Gary Day

June 18, 2004

If they do it in the US, we do it soon after. Take psychometric testing, for instance, that meaningless measure of the man

What does it say about my life that I am so easily distracted? No sooner do I settle down to sorting through a pile of module evaluation forms than I feel the urge to pluck a book from the shelf or check the cricket score on Yahoo. An hour or so later, it's time to return to the task in hand. Oh good, half the students rave about Sarah Kane's Blasted . Oh dear, half rage against it. What should I do? Indecision reveals itself to be as much a part of my character as a tendency to stare out the window during a health and safety talk on how coats protect you from the harmful effects of the weather.

To my relief, I'm rescued from this dilemma by a little icon that announces the arrival of new email. Two in fact. One from De Montfort University information telling us about appliance testing, and the other from someone called Lindsey reminding me that size does matter and that women are satisfied by bigger tools. They'd better make sure that equipment is properly tested then.

Oh, come on. Turn your mind to higher things. I look at the forms again.

Against the question "How would you rate your attendance?" a student has written "not applicable". It's always interesting to see how you're viewed by your students. The less intelligent invariably fail to appreciate your unique gifts and should therefore be ignored. But not the student who declares you're a genius and the best teacher she or he has ever had. Very rarely do your colleagues show this level of discernment, which is surprising since they know you so well. How can people you have coffee with every day not be in awe of your achievements? So I suppose this means we should welcome the advent of psychometric testing into academia. If students and staff can't measure your abilities or slot you into one of 16 personality types, then perhaps a multiple-choice paper marked by a computer can. After all, more than 80 per cent of UK companies routinely use the tests, so they must be reliable. Or perhaps not. I just can't make up my mind.

A few years ago, a director of JIIG-CAL Careers Research Centre at Edinburgh University claimed that "personality tests are right in just 10 to 16 per cent of cases". And then there's the case of Carl Filer. He was regarded as a star employee by B&Q. Within a week of joining the company, he was offered promotion. Then he was asked to take a psychometric test.

Despite there being "no right or wrong answers", Carl failed. "Yes, we know you're an excellent salesman, but you said in the test that your favourite colour was blue which means that you are not a very dynamic person and so here's your P45." Carl could do it, but he couldn't B&Q it.

The relationship of universities to business is a bit like that of Britain to America. If they do it, we have to do it, too. And so it was that last week I sat my first psychometric test. It was part of an interview for the post of head of English and drama. The first stage consisted of meeting various deans. The other candidates all asked intelligent questions. I couldn't think of anything to say, except "I like your dress", which didn't seem appropriate. I was a little anxious about the test. Suppose it turned out that I didn't have a personality? I might get the job.

The first test was verbal reasoning. After ten minutes, we managed to convince the man conducting the examination that this was a dangerously flawed exercise. "All right!" he screamed, unable to endure the word "deconstruction" any longer. "Don't do it then."

You see, we can make a difference. Just say no. Then we threw away our advantage by doing the personality test. Why? Because humans are complex and unpredictable, that's why. And perhaps because we wanted to discover who we are. Did we strongly agree or disagree with remarks such as "I have never engaged in gossip". This statement appeared in different forms on every page. In fact, so did every statement. Whoever devised this test has a habit of repeating himself. He would probably make a good teacher. The various statements had been carefully tailored to suit the requirements of the post. "I play to win." Very important in the highly competitive environment of higher education. "I enjoy making a sale." Who isn't pleased when they've finally persuaded students that Milton is a writer, not the first name of a shopping centre? "The prospects for the future do not look bright." Depends who Sven picks for his midfield.

There I go again. Wandering off the point while wondering what the point is.

Gary Day is principal lecturer in English at De Montfort University.

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