Frequently Asked Questions
MyFutureChoice Programmes: The Facts
What do MyFutureChoice Programmes contain?
Depending on the programme, a range of services are provided to students and staff. The core of all the programmes is an interest questionnaire with an associated feedback report which matches students’ interests with possible further education or career options. Aptitude testing and an interviewing service are offered as options in some of the programmes. All the programmes also come with a range of student and staff support materials, information resources and study aids, though these vary from programme to programme.
What is the aim of the MyFutureChoice Programmes?
The COA programmes are designed to help students to make better, more informed decisions about their future education and career choices. One of the most important features of the programmes is that they attempt to widen Students’ horizons by identifying multiple options and development routes that they might like to pursue and telling them what pursuing these options would involve, for example by identifying the academic subjects most likely to support their choices. The central concept is that students will do well in their future choices if they have the right mix of abilities, motivation and understanding. The programmes avoid pigeon-holing students or suggesting that there is only one career route that will suit them, instead making it clear that many, sometimes quite different, options are open to them.
How do the Programmes achieve their aim?
The programmes use a combination of guidance and support materials, self-assessments, independent assessments and objective assessments to provide information on students’ interests, abilities, motivations, attitudes and values. The assessments are provided through a mix of questionnaires, tests, qualifications, interviews and teacher assessments. All the available sources of information are considered when providing advice. For example, if a student expresses a strong interest in pursuing a particular career, evidence concerning their willingness to undertake relevant activities, their academic record so far, aptitude test scores and teacher assessments is evaluated to see to what extent these support their interest.
The question is sometimes asked whether the Programmes use personality assessment. The answer is NO. Nor do they involve assessments of such personal characteristics as learning or thinking styles. The focus of the programmes is on identifying educational and career choices which may suit the student. They do not attempt to describe their psychological make-up. There are various reasons for this but the main ones are that:
- Students are still developing and maturing when they do the programmes. Although some aspects of personality may be fairly stable over time, others change with experience and learning;
- Different personality types can be equally successful in the same careers and, indeed, are needed in those careers;
- People can adapt their behaviour to cope with different personality types and styles of thinking and learning if they are sufficiently motivated
What can and what can’t the Programmes tell you?
The Programmes provide three main sorts of information. Firstly, they provide students with a rank ordering of their areas of interest, based on their responses to the interest questionnaires. Secondly, they provide information on whether their abilities, values and performance so far support their choice of interests to pursue. In other words, they assess how realistic students are being and identify potential blockers to their progress. For example, a student may state a high level of interest in studying law but if they also say that they dislike reading large amounts of material, are unhappy about speaking in public and have poor scores on the verbal ability measures in the MyAptitude tests, they will be advised that studying law may not suit them. However, note that studying will not be ruled out, only that the student will need to think hard about whether they are sufficiently motivated to put in the time and effort to overcome these potential difficulties.
An important point to note is that the Programme assessments only look forward to students’ next academic choices. There is good evidence that the Programmes predict students’ choice of subjects to study at the next educational level and examination performance in those subjects. There is also evidence that the Programmes can predict outcomes, such as degree performance, further into the future. However, the Programmes do not attempt, nor pretend, to predict career success throughout the whole of a student’s life. Indeed, it is not clear whether this can be done with any degree of accuracy. Although areas of interest and measures of ability tend to remain fairly stable over time, specific interests and abilities can change markedly through experiences and exposure to new ideas and possibilities and this decreases the ability of the Programmes to predict performance in the long term.
How Accurate are the Programmes’ assessments?
Versions of the MyFutureChoice assessments have been in existence for over twenty years. Throughout that time, they have been subjected to rigorous quality control. All the assessments have been checked at regular intervals to make sure that the questionnaires and tests still provide valuable and technically sound information. Research exercises have been carried out every few years to ensure that the instruments are still valid and reliable and that the individual questions that make up the instruments are still fit for purpose. Some of these exercises have been undertaken internally but many have been undertaken by independent researchers. Over the years, many changes have been made to the content of the instruments as a result of these exercises. For example, the wording of many questions in the interest questionnaires has been regularly updated to make them consistent with current practice and terminology.
