Niranjana was doing her third year Electronics Engineering in a prestigious college in Kerala. She was a happy child, an extrovert, a go-getter, a team-worker and a balanced individual. When she was home on a vacation she proclaimed that she was not interested in pursuing her Engineering degree. Her parents were shocked. When Niranjana’s father came to me with the problem he was almost in tears. Instead of doling out bland advice both to the father and the daughter, I suggested that she take up a psychometric test. She logged into the website of a leading HR company and opted for a standard psychometric test to ascertain her career options. She paid the charges and took the test on line. In the test she took she had to answer about 200 multiple-choice questions. An elaborate computer software takes in the responses, does a complex analysis and then gives a report on her personality traits and the career-options that are compatible with such traits. The report described Niranjana as an extrovert, a people-person, having very high inter-personal and socialising skills. Given her psychological profile she would shine better as a social worker, a teacher or a creative artist, a PR person or even a language expert. Engineer or scientist – no way. The results affected the father and the daughter in totally different ways. The father was now reconciled to his daughter discontinuing the course she did not like. More surprisingly now that Niranjana had known her innate preferences and the career she is best suited for, she decided to complete the course in Engineering before looking up for alternatives. As the story reached a happy ending one sad thought however remained. Had this girl taken the test when she finished her HSC, a costly mistake would have been avoided. The word ‘psychometric test’ sounds like a mouthful of jargon but the meaning is obvious. ‘Psycho’ – of mind and ‘metric’ - measurement. A psychometric test measures the qualities of the mind like extraversion, tough-mindedness, anxiety etc. in the same way a physical test measures the body’s height, weight, BP, body-mass index etc. The word psychometric test might be a modern invention, but the tests themselves are not. Psychometric tests have been there from time immemorial. When a lover holds his sweetheart’s hand and asks her ‘What flower do you like?’ he is administering the simplest psychometric test. By an indirect question apparently directed at flowers he wants to know how her mind works. Now suppose the girl in response to this question were to blurt out ‘cauliflower’ ; the lover might panic and possibly run away from the food-freak. Let’s carry on with this silly example. This food-loving girl might one day wonder why all her lovers run away when she expresses her preferences for the edible flower rather than the romantic ones like the rose or the jasmine. She might find out the trick. When the next lover repeats the question, though she might not have internally changed, she might fake a very romantic smile and coo into her lover’s ears ‘The rose.’ Now the girl has started to fake a psychometric test and this ‘flower test’ is no longer valid. Psychologists work around this kind of faking by a) asking indirect questions – questions concerning hypothetical situations where it is very difficult to fake and b) by building enough lie-detectors - one popular example of lie detectors is to have, say, question no 15 and question no. 98 asking about the same thing but in different words. A person wanting to fake might be caught off the guard. A contradictory answer to the same question would alert the psychologist administering the test. Most of the tests allow some margin for contradictions and inconsistencies and if the responses cross the margin, they recommend taking the test again or go for a counselling session. Though psychometric tests are used in recruitment, in deciding who should be trained or promoted, the best possible use of a psychometric test is to determine the career-choice. As of now we have nothing more than a herd mentality in that area. Roughly one half of the HSC students opt for medicine and the other half opt for engineering. Thanks to the parental and peer pressure we have many potential painters working as engineers, writers as doctors, singers as accountants actors as clerks – there is no end to this mismatch list. If we can drive at least a hundred Niranjanas into the right career path every year with this tool, the social benefits of a psychometric test will be huge. There are thousands of websites that offer free psychometric tests. Hundreds of magazines offer one every week. Typical tests try to find out how romantic you are, how strong is your marriage and how good are you as a parent, lover etc. It is one thing to take these tests in a playful mood to while away the time. But when your life’s decisions are to be based on these tests, you need a good test. A good psychometric test is one which is valid i.e. the personality traits and career preferences indicated by the test broadly correspond with those of the subject reliable – gives the same result even when taken at different times and places has in-built lie-detectors and finally easy to understand and administer. The places to shop around for a good test are – the Internet, HR consultancy companies and practising clinical psychologists. A psychometric test does not by itself guarantee the right career choice or a happy working life. There are so many other factors involved and career-choice is as complex a decision as the choice of a life partner. But compared to the alternatives of following the herd and making a random choice, a psychometric test is far better, as it goes one level deeper and tries to match the personality traits with the career options.