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Using Cognitive Ability Tests to Select Specialty Trainees: A Case Study from Public
Health
Authors: A. Koczwara, F. Patterson, Work Psychology Group, D. Williams, N. Pashayan,
R.Cooper, Z. De Beer.
Background
The use of cognitive ability tests for medical school admissions is a controversial and fiercely
debated topic. This paper is the first to report on the use of cognitive ability tests for
selection for postgraduate training in UK Public Health (PH). Since training in Public Health
is also open to applicants who are not medically trained, this creates an interesting challenge
in how to reliably assess aptitude and capability , where candidates have differing levels of
clinical knowledge.
Summary of Work
Job analysis revealed that verbal and numerical reasoning are important criteria for success
in PH training. To assess these in a format free from clinical expertise, the selection process
involved completion of 2 cognitive ability tests. A thorough piloting process identified the
most appropriate verbal and numerical critical reasoning tests.
Summary of results
500 candidates were invited to sit the tests and those with scores above an agreed standard
progressed through shortlisting to a selection centre. Candidate reactions to the tests were
collected from applicants. Validation examined the relationship between test scores and
performance at the final selection centre with further longitudinal evaluation ongoing.
Take-home message
Cognitive ability testing proved a useful selection tool for assessing aptitude for speciality
training in public health.