What Is a Competency Test?

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  • Written By: J. Airman
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2014
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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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