Situational Judgment Tests and the Impact of Elaboration

Topic(s): assessment, selection

Topic: Assessment, Selection
Publication: International Journal of Selection and Assessment
Article: Impact of elaboration on responding to situational judgment test items.
Author: F. Lievens, H. Peeters
Featured by: Benjamin Granger

Several questions can and should be asked of the tools organizations use for employee selection.  For example, does the specific tool create adverse impact? Does it really predict future performance on the job?  Is it prone to faking?  Because they have been shown to relate to actual job performance and create little adverse impact against minority groups, many organizations employ Situational Judgment Tests (SJTs) in their selection procedures. However, recent work on SJTs suggests that they may be susceptible to faking.

But before we address the faking issue, what exactly are SJTs?  Situational Judgment Tests (SJTs) are selection tools that present job applicants with real-life job scenarios. Applicants are then asked to choose from a list of several possible ways to confront the specific issue. Applicant responses are then rated on their responses. Example: You are working in a nuclear power plant and there is a massive reactor leak. What should you do? (A) Get to safety (B) Move towards the leak.

Like many other employee selection tools (i.e., cognitive ability tests, personality measures, Emotional Intelligence ability tests), it appears that job applicants can intentionally distort their responses to certain SJTs (and this might ultimately mean hiring the wrong employees).

To test a proactive approach to reduce faking on SJTs, Lievens and Peeters (2008) employed a relatively straightforward and easy to use faking prevention tool: Elaboration. In other words, Lievens and Peeters had applicants provide detailed explanations for why they chose a certain response to an SJT question.

Lievens and Peeters showed that elaboration (reason-giving) did lower SJT scores. This implies that the elaboration method reduced the effect of faking on SJT scores. Interestingly, however, this was found for SJT items for which the applicants had previous experience. This is good news because the authors also found the familiar SJT scenarios were more easily “fake-able” than unfamiliar ones (i.e.,  situations for which the applicant has no prior experience).

These findings suggest the possibility of faking on SJTs can be reduced by simply having job applicants provide written explanations for their choices. Elaboration increases personal accountability and may ultimately reduce response distortion.

Lievens, F. & Peeters, H. (2008). Impact of elaboration on responding to situational judgment test items. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16(4), 345-355.