What Is an Aptitude Test?

How Aptitude Tests Measure What People Are Capable Of Doing

Aptitude tests help measure capabilities.
Aptitude tests are designed to determine a person's capabilty for performing a certain task. Ragip Candan / Getty Images

An aptitude test is designed to assess what a person is capable of doing or to predict what a person is able to learn or do given the right education and instruction. It represents a person's level of competency to perform a certain type of task. Such aptitude tests are often used to assess academic potential or career suitability.

Examples of Aptitude Tests

Some examples of aptitude tests include:

  • A test assessing an individual's aptitude to become a fighter pilot
  • A career test evaluating a person's capability to work as an air traffic controller
  • An aptitude test given to high school students to determine which type of careers they might be good at
  • A computer programming test to determine how a job candidate might solve different hypothetical problems

High school students often take a variety of aptitude tests designed to help them determine what they should study in college or pursue as a career. These tests can sometimes give a general idea of what might interest students as a future career.

For example, a student might take an aptitude test suggesting that they are good with numbers and data. Such results might imply that a career as an accountant, banker or stockbroker would be a good choice for that particular student.

Unlike achievement tests, which are concerned with looking a person's level of skill or knowledge at any given time, aptitude tests are instead focused on determining how capable of a person might be of performing a certain task.

Aptitude Tests Versus Intelligence Tests

So what exactly makes an aptitude test different from an intelligence test? Many intelligence tests are designed to measure what is known as general intelligence, or an underlying global mental capacity that affects performance in all areas. Intelligence encompasses many different abilities including problem-solving, reasoning, memory, knowledge, and ability to adapt to a changing environment.

Aptitude tests, on the other hand, are designed to measure a much narrower range of abilities than IQ test do. However, some aptitude tests might have a very narrow focus that limits what they are able to predict. Other tests look at multiple domains are are much more similar to intelligence tests.

Special aptitude tests are those designed to look at an individual's capacity in a particular area.

For example, imagine that a business wants to hire a computer programmer to work for their company. They will likely look at a range of things including work history and interview performance, but they might also want to administer an aptitude test to determine if job candidates possess the necessary skill to perform the job. This special aptitude test is designed to look at a very narrow range of ability - how skilled and knowledgeable the candidate is at computer programming.

Multiple aptitude tests are designed to measure two or more different abilities. In some cases, such tests may even resemble intelligence tests in terms of their focus and scope. The Scholastic Assessment Test (or SAT) that high-school students take during their senior year is a good example of a multiple aptitude test.

The SAT measures aptitudes in areas including math, reasoning and language and is often used by colleges and universities to determine if an applicant is prepared and has the ability to do well in college.

The Graduate Requisite Exam, as well as the specialized tests required in order to get into medical, law and business graduate programs, are also examples of multiple aptitude tests.