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Modern Psychometrics Essay, NTU, Singapore Psychometrics is the science of psychological assessment and is usually seen as a branch of psychology
Psychometrics is the science of psychological assessment and is usually seen as a branch of psychology, but its impact is much broader than this. The scientific principles that underpin psychometrics apply equally well to assessment in education and in clinical or occupational contexts, and the early psychometricians were equally at home in all these fields. Since then, paths have often diverged, but have generally reunited as the importance of advances made in each context come to the attention of those in the others.
Currently, the great advances being made in statistical modeling are significantly impacting the application of psychometrics in both the educational and occupational fields. The lead comes from psychometric epidemiologists, who analyze large-scale survey data, including questionnaires. These are exciting times. But the history of psychometrics goes back a long way.
Employers have assessed prospective workers since the beginning of civilization, and have generated consistent and replicable techniques for doing this. China was the first country to use testing for the selection of talent. Before 500 BC, Confucius had argued that people were different from each other. In his words ‘their nature might be similar but behaviors are far apart’, and he differentiated between ‘the superior and intelligent’ and ‘the inferior and dim’. Mencius believed these differences were measurable.
He advised ‘assess, to tell light from heavy; evaluate, to know long from short’ (Jin 2001). Xun Zi (310 BC to 238 BC) built on this theory and advocated the idea that we should ‘measure a candidate’s ability to determine his position (in the court)’ (Qi 2003). Thus, over 2000 years ago much of the fundamental thinking that underpins intelligence testing was already in place, as were systems that used testing in the selection of talents.
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In fact, there is evidence that talent selection systems appeared in China even before Confucius. In the Xia Dynasty (between the 21st century BC and the 17th century BC), the tradition of selecting officers by competition placed heavy emphasis on physical strength and skills, but by the time of the Xi Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC to 771 BC), the content of the tests had changed.
The Emperor not only assess candidates on the basis of their shooting skills but also in terms of their courteous conduct and good manners. From then on, the criteria used for the selection of talent grew to include the ‘Six Skills’ , the ‘Six Conducts’, and the ‘Six Virtues’ (insight, kindness, judgment, courage, loyalty, and concord). During the Epoch of Warring States, oral exams became more prominent. In the Qin Dynasty, from 221 BC, the main test syllabus primarily consisted of the ability to recite historical and legal texts, calligraphy, and the ability to write official letters and reports.
The Sui and Tang Dynasties (AD 581 to AD 907) saw the introduction of the Imperial Examination, a nationwide testing system that has since become the main method for selecting imperial officials. Formal procedures required, then as now, that candidates’ names should be concealed, independent assessments by two or more assessors should be made, and the conditions of examination should be standardized. The pattern set down then – of a ‘syllabus’ of material that should be learned, and an ‘examination’ to test the attainment of this knowledge – has not changed in the framework for 3000 years and was in extensive use in Europe, Asia, and Africa even before the industrial revolution.
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