p1The History and Legitimacy of Personality Testing

In America today, personality testing is a growing industry of $400 million, with testing ranging from education to employment to fun online questionnaires (Paul, 2004, xiv).  Personality testing begins in the elementary schools so students can gain admission into certain programs or be diagnosed for academic problems, and it continues on through the professions so people can advance their careers.  The first personality test was designed in the early 1920s to help with personnel selection in the armed forces, but now a plethora of such tests exist.

One of the most famous personality tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  This test “is now given to 2.5 million people each year, and is used by 89 of the companies in the Fortune 100” (Paul, 2004, xiii).  Another widely used personality test is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory which is considered to be reliable and valid by many psychologists.  These two examples of personality tests are used to look at changes in personality, screen job candidates, and diagnose psychological problems.  Many teachers give personality tests in class so children can realize their strengths and learning styles (Personality test, 2013).  Further research claims that the combined results of a number of these personality tests can help teachers “make fairly accurate judgments concerning student progress and change in these areas” (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2009, 36-37).

Strengths and Weaknesses of Personality Tests

Personality tests do have a few strengths.  They can increase productivity by helping students realize their full potential (Cattell, 1965, 11).  Personality tests can also help teachers identify teaching strategies for students and help students appreciate other personality types in their classroom (Personality test, 2013).

However, personality tests have several weaknesses.  First, people often lie on personality tests so they can get the result they want (Williams, 2013).  Secondly, accurate responses require quality judgment of one’s own character, something many people lack (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2009, 331).  Thirdly, the results cannot be guaranteed despite what psychologists say; there is simply no way a personality test can accurately predict job performance (Williams, 2013).  Finally, many of the questions on personality tests are so ambiguous they distort the results (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2009, 331).

Many investigations have shed further light on the short-comings of personality testing.  The invasion of privacy is a real issue for Congressional investigators and parents who question whether schools should be able to ask students such personal questions (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2009, 331).  Another issue is that many psychologists and schools continue to use personality tests despite the fact that test results are not supported by scientific evidence, as illustrated by the test taker who gets two different results when he takes the same test twice (Paul, 2004, xii-xiii).

My Position

The first thing I think of when I hear “personality test” is the funny questionnaires that pop up on my Facebook newsfeed asking me “Which Jane Austen heroine are you?” or “What color are you?”  I confess that I have taken the Jane Austen personality test and purposefully skewed my answers to get Elizabeth Bennet.  That is an excellent example of the problem with personality testing: the answers do not reflect the tester’s true personality.

Personality tests are often invalid, unreliable, and unfair.  Therefore, I do not believe they should be used in our educational system.  I do not think that the benefits of personality testing outweigh the problems of validity and reliability.  Students should be allowed to be themselves without having a label attached to their personality or being lumped into one broad category of personality learning.

– Hannah S. Bowers


Bell, J. E. (1948). Projective techniques: a dynamic approach to the study of the personality. New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Co.

Cattell, R. B. (1965). The scientific analysis of personality. Chicago, IL: Aldine Publishing Company.

Harrower, M. (1968). Appraising personality: an introduction to the projective techniques. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Miller, M. D., Linn, R. L., & Gronlund, N. E. (2009). Measurement and assessment in teaching, (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Paul, A. M. (2004). The cult of personality testing: how personality tests are leading us to miseducate our children, mismanage our companies, and misunderstand ourselves.  New York, NY: Free Press.

Personality test. (2013). In etools4Education. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.online-distance-learning-education.com/personality-test.html#.UyCpaj9dV1Z

Shontz, F. C. (1965). Research methods in personality. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Williams, W. (2013, July 12). The problem with personality tests. In ERE.net. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.ere.net/2013/07/12/the-problem-with-personality-tests/