For high stakes testing, such as those used to help make hiring decisions, there is the need to minimize applicant “socially desirable responding:” attempts to raise test scores and make oneself look unrealistically good. Almost all applicants try to make a good impression and put their best foot forward, but when it extends to the point of answering questions untruthfully, it has the potential to diminish the usefulness of test scores. Fortunately, very few candidates know how to correctly guess how to beat a valid employment test.
In contrast to the Veris Index, mastery tests – such as a drivers’ license exam – are intended to measure mastery of a skill or specific knowledge—you can take the test as many times as you need to pass the minimum threshold of driving competence. As you gain more information or increase your skill level, you will do better on the test.
The Veris Trust Index is different. It measures core human traits that candidates develop through their lives. The traits measured by the Veris questions are stable and change slowly over long periods of time, if at all; they are what people bring with them to their candidacy. When test-takers answer with the intention of artificially raising their scores, they obscure the real measurement of their qualifications. To counteract this, the Veris Index is made to minimize the effects of such faking.
Studies of the Veris Trust Index and its prior forms have documented the success in controlling applicant faking. A few years ago, over 9,000 applicants (not students or research subjects) twice took a test by the Veris author to measure conscientiousness (one of the core constructs of the current Veris Index), once to apply for a job, and once to try to improve their scores, to try to beat the test. Test takers were unable to better their scores—in the fake condition, they received scores which averaged 11% lower. They hurt their applications by trying to fake. Another way of measuring the tests’ resilience to faking is to count the number of individuals who scored higher or lower the second time. Of the 9,000 repeat test-takers, 84% had lower scores the second time. Six out of seven were not able to raise their scores .
In the white-collar prison samples of 812 felons from 40 prisons, 117 inmates answered the test items with the instructions: “Please answer the questions to make the best impression you can. Try to make yourself look good, but realistic, even if the answers are not really true for you.” There was no statistical difference in the mean scores between the faking sample and the rest of the prisoners, suggesting that the test items are robust to faking attempts. The prisoners were unable to improve their scores by faking and exaggerating, assuming that they understood and followed the instructions.
This attribute of the Veris Index is accomplished in three ways: 1. Test items are low in transparency; it is not easy to identify the best answer just by reading the question. The item development is psychologically deep enough that the test becomes too complex to bluff through. 2. The items are written to make them easy-to-understand and easy to answer frankly, by minimizing a judgmental tone. 3. The test items are not confessional/admission based, or invasive/offensive to the applicant (vis-á-vis overt honesty tests, which ask directly “how much do you steal”), therefore drawing less defensiveness from the applicant, and less of a pull for them to use a “socially desirable response set,” to try to give the answers they think we want.
For example, the following test items have ambiguous best answers. It is not obvious which choice is preferred, but each question does validly measure the intended personal trait, and predict job behavior.
How much of the time do you:
“Ignore rules when they should be ignored?”
Should the answer be Always to show compliance, or Never to show individuality, non-conformity and use of one’s own judgment.
“Think twice before doing something?”
Should the answer be Always to show thoughtfulness and caution, or Never to show initiative, decisiveness, and lack of hesitation.
“Trust what people say?”
Should the answer be Always to show good faith in people and lack of cynicism, or Never to show sensible skepticism and caution.
“Try to do things perfectly?”
Should the answer be Always to show high standards or Never to show realistic acceptance that perfection is impractical and inefficient.
“Correct others when they make mistakes?”
Should the answer be Always to show initiative to teach and do things right, or Never to show positive human relations and support.
“Cooperate rather than compete?”
Should the answer be Always to show teamwork and interpersonal skills, or Never to show competitiveness and winning attitude.