What Is a Situational Judgment Test?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2018
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A situational judgment test presents a participant with a series of scenarios and responses, asking the test-taker to rank them by effectiveness. This psychological testing can provide information about how people might respond to hypothetical events on the job, which may offer insight into suitability for a job role, ability to work on a given team, or fitness for work. The number of questions on the test can vary and people may be presented with four to seven scenarios in average tests.

Employers and other administrators custom-design this test to measure specific traits, rather than using a generic psychological test designed to measure general personality characteristics. The goal is to find out how the test-taker might respond to scenarios that could realistically come up in the workplace. In some tests, people are simply asked to pick which response they would likely select, while in others, they must rank the responses from most to least effective.

This testing can have some advantages over other kinds of psychological assessments because it tends to be less prone to bias. One drawback of using a situational judgment test is that the answer is often obvious, so the test may be a better measure of how well the test-taker can read cues than actual fitness for work. Some tests are designed to address this with vague or complex scenarios and responses that force people to think critically.


Use of the situational judgment test in employment applications and similar settings dates to the 1940s, when it was popular with psychologists working for the US Army. They were interested in assessing fitness for duty and specific job roles to make sure soldiers were assigned appropriately. Using a situational judgment test, they could identify strengths and weaknesses of recruits to determine which roles they were best suited for, ensuring that they were placed correctly. Private industry picked up the testing as well, using it as a measure to test applicants and incoming personnel.

People taking a situational judgment test can use a variety of tricks to answer it effectively and appropriately. Sometimes the solution may be obvious; in a ranking test, for example, one solution often stands out as particularly ineffective while another is clearly the best choice. Test-takers should be aware that they may not be asked to justify or explain their answers, as this testing is designed for mass administration, so they should think carefully before going with intuition.



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