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:


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.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
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.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

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 STEM Jobs Aren’t Students’ First Choice. More Hands-On Experiences Could Help, Experts Say
Lack of exposure to STEM concepts may be contributing to the disconnect, according to the report.
3 min read
African-american schoolgirl pupil student using working with microscope at biology chemistry lesson class at school lab. STEM concept.
Future of Work Opinion 5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Using AI
Many educators may be nervous to use AI, but the reality is they are most likely using it already.
3 min read
Screen Shot 2023 11 19 at 10.03.27 AM
Future of Work Students Want STEM Careers, But Think Schools Are Doing a ‘Poor Job’ Preparing Them
Nearly all survey respondents said preparing students for STEM jobs is important.
3 min read
Photo of students working on computer boards.
E+ / Getty
Future of Work What 3 After-School Programs Are Doing to Prepare Kids for the Future of Work
After-school programs offer flexibility and time for hands-on learning to explore careers.
6 min read
robotics classroom with young african american student wearing VR