When I was growing up, the school year always started the day after Labor Day, but I know several people (including my sister, a teacher) who have already resumed classes this month. Whether you are a teenager returning to school, the parent of a student, or an adult pursuing a higher education, you may be familiar with aptitude testing. (If the mention of school and testing just took you from swoon to yawn, sit up and pay attention! You might learn something. 😉)
Unlike academic exams, which often make people feel anxious and frustrated, aptitude testing can actually be fun. I remember taking aptitude tests in elementary school and thinking that they were a great way to get out of class. Comprised primarily of multiple choice questions, they took no more than an hour or so to complete. Afterwards, students would add up their answers from the various columns to learn their particular set of skills and which profession(s) they were most suited for…but the playground called (Red Rover was about to send Kirsti right over) and my own results were promptly ignored.
In college, my major was undeclared until the last possible moment, when I was required to choose one by the university (I’m terrible at making decisions!). Unsure of what I wanted to do, I opted for a subject that could be generally applied and focused solely on obtaining my degree. Without any specific direction for my future, I simply wanted to finish school and get out into the “real” world, but after years of struggling to find my niche, a friend suggested I speak to her neighbor, who’d had a positive experience with aptitude testing through the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.
As an employee of General Electric in the 1920s, Johnson O’Connor sought to increase workers’ efficiency and satisfaction by placing them in positions best suited to their natural abilities. The program he developed was so popular that employees asked to have their children tested, which led to the creation of a Human Engineering Laboratory that officially became the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in 1939. Today, the Foundation has testing centers in major cities throughout the United States.
I made an appointment for two days of testing at the Los Angeles center, where the atmosphere was casual and welcoming. After a brief interview, I was led through a series of tests, beginning with an assessment of my dominant hand, arm, leg, and eye (apparently, I’d have made a good baseball player), and proceeding through evaluations of memory (my highest aptitude), color vision, motor skills, auditory discrimination, clerical speed, and even innate hand strength (which, I was told, mysteriously correlates with certain professions that don’t require hand strength). At the end of the second day of testing, I was given my results.
If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought the administrator was psychic. He began by saying, “You love to walk into chaos, because you immediately begin to sort things and attempt to create order.” Bingo! Then he noted, “You probably play a musical instrument well, but you have trouble following along with the sheet music, so you learn a song and then play it from memory.” Cue the Twilight Zone theme.
While aptitude testing does not equate to career counseling, there are specific kinds of work suggested by your pattern of aptitudes. It turns out that the first one listed under my summary of test results was the college major I’d so “randomly” and belatedly chosen. Also of interest was the fact that I tested below average on spatial ability. My father was an aeronautical engineer and I’d briefly considered pursuing the same career, but my aptitudes revealed that I was unsuited to that profession. How many children thinking of following in a parent’s footsteps would reconsider after having their aptitudes assessed?
Unlike grades in school, there’s no judgment associated with aptitudes (in terms of one being better than another). Someone with a low IQ or who struggles academically can still have aptitudes that make him or her well-suited for certain vocations. Aptitudes are also stable over time. A person who is tested at 15 will have the same results if tested again at 65, which means that early testing is recommended. Had I been assessed before going to college, I would have structured my education differently and probably had a greater sense of satisfaction and purpose.
But it’s never too late! My cousin went back to college in her 50s and got her Master’s Degree with honors. One of the stories in the Foundation’s newsletter that convinced me to get tested as an adult involved a successful surgeon who decided to take the tests along with his teenaged son. He discovered he had an aptitude for music and began to take piano lessons in his free time, providing him with creative fulfillment outside of work. Plus, the one ability tested that CAN be improved upon is vocabulary, which allows people of any age to have greater success in expressing their aptitudes.
If you are about to embark on a new phase of your education, are having trouble choosing a direction for your life and work, or want to change professions, but aren’t sure where to focus your energies, aptitude testing might be right for you. The investment of time and money is minimal when compared to the value of understanding and applying your natural abilities. At the very least, consider an “aptitude adjustment” by building your vocabulary using the Foundation’s list of resources, because with the right aptitude, you can go all the way.
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