Psychometric Testing: The difference between ipsative and normative tests

Read relevant LinkedIn groups or a basic book on people at work and you will come across the term ipsative, often compared with normative. These two approaches seem as incompatible as capitalism and communism. And their respective ‘fans’ don’t seem to like each other much either.

There’s too much technicality and hot air in all this.


Ipsative and normative describe what you’re measuring and how; they’re simply different sorts of human tape measure. Normative tests compare an individual’s performance with other people.

If Joe takes the normative ‘Acme Test of Accountancy Skills’ the results might say he scored better than 50% of a comparison group whether that’s successful accountants or Premier League football players. Therefore, his result will be different (and more or less useful) depending on whom you compare him with.

Ipsative tests compare Joe with himself. The test forces him to choose what he prefers or does better out of the alternatives offered. So an ipsative test of accountancy skills might ask Joe if he preferred finding ways of avoiding tax or presenting accurate accounts. You could also compare Joe’s preferences or strengths now with those two years ago. We use ipsative assessment in real life all the time. For instance, a menu is an ipsative test: Which starter do you prefer?

Normative tests compare us with other people: ipsative tests compare us with ourselves. These two approaches allow you to do different things.

Where does the McQuaig Psychometric System fit in all this?

The McQuaig Job Survey® allows stakeholders to define what sort of behavioural profile they need for a job while The McQuaig Word Survey® is an ipsative assessment of behaviour and temperament that you can compare with that The McQuaig Job Survey® definition. This combination is suitable for both recruitment and development.


Ian FlorenceAbout the Author: Ian Florance is Managing Director of OnlyConnect Ltd and has worked in psychometric testing for 30 years. Ian also serves on the Board of The Holst Group.