Monday, April 13, 2009

The state of UIT

Many recruiters and assessment professionals believe that the future of employment testing lies with screening applicants over the Internet (rather than in person). And while there are substantial benefits associated with this method (e.g., convenience, speed), there are plenty of concerns as well (e.g., cheating, validity). Research in this area is in its infancy, which is why it is refreshing to see a full half of the March 2009 issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology is devoted to describing the state of unproctored internet testing (UIT).

What struck me most about when reading these articles is the variety and excitement surrounding this field but even more, the tremendous lack of consensus in the professional community has about important issues related to UIT.

The articles start off with an updated summary by Nancy Tippins, who with her colleagues provided a heavily cited summary in 2006. This focal article is followed by twelve response articles and a final summary by Tippins.

Here's a (very) brief summary of some of the important points raised by the authors:

1. Cheating happens. But let's not forget that proctored tests have always been susceptible to some degree of cheating (e.g., via test question memorization).

2. There are many ways to mitigate the risks associated with cheating. This includes retesting, identity verification, and response pattern analysis. But it's not clear how successful these measures are, or even how needed they are.

3. Although there are potential legal risks (e.g., lack of standardized administration), UITs have not been directly evaluated in court.

4. The choice of whether or not to use UIT is influenced by many factors, not the least of which is the organizational reality communicated by upper management.

5. Some applicants may be turned off by an organization that uses assessments so obviously prone to cheating. But this may be balanced by increased convenience, speed, and immediate feedback.

6. Although cheating and response distortion occurs, it's unclear to what extent it impacts validity.

As an interesting note, the most common types of tests delivered via UIT seem to be biodata, personality, situational judgment, and T&E and preference questionnaires. There are also those who are administering cognitive ability tests in this way, sometimes adaptive.

UIT is in many ways the Wild West of employment testing. It's exciting and innovative, but comes with risk and lots of unanswered questions.

Here's hoping our field quickly speeds up the research side because this ship has clearly sailed.

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