All of the evidence assembled suggests that the tests and questionnaires used in the Programmes are both reliable and valid (further information on the technical quality of the assessment instruments can be provided on request to MyFutureChoice). However, this does not mean that the instruments are perfect predictors of future study or career outcomes. For one thing, it is not possible to assess everything. The Programmes were designed initially for use in schools and the constraints in school timetables place constraints on the time that can be spent on the Programmes. Choices had to be made about what assessments would be most valuable. This is why some sorts of ability test are not included in the aptitude tests. For example, there is no test of mechanical reasoning although this is often found in other test batteries. This is because scores on mechanical reasoning tests are so highly correlated with performance in certain academic subjects (e.g. physics and technical subjects) that they provide little extra value.
There are three concerns which are occasionally raised concerning the accuracy of the MyAptitude tests which can be addressed as follows:
- Why do scores on the MyAptitude tests sometimes differ from scores on other apparently similar tests? There are a number of personal reasons why an individual may perform better on one occasion than another. These include motivation to perform well, the testing conditions, personal wellbeing and health and practice effects. In addition, it cannot be assumed that two tests with similar names actually measure the same abilities or measure them in the same way. For example, you may have two verbal tests but one measures verbal comprehension while the other measures ability to reason using verbal analogies. Although performance on two tests of this sort are likely to be highly correlated, it is perfectly possible for someone to be good at one and poor at the other.
- Why do scores on the MyAptitude tests sometimes differ from school assessment and examination results? The reasons outlined above also hold here but in addition, examination results are heavily influenced by motivation and interest, quality of teaching and relationships with teachers. Examinations, therefore, largely measure quality of learning whereas most of the aptitude tests are concerned with “raw” ability and or only partly affected by educational experiences.
- Have the tests been approved by a regulatory body such as the British Psychological Society? Unfortunately, there is no body in the UK which approves tests for use in educational or occupational settings. The British Psychological Society do, however, have a process for registering and reviewing tests. The MyFutureChoice questionnaires have been registered with the British Psychological Society and the independent reviews of their technical characteristics can be found on their website.
How should you interpret and use the Aptitude Test scores?
Almost everyone who does an aptitude test wants to get a good score and is disappointed if they get a low score. For this reason, it is important to understand what the information provided on MyAptitude test scores mean. These scores are presented in the Programme reports as percentiles. What percentiles tell you is how well you have performed compared to other people taking the tests. So, for example, if you score on the 70th percentile, it means that you have scored better that 70% of other test takers but 30% have scored better than you.
There are four key things that you need to know:
- You need to be aware that you are being compared with similar people. To ensure this, different norms are developed on very large samples (of 20,000 or more students) for a range of age and ability groups and you are compared with an appropriate age and ability group. It is important to remember that the tests were developed for use with students expected to be able to take at least two A-levels, but different norms are used for different age groups and also for different populations. For example, different norms are used for Irish students and British students.
- The second is that you must be careful not to over-interpret your results. There is a margin of error on all test scores. For some tests the difference between being, say, on the 70th percentile and being on the 60th percentile may be within the margin of error. This is why scores on the Cambridge Profile are shown as a point in a “lozenge”. The “lozenge” gives an indication of the band in which the true score is likely to sit.
- Furthermore, being on a low percentile does not mean you are poor at that test. It only means that you are not as good as a group of other students who are expecting to do at least two A-levels or their equivalents. By comparison to the general population you may be a good scorer but you have to remember that in your further education you will be competing with other A-level students.
- People do not get high scores on ability tests by chance. A good score can be treated as sound evidence that someone possesses the ability the test is measuring. Low scores can occur for all sorts of reasons not related to ability. The person taking the test may have been tired, ill, unmotivated, unclear about what the test required, and so on. So, low scores are not as reliable and meaningful as high scores.
