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Dyslexia and Online Psychometric Assessments - Take Note

One in ten people in South Africa is dyslexic, meaning that this learning disability affects roughly 5 million people across the workplace, at university, and in schools.

The use of psychometric assessments, especially online-based, needs to be proactively managed to avoid any bias or harm to candidates. This means being aware of and taking into account learning difficulties such as dyslexia. We’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about dyslexia, and offered advice on different testing options.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is an umbrella term for language-based disorders that involve difficulty in automating skills relating to reading and writing. For many people with dyslexia, it is difficult to do two things simultaneously, such as reading text and understanding the individual words. It is important to note that dyslexia is not related to cognitive ability or general intelligence.

There is some disagreement about an exact definition of dyslexia, but it is now thought to exist on a spectrum. This means that one candidate may have mild dyslexia, with another may struggle considerably more. As a test administrator, not only do you need to be aware of the presence of dyslexia, but also how it manifests for a particular individual. This will have an impact on which tests you select, as well as the interpretation of results.

Different Types of Online Assessments

It’s important to be aware of the different types and formats of online assessments – being armed with all the necessary information will allow you to make the most ethical decisions for a dyslexic test taker.

Personality/Motivations (untimed)

The most relevant feature of these assessments is that they are not timed and are not ‘power tests’. High performance does not depend on a certain number of items being answered in a certain amount of time.

Another aspect to note is that these tests rely on an individual providing insight into him/herself. This means that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers: results are presented in the form of an individual’s unique personality or motivation profile.

These types of tests can be used very effectively, even if candidates have dyslexia. Candidates are able to take as much time as they need to read through and respond to the questions. It is also possible to adjust the size of images and/or text as needed.

Capacity/Intelligence (timed)

The majority of intelligence/capacity assessments are known as ‘power tests’ – this means that both speed and accuracy are important in determining the results. There is usually a strict time limit, along with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. This means that the use of these tests needs to be more carefully considered in the case of respondents with dyslexia. Especially in the case of language/verbal based subtests, dyslexic candidates may be more easily distracted and will likely respond to fewer items than the general population due to the extra time needed to read/understand the sentences.

As an administrator, you will need to take into account the length and complexity of the verbal items. As well as the self-reported severity of dyslexia, in order to determine the test’s appropriateness and the effects on the interpretation of scores. You would also need to query whether a candidate’s dyslexia has an effect on number-based subtests such as calculations and mathematical equations. Keep in mind that the common definition of dyslexia does not extend to numbers, and thus dyslexic candidates should be as able as the general population in handling numeric cognitive ability tests.

When it comes to spatial/abstract tests that are visually based, candidates with dyslexia should also not experience any issues with the items themselves. However, it is important to keep in mind that the instructions for the test will be language-based.

It is recommended that candidates with dyslexia primarily receive numeric and spatial-based cognitive ability tests. In severe cases, the instructions for different item formats can be provided before the testing situation to allow the candidate time to prepare. In this instance, an untimed practice test is ideal.


How to Interpret the Results for Selection

When interpreting a low score on a verbal-based test, you can adopt the following supplementary strategies:

  • Refer to a candidate’s CV to determine if he/she has the necessary qualifications and relevant work experience for the position.

  • Refer to other psychometric assessments to determine if the participant is a suitable candidate for the role.

  • Ask the candidate what strategies he/she uses to compensate for dyslexia in the daily work environment. Check whether these strategies can be applied in the position applied for.

It is important to keep in mind that, when dealing with a candidate with dyslexia, you can only make allowances in the selection procedure that can equally be made in the everyday working environment. If a position requires someone to work both quickly and accurately with textual information and there is no time for compensational strategies, a person with dyslexia may be less suitable than a person without dyslexia.

What about Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is another learning disorder that literally means ‘unable to calculate. Whereas dyslexia is linked primarily to language, dyscalculia is linked to problems in the understanding of numeric concepts (e.g. arithmetic) and often extends to spatial awareness and abstract problem-solving. The same awareness that applies to dyslexia would also apply to a candidate with dyscalculia, in that they would typically need more time in tests or may struggle to understand certain concepts.

These test takers should experience no issues when completing untimed and timed language-based tests. Numeric, mathematical, and spatial timed tests will likely have an impact and may result in lower scores.


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