Thursday, January 14, 2010

Forgetting the Lucas critique

For nearly a decade, three industrial and organizational psychologists from the United States and Europe followed more than 600 medical students in Belgium, where premedical and medical school curriculums are combined into a single seven-year program.

At the start of the study, the researchers administered a standardized personality test...

The investigators found that the results of the personality test had a striking correlation with the students’ performance. Neuroticism, or an individual’s likelihood of becoming emotionally upset, was a constant predictor of a student’s poor academic performance and even attrition. Being conscientious, on the other hand, was a particularly important predictor of success throughout medical school. And the importance of openness and agreeableness increased over time, though neither did as significantly as extraversion. Extraverts invariably struggled early on but ended up excelling as their training entailed less time in the classroom and more time with patients. ...

By using standardized assessments of personality, a medical school admissions committee can get a better sense of how a candidate stands relative to others. ... While standardized tests like the MCAT and the SAT have been criticized for putting certain population groups at a disadvantage, the particular personality test used in this study has been shown to work consistently across different cultures and backgrounds. “This test shows virtually none or very tiny differences between different ethnic or minority groups,” [study author, psychology professor Deniz] Ones noted. Because of this reliability, the test is a potentially invaluable adjunct to more traditional knowledge-based testing. “It could work as an additional predictive tool in the system,” she said.
--Pauline Chen, NYT, on forgetting that it's really easy to fake conscientiousness on a multiple choice personality test. That historical correlation between personality test results and performance would rapidly disappear if the tests were used to make actual admission decisions, courtesy of Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc.

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