How to Cheat a Psychological Assessment

Psychological assessment is a popular method of learning about people. Assessments come in a variety of formats, for example you might be given a series of statements and asked to indicate how much you agree or disagree with each, or you might be given lists of different options to choose from. Unlike the information we usually gather in everyday life when we want to learn more about a person, these specific systems gather information about a person that can be directly compared, interpreted, and used to mathematically predict outcomes or provide advice.

 

But here’s the problem: What if the results might not be exactly what you want to hear (or other people to see)? Easy—just cheat. Here’s how:

  1. Is the assessment only based on a theory? (If the assessment tries to group people into different “types” it probably is.) If so, you are in luck! These are easy to cheat—all you need to do is look it up. Knowing the theory behind a theory-based assessment is almost like having the answer key for a test.
  1. How sophisticated is the assessment? Weaker assessments will often just count up your answers about a subject and give you a score. For example, some companies are specifically looking for optimism when they hire insurance salespeople. If you want a job selling insurance at one of these companies, say that you are optimistic when you take their assessment. Easy.
  1. If the assessment is more sophisticated, don’t lie. Imagine cheating on an exam by copying the person next to you—even if no one sees you do it, your pattern of answers can still give away that you didn’t do the work yourself. Sophisticated assessments are very good at detecting these patterns, and they often assign a penalty or even raise a “red flag” that invalidates your results. I’m not saying you can’t “bend the truth” a little bit though. Just think of yourself in the future, as you ideally imagine things and respond accordingly. It’s still authentically you. Even if it’s not true just yet, there is a good chance that it will be someday. And that’s barely even cheating at all.

 

If you use psychological assessments, should you be worried about people cheating them? That depends.

If you use something that is affected by 1. or 2. above, it is likely that you have a significant problem.

Modern psychological assessments do not share these issues.

Part of the reason why is that they are able to detect when people try to cheat. We have tried to cheat Cangrade’s Candidate Assessment Platform (CAP) in many different ways, but the results always suggest that we would have been better off being honest.

However the main reason that modern psychological assessments are immune to cheating is the way that they are designed. They are not based on speculative theories or simplistic generalizations like “optimists are better salespeople.” Instead, they are driven by hard evidence that links together the different factors that determine important real-world outcomes. If an assessment can predict valuable outcomes, then you know that you haven’t been cheated.

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