To Retest or Not to Retest

When giving tests, especially for promotions, candidates who don’t move on in the process due to their scores always want to know when they can take the assessment again.  Their assumption is that they’ll do better the next time they take the test.  This is often a fallacy as they are as likely to do worse as they are to do better the next time they take the test in most situations.  The issue from an employer’s perspective is when should someone be allowed to retake a test?  These considerations should include science, employee relations, and cost.

HR should first manage the expectations of people retaking tests.  Unless the test in question measures job knowledge (where studying or experience is very likely to lead to improvements), a person’s test score is unlikely to change much.  For example, personality (conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, etc.) is a trait, meaning it is pretty constant over time, unless the test is unreliable.  Any movement in the test score is going to have more to do with changes in how the person answers the questions (faking or guessing) than a shift in personality.  Likewise, general mental ability is not something that is going to change very much in adults either.

Second, it’s understandable that companies have an employee relations nightmare on their hands if they tell people they can NEVER retest for a job.  A good rule of thumb is that tests that measure traits (e.g., personality and general mental ability) should have a longer amount of time between retests than for those assessments where a person can reasonably be expected to improve after receiving feedback and training (e.g., a knowledge test or assessment center).  For the latter, management can reasonably ask the person to demonstrate that s/he took some concrete steps to improve in the areas measured by the assessment before taking it again.  Due to cost constraints, you don’t want the same person going through an assessment center every 90 days.

Third, if you’re going to allow people to retest, you should have parallel forms of your assessment.  This means having separate versions where the average and distribution of the scores are nearly identical.  For tests available for purchase, you can ask the publisher if they have a parallel form of the assessment (they should).  For interviews, role plays, etc., you should change things around some so subsequent administrations are not exactly the same.  My experience is that the same version will normally do fine, but it will make others feel better knowing that you’re not giving exactly the same assessment to people over time.

If assessment is part of your promotion process (and it should be), I can guarantee you that people who fail will want to retest.  What you need is a policy that takes into account the employees’ need to feel that they have a fair chance to do well during the process, the science behind the test/assessment, and reasonable cost controls.  This happens to be a situation where that is not hard to do.

For more information on pre-employment testing, skills assessment, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or [email protected]

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