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What is the Difference between Aptitudes and Abilities?

17th July 2015 | Jim Barrett

Aptitudes should not be confused with abilities. Present skills and capabilities are not aptitudes. Aptitudes are about ‘potential’, which is not necessarily realized at the present time. It is like a natural intelligence.

Many tests show a mixture of both ability and aptitude – an ability to understand what the test requires an aptitude to perform at something for which a person may not as yet have any prior experience.

It is reasonable to measure aptitude only when it is assumed that people taking the test have had sufficient chance to develop the same ability. For example, there would be little point in giving a test of English vocabulary to a candidate who spoke very little English if all the other candidates were native English speakers. On the other hand, such tests are routinely used in teaching English as a foreign language, where applicants’ level of English needs to be known.

Where ability is not required and testers want to look at some form of potential that may be exploited, tests become more abstract, for example reducing the need for vocabulary or numerical skills. This is how aptitude tests discover people with potential beyond the skills that have emerged thus far!

In summary, aptitude tests allow us to:

  • Look at potential in a similar way for everybody. They attempt to put everybody on an ‘equal playing field.’ Even though there may never be such a thing, because life is rarely like that, there are advantages to seeing what happens when we try.

  • They are a way of attempting to ‘take stock’ of something that is usually affected, contaminated and distorted by so many other variables, in particular, educational disadvantage or prejudice.

  • They are a means of trying to ensure that there is some opportunity for people to demonstrate the resources they have.

  • They can investigate whether there is potential that people are not aware of. Often, the discovery of potential leads to the development of new interests or a fuller personal realization.

An individual’s aptitudes only make sense in relation to others. Therefore, the tests in Ultimate Aptitude Tests have been devised, using standard procedures, to compare you as far as possible with everybody else. Otherwise, you cannot say with any certainty that you are better at words than numbers. You also have to make sure certain conditions are met so that the tests work as accurately as possible and to give yourself the same chance as everybody else. This is not literally possible; no two people can ever be in exactly the same situation when they are tested: there are just too many physical, social and emotional variables.

You can think of reducing many of the major adverse variables yourself, such as poor lighting, cramped conditions, and so on, but you cannot always think of everything. Therefore, it is wise to prepare for testing in advance by dealing with anything that might be distracting and making sure that you have everything you need to do the test.


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