The terms intelligence, ability, and aptitude are often used
interchangeably to refer to behavior that is used to predict
future learning or performance. However, subtle differences
exist between the terms. And the tests designed to measure
these attributes differ in several significant ways.
What is an aptitude test?
Like intelligence tests, aptitude tests measure a student's
overall performance across a broad range of mental capabilities.
But aptitude tests also often include items which measure
more specialized abilities--such as verbal and numerical skills--that
predict scholastic performance in educational programs.
Compared to achievement tests, aptitude tests cover a broader
area and look at a wider range of experiences. Achievement
tests tend to measure recent learning and are closely tied
to particular school subjects.
Aptitude tests tell us what a student brings to the task
regardless of the specific curriculum that the student has
already experienced. The difference between aptitude and achievement
tests is sometimes a matter of degree. Some aptitude and achievement
tests look a lot alike. In fact, the higher a student goes
in levels of education, the more the content of aptitude tests
resembles achievement tests. This is because the knowledge
that a student has already accumulated is a good predictor
of success at advanced levels.
What is the value of aptitude testing?
Research data show that individually administered aptitude
tests have the following qualities:
- They are excellent predictors of future scholastic achievement.
- They provide ways of comparing a child's performance with
that of other children in the same situation.
- They provide a profile of strengths and weaknesses.
- They assess differences among individuals.
- They have uncovered hidden talents in some children, thus
improving their educational opportunities.
- They are valuable tools for working with handicapped children.
In addition, group aptitude tests--usually given as part
of a group achievement battery of tests--can be given quickly
and inexpensively to large numbers of children. Children who
obtain extreme scores can be easily identified to receive
further specialized attention. Aptitude tests are valuable
in making program and curricula decisions. They can also be
used for grouping students as long as grouping is flexible.
How can we use aptitude test results?
In general, aptitude test results have three major uses:
Teachers can use aptitude test results to adapt their curricula
to match the level of their students, or to design assignments
for students who differ widely. Aptitude test scores can also
help teachers form realistic expectations of students. Knowing
something about the aptitude level of students in a given
class can help a teacher identify which students are not learning
as much as could be predicted on the basis of aptitude scores.
For instance, if a whole class were performing less well than
would be predicted from aptitude test results, then curriculum,
objectives, teaching methods, or student characteristics might
Aptitude test scores can identify the general aptitude level
of a high school, for example. This can be helpful in determining
how much emphasis should be given to college preparatory programs.
Aptitude tests can be used to help identify students to be
accelerated or given extra attention, for grouping, and in
predicting job training performance.
Guidance counselors use aptitude tests to help parents develop
realistic expectations for their child's school performance
and to help students understand their own strengths and weaknesses.
Can aptitude be improved?
Although studies seem to suggest that aptitude test scores
cannot be improved, other research shows that that may not
be the case. Tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Tests contain
many questions that are content-specific, particularly in
math areas. Performance on these specific types of items is
Some experts feel that short-term cramming might not affect
aptitude test scores. However, long-term instruction in broad
cognitive skills might improve general test performance. Cognitive
theory and research suggest that learning ability can be improved
by training students in learning strategies. Improving academic
aptitude may be possible through a systematic curriculum that
complements direct training in learning strategies with both
the development of general thinking approaches and the application
of those approaches over a variety of different tasks and
What has been learned about training to improve aptitude
can be summarized as follows:
- Attempts to train aptitude must go well beyond practice
and feedback. What's needed is intensive training in strategies
involved in task performance along with higher level monitoring
and control strategies involved in guiding performance and
in transferring skills to new areas.
- Educational efforts to improve aptitude need to be long-term.
- Abilities of students and methods of training interact.
Attempts to train strategies must fit the tested aptitudes
- Practice and feedback can be effective when students are
already proficient in the ability to be trained.
- Intrusive training may be harmful to high aptitude students.
- Training ability works best when treatment utilizes some
of the student's other strengths.
- Some aspects of intellectual aptitude may be more easily
trained than others.