WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 15, 2015) -- The Army continues to use the Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System, or TAPAS - a test first implemented in 2009 to measure attitudes and behaviors of civilians while also helping to determine whether they are a good fit for life in the Army.

Now, a version of that test is being evaluated for use to determine if current Soldiers will be a good fit for certain special-duty assignments, and there is a possibility it could someday be used for talent-management Army-wide, said Dr. Heather Wolters, a senior research psychologist at the Personnel Assessment Research Unit, U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Army G-1 on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Wolters spoke about these developments at the Pentagon during the DOD Lab Day there, May 14.

TAPAS "unlocks motivational aspects of Soldiers' performance, like whether or not they're a good fit for Army life, if they are an attrition risk, if they have leadership potential, resilience, team orientation, ingenuity, selflessness, commitment to serve, and even how well they're likely to perform on an Army physical fitness test," she said. "When you think about physical fitness, it's not just about what your body can do, it's what you are willing to do."

Since 2009, TAPAS has augmented the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB test, given at military entrance processing stations, or MEPS, throughout the United States for initial entry recruits. The Army, Air Force, and Navy have conducted validation research on TAPAS and the Marine Corps plans to start validation soon, Wolters said.

While the ASVAB has been a good measure of cognitive ability and trainability since the early 1970s when its use became widespread, TAPAS can predict other important elements of Soldier performance, she said.

The unique thing about this personality test and the reason it is such a good predictor of success is because of the way it is designed. It is "fake resistant. It's good for high-stakes testing in that when Soldiers are trying to present themselves in a certain way, this test is resistant to that," she said.

"You can get a better representation of a person's personality as opposed to just what they want to show you about themselves," she said. In other words, "you can get a more valid predictor of their actual performance because of the way the test is designed."

Wolters then explained the design.

TAPAS is a forced-choice type test, she said. So a person being tested sees two statement choices and they are asked which statement is most like them. Those statements are "matched in terms of their intensity and social desirability, so it's difficult to tell which answer is more likely to make the applicant a better candidate."

So, maybe you see that both statements seem most like you or neither are like you, but you have to choose one of them, she said, meaning it is not obvious which one response indicates you better suited for Army life. The test itself continuously adapts based on the response to previous questions. In other words, the answer given to one question influences what the next question will be throughout the 120 statements. At the end of the test, it will have captured "a wealth of information about your personality on 15 or so dimensions."

The test is based on six years of validation research and 15 years' worth of personality research, she said.

For folks, who score in the lowest category on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, a component of the ASVAB, they are required to take the TAPAS, and if they score below the 10th percentile on TAPAS, they are not allowed to enlist, she said. Similarly, those who are not high school diploma graduates or equivalent, must score above the 30th percentile on TAPAS or they are not allowed to enlist.

But regardless, everyone who comes through the MEPS takes TAPAS, "so we've got a bank of information on each Soldier," Wolters said. "And, we follow them through their careers and measure their test scores against other outcomes of interest, for example, attrition, disciplinary problems, how well their score on the APFT and their own self-reported adjustment, in addition to their supervisors' ratings of their performance.

Human Resources Command provides the Army with some of the records from its vast database collection. The Army also collaborates with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, she said.

Examining the relationship between TAPAS scores and valued Army outcomes, could enable the Army to get a much clearer picture of where it is placing Soldiers and how well they are doing where they are placed.

Also, over time, the test is under continual refinement. The core attributes being measured remain the same so that consistent data comparisons can be made over time. The refinements might be using the test data to look for certain new personality aspects the Army is interested in studying. And it is being used to predict additional outcomes.

FUTURE TAPAS USES

"We're also beginning the research on how TAPAS can be used to inform the applicant when making assignment decisions," Wolters said.

"When we talk to small-unit leaders and tell them what this test can predict, they start talking about Soldiers in their formation, who just didn't have the right stuff to be good Soldiers," she said. "Those problem Soldiers take up 80 percent of their time and we tell them that a test like this, although it's not a perfect prediction, it can predict some of those things that flag a person, who might become a problem Soldier, before they ever enter the Army."

Wolters said her colleagues are doing research with recruiters and drill sergeants, by having them take a version of the TAPAS, and then following them for a period of time to see how well it predicts outcomes for those special assignments.

"One of the best predictors of job performance is past performance in similar jobs," she said. "But in some of these special-duty assignments, you don't know if someone is going to be good at this job just because he or she has been good at other Army jobs in the past."

Private industry has taken notice of TAPAS and is using the same methodology and technology to build their own customized personality testing, she said.