Good A level results equals good employee….or not?

It’s that time of year again. Anxious teenagers across the country will have been collecting their A level results with the usual mix of trepidation and excitement. They’re right to be apprehensive – the outcome will determine their path for at least the next three or four crucial years, with many employers still using A level grades as key criteria when selecting applicants into ‘high-volume’ roles, e.g. graduate recruitment schemes. But at Work Psychology Group (WPG), we think that there may be better ways to find out if someone is really going to be successful in their role.

With pupils from independent secondary schools more likely to achieve better A level results than their state school colleagues, it’s increasingly clear that using A levels as selection criteria is increasingly incompatible with social mobility. It’s a double whammy, too, as pupils from higher socio-economic backgrounds do well in online ability tests (e.g. verbal and numerical reasoning) that are also used by potential employers.

Here at WPG, we remain committed to finding new ways to identify who will perform well in a role, in a manner that stands up to scientific scrutiny without disadvantaging those from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds. With that in mind, we developed a Situational Judgement Test (SJT) for a leading UK bank. SJTs are a type of psychological test that present the candidate with realistic but hypothetical dilemma scenarios, asking them to identify the most appropriate response or rank the options in the order they feel is most appropriate. SJTs determine how a candidate is likely to behave in certain situations. Unlike more traditional psychometric tests, our approach to SJTs is to design them as a bespoke tool, tailor-made to suit the requirements of the individual role.

Not only did our SJT identify which candidates were likely to go on to score well during a face-to-face interview but, unlike reasoning tests and A level grades, it was a level playing field as far as candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds were concerned. This was a huge success for the bank because it diversified the graduate intake while remaining fair and robust.

WPG Senior Consultant Stuart Martin-Jay said: “A levels undoubtedly demonstrate a commitment to learning and a demonstration of achievement in context and they are likely to continue to be a part of the selection process for many organisations of all sizes in the future.  But our research shows that the inclusion of SJTs provides a more reliable, more relevant and fairer indicator of who will make a good employee.”

So, good luck to all those Year 13s who are receiving today’s results. Well done if you achieve what’s required to progress to the next stage of your education or career. If you didn’t quite get what you’d hoped for, please bear in mind that A levels are just one part of the mix and that there are many options to help you achieve your ambitions in the way that suits you best.