve specific interpersonal skills in the meantime. Still, those with high scores prior to beginning medical school were more likely to succeed many years later.


What does this mean? This study underscores the importance of interpersonal skills, even for complex technical jobs such as doctors. It also reminds us that training in interpersonal skills may not be a perfect substitute for identifying job applicants who already have strong interpersonal skills. Finally, this study lends further legitimacy to situational judgment tests. If these tests can tell us who will be a good doctor before day one of medical school, just imagine what they can do in other lines of work.


Lievens, F., & Sackett, P.R., (2012). The validity of interpersonal skills assessment via situational judgment tests for predicting academic success and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(2), 460-468.