Designing Job-Specific Cognitive Ability Tests

It is a well-known fact in IO psychology that cognitive ability is the one of the single best predictors of job performance, in a vast array of occupations. As such, cognitive ability tests are commonly created and used as a personnel selection tool for organizations. Such tests are typically validated using a criterion-related validity strategy, meaning that the usefulness of the test for predicting subsequent job performance is assessed. However, content validity, another important type of validity that refers to the extent to which a test can be considered to adequately sample the domain of interest, is often ignored in the validation process. In a recent article (Schmidt, 2012), a researchers argues that both types of validity can (and should) be assessed when creating a new cognitive ability measure.


The researcher suggests that, in addition to taking advantage of the existing literature concerning the predictive power of various selection methods, practitioners should conduct well-designed content validation studies when creating a cognitive ability test for an organization. Such a validation would typically consist of a job analysis to identify both the narrower cognitive skills and broader learning capabilities that employees need to be successful. A test can then be designed that will assess cognitive ability using questions that are related to the actual mental qualities that an employee will be using on the job if they are hired.


In summary, the researcher argues that a content validity model can be applied to cognitive ability tests in addition to a criterion-related validity model. As Schmidt notes, the strengths of this framework are considerable, in that a cognitive ability test validated in this way is more legally defensible and professionally satisfying. In addition, applicant reactions to a content-valid cognitive ability test are likely to be higher than they would be a more generic cognitive ability test that is not built with an eye towards the job in question.


Schmidt, F. L. (2012). Cognitive tests used in selection can have content validity as well as criterion validity: A broader research review and implications for practice. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 20, 1-13.

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