[IPAC-List] Test taking times

Mark Hammer Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca
Wed Jul 8 12:25:15 EDT 2009

Perhaps a little off-track, but I encourage you to consult work by Carol Dweck and her students/colleagues. In a nutshell, Dweck's model proposes that people respond to tasks, and adjust their motivation, partly on the basis of their "implicit theory" of performance. At one end of the spectrum, one has those adhering to an "incremental theory", where performance is assumed to arise out of effort, preparation, practice, circumstances, and other factors one can improve upon. When encountering difficulty, these folks tend to expend *more* effort on a task. At the other end of the spectrum are those adhering to an "entity theory" of performance, in which it is assumed that performance arises out of something intrinsic to the individual and unalterable. The textbook examples are those who believe they are "no good at math" (and Dweck's original interest arose out of the study of young adolescent girls' attitudes towards math and science). Those adhering to an entity theory show the same kind and degree of motivation as incrementalists while conditions are good. Once they run into difficulty, however, entity-theorists tend to give up rather than work harder, since the anticipated failure produces negative affect. After all, who would want to face what they see as evidence of their personal shortcoming.

The relevance of this to your question is that one would expect fast-finishers to be made up of those who are well-prepared entity and incrementalists, and those who are ill-prepared entity-theorists; a bi-modal distribution. Naturally, since the tendency to be an entity-theorist varies with subject matter, it would depend on the nature of the test. So, if the test is of a single subject matter (e.g., figural analogies or logical reasoning), and did not ramp up gradually from easy to harder questions, entity-theorists for that domain would reveal themselves quickly. Conversely, if a test consisted of multiple areas/question-types, and allowed the test-taker to answer the questions in any order, some entity-theorists might not "surface" for a while. As well, and you will forgive me for a brief foray into sexism, one might expect the gender pattern to vary by subject matter/domain, with more females leaving early for quantitative/spatial tests (Dweck's model would suggest this is more from mistaken attributions by the test-taker than necessarily due to ability). Zooming out, though, it is easy to imagine that there are those who adhere to the belief that they simply "aren't good at multiple-choice tests". While I have no hard evidence of it, one hears from folks in HR that Aboriginal applicants in the Canadian system will often withdraw their application when they find out there will be a multiple-choice test. I take that as some sort of loose evidence of a sort of entity-theory about performance in that domain.

FWIW, Harold Stevenson at U Mich, and his colleagues, published a number of papers in the 90's looking at incremental-vs-entity beliefs in Asian vs North American parents and children, and found that Asian parents tended to hold to incremental theories moreso than did North American parents. Ironic, since, while North America is supposed to be the place where you can be anything you want, one presumably has to "be good at it" from the outset; the popular belief is that mere effort and practice alone will be insufficient. I suppose there is also a self-protective side to it, too. After all, if I am "no good at" something, then I should not be blamed for not practicing more.

Are there other personality traits accompanying test-taking time? probably. My experience with university students was that there were always those persistent worriers and overachievers who would be checking over answers until you had security guards come and wrestle the pencil from their hands.

Sounds like an interesting project. I know I'd certainly like to see what you find at the end of it.

Mark Hammer

>>> "Aamodt, Michael G" <maamodt at RADFORD.EDU> 07/08/09 11:35 AM >>>

I am working with some students on the relationship between time taken to complete a test (e.g., cognitive ability) and the test results as well as on gender and race differences in completion times. We are getting close to finishing the meta-analysis but want to collect some new data.

Do any IPAC members track the time taken for an applicant to complete a test? If so, is there potential for us to have access to that data? What we need are the test scores, time to complete the test, and ideally, the gender and race of the test taker.




Michael G. Aamodt, Ph.D. (Mike)
Professor Emeritus
Department of Psychology
Radford University
Radford, VA 24142-6946
(202) 280-2172
maamodt at radford.edu
http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu <http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/>

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