Future of Work

Aptitude Tests: Are They Effective in Opening Students’ Minds to More Career Paths?

By Alyson Klein — April 27, 2021 2 min read
Conceptual image of mapping people.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Boys grow up to be engineers and computer scientists. Girls become nurses and teachers. That seems like an antiquated notion in a world where many students are encouraged to explore a wide range of careers. But the stereotypes persist.

Aptitude tests—which seek to measure students’ potential in a particular field—may be one way to help students from pigeonholing themselves into career paths early on, a study recently published in Cambridge University Press found.

Aptitude tests that evaluate students’ strengths, as well as examining their passions and personalities, are gaining favor in school career counseling programs.

To understand how these tools may nudge a particular student toward a field they may not have considered—or even heard of— researchers at the University of Missouri conducted an independent review. The study compared 7,222 high school students’ natural aptitudes with their self-reported interests in four areas: manufacturing, computer technology, construction, and health care.

For healthcare, the study looked at both a student’s capacity and interest in direct patient care jobs (such as being a doctor or nurse) and more technical jobs in the healthcare industry (think X-ray technician.) The study included 3,619 females and 3,603 males.

The researchers used both aptitude and interest tests created by YouScience, one of a handful of interest and/or aptitude tests school districts are using to help guide students’ career exploration. (At the researchers’ request, YouScience funded a stipend for a research assistant to help with the project.)

Just asking kids what their interests are and matching that with a particular set of careers can be helpful, the researchers say. But giving students an aptitude test that measures their potential in an array of fields might give them a nudge to consider jobs that they could excel at, but aren’t as familiar with, or didn’t think they could be good at.

“If you just look at people’s interest scores, they fall into areas which I call what they are exposed to, what they can see based on their life experiences. Many young people are exposed to very little,” said Richard Feller, a professor emeritus at Colorado State University who worked with the Missouri researchers on the study. Students’ different life experiences create an “exposure” gap, he said, that aptitude tests can help bridge.

This is especially true when it comes to women and STEM fields, the study found. Just 12 percent of women are interested in careers related to information technology. But aptitude tests show that just as many women as men have the capability to excel in that field.

The study found that more than four times as many girls were found to have potential in manufacturing, more than seven times more in construction and technical health care fields, and two times more in computer technology than an interest inventory alone would show. What’s more, males were more than 1.6 times more likely to show promise in patient care positions.

“It opens up all kinds of opportunities for students who have been less fortunate, who have been stereotyped, come from areas of little enrichment, or [have] maybe faced gender issues,” Feller said. “We’ve got great potential that we’re [not] tapping into.”

Related Tags:


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Future of Work What's the Purpose of K-12 Education in the Age of Automation?
Author Daniel Susskind talks about the role of education in a world where machines are taking over many of the tasks done by human beings.
9 min read
Daniel Susskind
Daniel Susskind
Courtesy Photo
Future of Work Q&A How to Get More Students of Color Into STEM: Tackle Bias, Expand Resources
Mathematician and former National Football League player John Urschel on what it will take to see more students of color in STEM careers.

5 min read
John Urschel
Former professional football player John Urschel, the author of the New York Times bestseller <i>Mind and Matter:  A Life in Math and Football</i>, is making it his mission to encourage more students of color to enter STEM fields.
National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath)
Future of Work How Virtual Learning Is Falling Short on Preparing Students for Future Careers
The pandemic is helping some students gain virtual working skills, but many are being left behind.
7 min read
Teacher Aaron Volkoff demonstrates  via Zoom how to monitor a heart rate for the students in his Exercise Science  class at Lakewood High School in Long  Beach, Calif.
Teacher Aaron Volkoff demonstrates via Zoom how to monitor a heart rate for the students in his Exercise Science class at Lakewood High School in Long Beach, Calif.<br/>
Morgan Lieberman for Education Week
Future of Work The COVID-19 Economy Is Putting Vulnerable Students' Career Prospects at High Risk
The EdWeek Research Center conducted a survey of educators to understand which students are now most at risk for job limitations.
8 min read
Hispanic teenage girl writing and using computer