What allowances are made for Disabilities and Health Issues?
A regular, though infrequent, concern expressed by parents, teachers and careers counsellors is how student disabilities are addressed in MyFutureChoice Programmes. In particular, the question often arises of whether allowances should be made for disabled students sitting the MyAptitude tests. It is common practice in school examinations and in recruitment and selection testing However, it is not normal practice in MyFutureChoice programmes to make such allowances although COA is happy to accommodate students with disabilities where the circumstances indicate this would be advisable. For example, students with visual impairments are allowed to use visual aids while sitting the tests and there have been a number of occasions when students have been allowed to take the tests twice, once under normal timed conditions and once untimed.
There are a number of reasons why MyFutureChoice prefers to make no time allowances for registered disabled students:
- The Programmes are intended for use with students who are considered capable of sitting and passing at least two A-levels. In that sense, nearly all participants in the programmes have already shown that they can cope with tests and examinations if appropriate accommodations are made.
- MyFutureChoice has conducted extensive research on this issue. Our results indicate that the majority of registered disabled students do as well on the tests as other students as long as appropriate accommodations are made. Allowing extra time would, therefore, distort the results for such students.
Dyslexic students are an exception ton this general finding. Some large and significant effects have been found on some of the tests, e.g. verbal reasoning, spelling and arithmetic. Nonetheless, MyFutureChoice prefer not to make time allowances for dyslexic students. The reason is that the MyAptitude tests are not used for `high stakes` testing where the outcome has significant, direct consequences for your future and where you can pass or fail or where you can be accepted or rejected on the basis of your score. The purpose of the tests is to help students make realistic decisions about what path to pursue in their future educational and occupational careers. In these competitive worlds, it is important for students to recognise if they have weaknesses which may impact on their ability to compete or to be successful and to be honest about them. Of course, test scores are only part of the story. If students are sufficiently motivated or have developed effective ways of coping with their weaknesses they can still be very successful but they need to be aware that they may have to work harder than most to achieve their goals. In fact, most dyslexic students are very realistic about their abilities. The academic and career choices they make are often different from other students and reflect this awareness.
Very occasionally we receive a query concerning colour blindness and its effects on the MyAptitude tests. In fact, the tests were deliberately designed using colours which can be readily distinguished by students with the most common forms of colour blindness. However, there are some very rare conditions (e.g. extreme deuteranopia) where a few questions in the spatial reasoning tests can be affected. Career counsellors and interviewers will be informed where this is known to be the case and will take it into account when giving advice.
Confidentiality and Data Protection
MyFutureChoice recognise the confidential nature of the information which is collected and reported in its Programmes and have a clear policy on who can have access to the information and under what circumstances. The key principles followed are:
- The primary owner of the information is the individual student.
- It is the person and/or organisation that paid for and/or arranged for a MyFutureChoice programme to be run who are primarily responsible for ensuring the confidentiality of a student’s personal information.
With this in mind, MyFutureChoice advise that:
- A student’s information will only be passed to another person or organisation if the student has agreed to this happening.
- A student’s information can only be passed to the following legitimate types of recipient:
- Staff at MyFutureChoice who are responsible for data processing
- A parent or guardian
- A careers teacher or similar responsible person or persons within the student’s school.
- A trained MyFutureChoice careers guidance interviewer
- Students will be informed of the purpose of a MyFutureChoice programme before taking part in it and who are regarded as legitimate recipients of their information.
- By agreeing to take part in a MyFutureChoice programme, a student will be deemed to have agreed that MyFutureChoice can process their data.
- Individual students will be given access to all the personal data collected about them as part of the programme and which is included in MyFutureChoice’s reports.
- For reasons of copyright and the need to preserve the security of the questionnaires and tests, students will not be given access to individual questions, their responses to individual questions or to the scoring routines used.
- Students have the right to refuse legitimate recipients’ access to their information.
In their role as data processors, MyFutureChoice ensure that they meet all these requirements.