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What They Do

Insider Info

Psychometry is a special type of psychology. It's the science of figuring out the characters, surroundings and events connected with a person.

Psychometrists (sometimes called quantitative psychologists) may figure out ways for a business to test job candidates to see who will succeed in the job and who won't. In the education field, they may test children who are having trouble in school to see what the problem is, as well as find out what the child does well.

"Probably the most important characteristics we look at are the validity and reliability of tests," says psychometrist Barry Spinner. "Do they measure what they are supposed to be measuring and how accurately do they measure it? Psychometricians are also involved in administering, scoring and interpreting standard psychological tests."

The results are often used by:

  • Educators (Is this child especially smart?)
  • Human resource departments (How can we get the right person for this high-pressure job? Are we paying this person the right amount for the type of job they are doing?)
  • Market research firms (What kind of people will buy this product?)
  • Social welfare agencies (What are the indicators that a person might be at risk of ending up in jail?)
  • Expert witnesses in legal trials (Were the company's hiring procedures biased against minorities?)
  • Medical and biological research programs (How can we tell from a person's behavior whether this heartburn medication is helping them?)
  • Software development firms (What sort of computerized test will be used by human resource professionals in hiring?)

Kim Surette is a psychometrist who works in the medical field. She says what she likes is the clinical side of her job. "I am a clinical psychometrist, so it is probably the therapy I like the most -- the clinical side, [including] therapy and psychological assessments."

The hardest thing about her job is seeing how people have been abused.

Surette says that in order to succeed in her job, a person needs "good people skills -- it's hard to learn that -- and the ability to leave things at work, not bring them home. Also being able to work in [many] disciplines, not only with other psychologists but also with psychiatrists."

But another psychometrist in another area of medicine might do a completely different type of work. Richard Lennox studies information that is gathered by researchers and looks for mistakes, like when a question is poorly worded and the person filling out the survey does not know what the researcher meant by that question.

Frances Berger helps companies answer questions such as, "What staff members might be good at computer programming?" She says she never gets bored of her job.

"There are so many different parts and activities to developing a test," says Berger. "First, defining what the field is. Doing the job analysis. Then analyzing those data. Then getting the subject matter experts together and getting them to write items."

There are many things psychometrists can do in business, says Berger. For instance, they could work with the human resource department of a company. They could look at the different jobs in the company to find out how each job measures up to all the others. This information can then determine such things as how much each job pays.

If you were working in a company doing this, you could be doing a number of different things, "from clerical administration of tests, all the way to the higher process of test development itself," explains Berger.

She says developing tests is very complicated. "It's more than just a professor sitting in front of a TV set and making up questions from a textbook. Truly reliable, predictive testing is very carefully developed, and takes a long time and a lot of research."

Of all the things that she does in her job, Berger likes the analysis best. "You put all that into the mill and come out with an item analysis -- [you find out] how each part of it relates. And that is like the end of a mystery story. You now know whether you have good questions or not and which questions are good."

Regardless of which industry a psychometrist works in, the types of tests a psychometrist might develop or work on are limitless. One company that provides tests to human resource departments has hundreds of tests, including:

  • Career planning
  • Intelligence
  • Personality
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Effective teaching
  • Dealing with organizational change
  • Leadership
  • Learning disabilities
  • Writing and personality

A more up-and-coming area of psychometrics is in computer artificial intelligence. A psychometrist uses his understanding of the way humans act when testing software. Changes are then made to the software program so that it acts more like a person than a collection of code.

At a Glance

Study differences in what people do, think and feel

  • Psychometry is a special kind of psychology
  • Psychometrists work in business, education and medicine
  • Courses in math, statistics, computer applications and psychology are preferred, and a master's degree is usually required