• Marine Corps Looks At New Testing Methods To Find Superior Officers

    The Marine Corps Recruiting Command wants to develop a new test to predict what officers will be most successful through candidate school, and what they’d be best fit doing upon graduation.

    Existing recruiting methods just aren’t cutting it, as officials have identified very particular patterns of otherwise strong candidates dropping out of Officer Candidate School. The only problem is that officials simply don’t possess any testing instruments to screen out these candidates in the initial stages, Hope Hodge Seck of Marine Corps Times reports.

    Traditional testing focuses on physical fitness and academic achievement. What these components don’t seem to capture, however, are certain non-cognitive abilities — so called “intangibles” — and simply increasing fitness standards has not lowered attrition rates. While psychologists generally frown upon the use of the word “non-cognitive” to describe a test, as loose non-technical vernacular, the term seems to suffice for the purposes of Recruiting Command.

    Officials are in search of a method to put a dent in attrition rates and better assign people into job roles. Some of the highlighted attributes include impulse control, grit and resilience. Intangible qualities necessary to complete many roles are often called intangible precisely because it’s so difficult to nail them down in test format.

    But University of Pennsylvania psychologist Dr. Angela Duckworth managed to discover that grit, as measured by a new test that successfully predicted which West Point cadets would complete the basic training course. In that prediction, normal aptitude measures like the SAT or ACT did not correlate at all.

    Current testing methodology to find these intangible traits often relies on self-reported questionnaires, but when it comes to determining deep-rooted character traits, self-bias inevitably follows, as well as potential dishonesty.

    The Oxford Handbook of Military Psychology notes that faking on self-reported surveys is a serious problem. The Army developed the Assessment of Individual Motivation (AIM) test to succeed the Assessment of Background and Life Experiences (ABLE) test. AIM works to obscure socially desirable answers by presenting two desirable and two seemingly undesirable choices. This form of test modification initially appeared to be successful, but subsequent trials revealed that faking persisted. After retreating to the lab, researchers removed weak questions and keep the strong ones.

    Non-cognitive testing is still relatively new, and given time constraints when bringing in waves of new recruits, psychologists have started developing performance tasks to substitute for questionnaires. How good these tasks are at predicting attrition and assessing unique characteristics remains to be seen.

    According to a directive from Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford — and Obama nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs — officials should consider drawing from psychological evaluations used by law enforcement and special forces. In the case of Delta Force, psychologists intensely study candidates, hitting them with seemingly endless questions about drug use, sexual discrimination and views toward foreigners, among other items. The goal is to filter out unstable individuals. Candidates also have to write short autobiography-like entries for psychologists to assess. Sleep-deprived and tired from long marches loaded down by gear, candidates are forced to summarize a series of books.

    As of last year, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command has begun rolling out the Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System (TAPAS) on a limited scale to find recruits with hardy attributes and to screen out those with the wrong character. TAPAS is a major advance in non-cognitive testing and has significantly improved predictive power for the Army. As Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet said, “You may find someone who is less cognitive or academically skilled, but has strong personal characteristics, who may in the long term be a much more adaptive Soldier and better performing one.”

    Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter


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