Airline Pilot Psychometric Testing

Here we provide a short insight psychometric testing of airline pilots

If you’ve ever applied for an airline or cadet pilot recruitment process, it’s likely you’ll have faced some form of psychometric testing.  Put simply, psychometric testing is used to assess cognitive ability, or personality.  There are multiple ways to achieve this and some are introduced here.  

You may wonder what the point of some of this testing is, or why some airlines put a strong emphasis on it, while others have either minimal levels of testing, or ignore it completely!  In short, research suggests that there is a correlation between the outcome of a psychometric test, and either the performance of an individual during training, or job performance.  As a cadet pilot, a training provider wants to minimise training risk, which protects both the provider against excessive cost, and the individual against starting something that may not be for them.  Clearly, airlines want to recruit people they believe will be good at the role, and therefore design tests to achieve this. However, psychometric tests aren’t used in isolation, because despite some correlation, the relationship between test outcome and job performance can be improved by incorporating other areas of candidate assessment such as group exercises, interviews, work sample tests and the like.  By incorporating more tests, one can assess specific skills, attributes and competencies across a range of methods, therefore increasing the predictive validity of the assessment process. 

Cognitive assessments within pilot recruitment can include numerical/verbal reasoning and various computer-based tests, often referred to as pilapt or aptitude tests.  These vary significantly, with airlines/training providers placing different weighting on their importance.  They are a snapshot in time – you’ll rarely get another go if you make a mistake, so the advice is to only start when you are good and ready. Make sure you read the instructions carefully, take note of any guidance material, and if you get a practice go – use it wisely.  Take a deep breath, focus and do your best.  These tests are assessing aptitude, a natural ability to do something.  That said, there are multiple places online that either replicate certain tests or have sections where you can practice and prepare for aptitude testing, and it will depend upon which test you have approaching as to which method of preparation will be most suitable.  If you’re reading this as a young person, you may be able to prepare years ahead of time by exposing yourself to some computer gaming, which may potentially increase your ability in this area.  However, that comes with a strong health warning – being a pilot requires many skills, so it is important to ensure you have a rounded and balanced skill set beyond that of just playing flight simulation games!

If one was to have a numerical or verbal reasoning test as part of a forthcoming assessment, you’ll be pleased to know that these can be prepared for.  Most numeracy tests involve speed and accuracy, and unless you’re a maths genius, it’s likely some practice will be required.  Regular, short bursts of practice should see you right. It’s a similar story with verbal reasoning, although this is trickier to prepare for – try reading certain types of literature; newspapers, publications, scientific papers - things that you don’t normally read to get practice at obtaining information from text.  Test yourself afterwards to see if you have captured the full meaning.  Both styles of test can be found on the AirlinePrep app.

Styles of psychometric testing fall into maximum performance and typical performance.   Maximum being ‘what is the best one can perform’, having both correct and incorrect answers, which include the discussed tests of ability and aptitude.  Typical performance measures on the other hand, focus on personality; commonly personality traits.  These contain apparently random questions, that you may find yourself wondering how they can assess an individual’s personality!  That said, they are reported as being fairly accurate.  One well known personality instrument is the Myers Briggs type instrument (MBTI) - Individuals are categorised as introverted or extroverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving and the outcome will place you into one of 16 personality types.  However, the MBTI should not be found within a selection context. 

An alternative and found within pilot selection is the personality trait model.  One such taxonomy is the ‘big five’ comprising extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.  In short, your personality will be summarised against those headings, with roles lending themselves to an individual having stronger personality traits in some areas than others.  We all know people that appear ‘suited’ to particular roles, and unsuited to others, for example. 

A personality instrument will observe personality extremes, but there is some debate as how useful a personality instrument is at predicting job performance.  One particular downside is that the process relies entirely on honest responses yet faking generally results in a more positive assessment than negative. Equally, this practice could be viewed as one having social awareness; understanding of the need to sell oneself.  Is this level of self-awareness a bad characteristic?  That said, the best advice is to be yourself, be as honest as possible, and relax.

In summary, research suggests that cognitive ability tests have higher predictive validity than personality instruments. That isn't to say that personality questionnaires should not be used - far from it. If used as part of a range of assessment methods, they will likely contribute positively. Either way, cognitive psychometric testing is not something to be feared, but should be considered ahead of time like any other aspect of recruitment.  If you intend to prepare beforehand, be cautious of soliciting feedback on psychometric testing.  Accurate and responsible feedback is not something that just anyone can give you.  Psychometric tests (beyond simply numerical and verbal tests) are complex and professionally designed, and thus require professional feedback.

The British Psychological Society provide guidance on how best to prepare for testing.  They suggest that all test takers should be well informed and well prepared for an assessment, and that candidates should have had access to practice or familiarisation materials where appropriate.

In short, prior to testing:
  • Arrive in the right frame of mind
  • Allow extra time for your journey to the testing centre
  • Use practice material where possible – you may be sent this ahead of time
  • Take a deep breath and focus before starting
  • Understand what is expected of you – read the instructions carefully!
  • If given a practice, take advantage of this ensuring you understand what you are doing!
  • Be honest and try to enjoy the experience!

I hope that you’ve found the brief introduction to psychometric testing useful.  If you have any further questions, please just ask.  
From AirlinePrep - the very best of luck!
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