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What is a Competency Test?

By J. Airman
Updated May 16, 2024
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A competency test is a tool used in human resources to test a person's proficiency level in a particular skill. This type of test is also used in education to ensure that a student has properly learned the material of the course in question. Generally, a competency test identifies a set of proficiencies needed to excel within a skill set and checks the employee's abilities or knowledge level to see how he or she matches up against what is needed. The goal of a competency test is to improve performance in the areas in which a company has identified performance deficiencies.

Generally, a competency test is given to an employee by someone who is skilled in the activity that is being tested. If a job requires an employee to operate a certain type of machine or perform a set of tasks efficiently, his competency in those skills is likely to be tested before the employee does the job on his own. When an employee consistently fails to meet the needs of a position, he may receive a competency test that helps identify his weaknesses in the necessary skills so he can receive education or training that can correct the discrepancy.

In addition to identifiable skills that benefit production for a business, competency testing can also be applied to determine the emotional intelligence of an employee or potential new hire. Emotional intelligence testing identifies personality issues that affect performance in the workplace. This type of testing is usually used before hiring an employee, but can also be adopted to identify personal issues that might be causing conflict among workers. It can also identify whether a potential employee has the emotional strength it takes to perform in a trying position.

Without competency testing, an employee may be able to get by performing his job at a level that does not meet the needs of a company. Employees who get by performing below expectations can cause extra costs in low performance, and in extreme cases may pose a danger to other workers. If a company department is not performing as expected, a competency test can help identify performance problems or individuals who might be slowing down production.

Sometimes, an employer may ask an employee to take a college course involving a competency test to give her the opportunity to acquire a skill and prove her efficiency with the skill. In business, this happens most often with skills involving computer software used in business. Common types of software for which employees are tested include data spreadsheet programs and word processing programs, but may also include industry-specific software required to perform a specialized job.

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Discussion Comments
By Feryll — On Oct 19, 2014

When I was in high school I took advanced placement courses in math and English.We had the option of taking a test so we could skip first year freshman English in college since we were taking advanced English in high school.

I decided not to take the test because I thought I would get a better start in college if I actually took freshman English and got my feet wet before getting into the more difficult courses.

During orientation we still had to take a competency test in English. We had to write a short paper. I assumed it was just a formality. As it turned out, it wasn't. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but because of that test I was placed in remedial English (English 100). Ever since then I have had a fear of competency tests.

By Drentel — On Oct 18, 2014

@Sporkasia - Sometimes w get into ruts at work and we start taking shortcuts, or once we get a job we stop learning and stop keeping up with the changes in our specific fields of work. For this reason, I think competency tests are good for companies. The tests help employees and companies stay productive and up to date.

By Sporkasia — On Oct 17, 2014

We just received a memo this week reading that all of the employees at the company where I work are going to be required to take competency tests in the coming months. I don't understand exactly what a competency test will entail or what will be required of us to pass.

I also don't understand why we need to take the tests. Wouldn't it have made more sense for us to be given the tests before we were hired for the positions we hold? We were hired and we are doing the work, so obviously we know how to perform our jobs.

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