How to create engaging cognitive ability tests and minimize assessment anxiety

Written by Kristin Delgado, R&D Manager

While cognitive ability tests are considered the best single predictors of work performance, they, along with other testing methods, are often considered to be disengaging or demotivating for some test takers. As a result, they can create assessment anxiety when used in high-stake settings. That anxiety is widely thought of as being composed of two dimensions:

  • Emotionality which is most evident through physiological responses
  • Worry which is related to an individual’s cognitive reactions to situations

Working to alleviate assessment anxiety

The cognitive component of test anxiety is the factor most consistently found to be associated with declines in test performance. Research has demonstrated moderate negative correlations between test anxiety and performance on cognitive ability measures.

One potential antecedent of test anxiety is stereotype threat. Stereotype threat refers to ‘the phenomenon whereby individuals perform more poorly on a task when a relevant stereotype or stigmatized social identity is made salient in the performance situation’ (Schmader & Johns, 2003, p.440).

Certain groups may be impacted by stereotype threat (e.g., negative stereotype of a group when it comes to a certain skill or ability), and awareness of that stereotype can contribute to both assessment anxiety and motivation to perform well. This notion is thought to be a contributing factor to observed group differences on traditional cognitive ability measures.

Benefits of interactive assessments

We propose that interactive and engaging ability measures are better for multiple reasons, but a few worth mentioning include:

  • They are designed to place everyone on a more even playing field, reducing subgroup differences typically observed in cognitive ability scores.
  • These tests may feel less onerous than completing typical cognitive ability measures.
  • Using immersive and intuitive elements to create an engaging experience may reduce assessment anxiety and increase engagement, which is likely to decrease bias. (In this way, measurement of true ability is improved by minimizing the effects of construct-irrelevant variance.)

When developing the Mindgage series, we employed several design principles to achieve these above benefits. For example, Mindgage modules are meant to elicit the sense of embodied cognition or connecting a physical action to a visual image of a conceptual representation. Embodied cognition can be described in many ways. As it pertains to the Mindgage assessment, an example would be manipulating objects on the screen using gestures, like swiping, dragging, or tapping on objects (e.g., tapping on an equation in a bubble), and receiving immediate sensorimotor feedback (e.g., bubble changes colours and size when tapped).

So, throughout the assessment, the user receives this feedback which can facilitate a flow state that would not be possible via a traditional quantitative test. In the simplest terms, embodied cognition is receiving feedback from intentional physical movements.

This connection of conceptual knowledge to directed action via the sensory-motor system is thought to encourage better strategy development, promote better concentration and feelings of more control, and elicit less frustration. We believe that immersive elements can help to ensure that candidates are engaged and performing to the best of their ability, leading to smaller subgroup differences.

If this approach sounds like a good fit your organization, reach out today to learn about our recently launched Mindgage assessment series.

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