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Ipsative or normative?

Which type of personality test should be applied – and when?

Generally speaking, personality questionnaires come in two formats: ipsative and normative. An ipsative questionnaire requires you to choose which of two statements appeals to you the most. A normative questionnaire asks you to indicate how much you agree with a statement to which a Likert scale is attached.
Which type of question should you ask – and when? What are the traits and benefits of the two formats? A poll in the Assessment and Development Centre Practitioners on LinkedIn provides clarity as to the pro’s and cons. Let’s consider the distinctions between the two.

What do the professionals say? These are the results of the poll:

The results of the poll can best be summarised as follows. Approximately half of the voters use both types of personality questionnaires: 52%. Ipsative versions are slightly preferred to normative: 26% vs 19%. The trend in this discussion suggests that each of the two types has its merits, depending on the objective of the assessment. Users must be acquainted with both the stronger and weaker traits of both question types in order to apply them most effectively. The following question type traits were mentioned during the discussion:

Ipsative personality questionnaire traits
Ipsative personality questionnaires are primarily useful as part of a development process. They provide a sharper profile and are more difficult to manipulate. Should you wish to use this type as part of a selection process, it is important you realize that it does not compare individuals, but simply ranks personality traits. An ipsative personality questionnaire indicates the order of traits within a person.

Normative personality questionnaire traits
Normative personality questionnaires are better suited to selection assessments. The most important reason mentioned is that this type enables comparison between individuals, the key question in a selection process. They provide a comparison as to how someone scores with regard to the norm group, enabling them to lead to a more evidence-based reflection of the traits. A point of criticism is that in order to interpret the information correctly, insight is required into the response trends and social desirability.

Typology or trait?

I would like to add to this discussion that a preference for an ipsative or normative version can also depend on the nature of the test. A distinction can be made within the category of Ipsative questionnaires between questionnaires with a typology or scales. To a greater or lesser degree, a typology indicates if a person falls within a particular type. Examples of this can be found in Management roles or Team roles or questionnaires such as the MBTI. For example, the MBTI states that you are either an extravert or an introvert. There’s nothing in between. Scale questionnaires presuppose a normal distribution; in the case of extraversion for example you can score low, average or high. The ipsative versions of the Work-related Personality Questionnaire (WPV) and Career values are scale questionnaires. Even though the questions are ipsative – you must choose between two statements -they make use of scales in the reporting process.

Should you use a normative or an ipsative version during selection assessments?

You can use both! The normative version of the Work-related Personality Questionnaire has a selection norm group and has also been surveyed in a selection population. The information concerning response trends enables assessment of the way in which the questionnaire has been completed: self critically or in a socially desirable manner. The statements are aligned in terms of social desirability in the ipsative version of the Work-related Personality Questionnaire. Proponents of this type of questionnaire are of the opinion that the ipsative version provides a more reliable outcome than the normative, because it is more difficult to influence. We believe on the basis of our initial findings that it does not really matter whether you use an ipsative or normative version of the Work-related Personality Questionnaire during a selection process.

Should Career values be ipsative or normative?

Personally, I prefer the normative version of a Work-related Personality Questionnaire during a selection process. Having said that, I have a preference for the ipsative version of Career values during a selection assessment. The normative version of career values is too easy to manipulate. If a candidate wants to show that he is extremely motivated, then all answers come in high. And as far as selection assessments are concerned, it is more important to understand the candidate’s driving motives than to know the strength of the motivator in comparison with others.
In advisory roles, the normative version provides insight into the degree to which someone can be motivated by certain aspects. If the candidate scores low, then that would presuppose he or she does not experience all that much fun at work. If the candidate scores high, that can lead to selection dilemmas; everything is good. And that in turn can lead to careers based on luck and opportunism.

It’s your choice!

It is truly your choice! The Test-Toolkit offers you both alternatives for the most important questionnaires related to assessment, with the Work-related Personality Questionnaire for personality and the Career values for motives. Be guided by your own preference, even though you must remain familiar with the traits of both types.