What’s the Difference Between Aptitude and Achievement Tests?

In general terms, aptitude is defined as what a person can do (but hasn’t yet done), while achievement refers to what a person has already done. Aptitude tests are typically used in an effort to predict how well a person might perform in a school or employment situation. Achievement tests, on the other hand, are frequently used to determine what a person has generally learned prior to being tested. Aptitude tests tend to examine a broader range of knowledge and experiences than achievement tests, which usually only measure recent learning in specific subjects.

Similar in many ways to an intelligence test, an aptitude test is designed to gauge a person’s overall performance over a broad area of mental capabilities. Unlike intelligence tests however, aptitude tests often attempt to measure certain special abilities that a person may possess, such as verbal or numerical skills. Aptitude tests typically reveal what sort of tasks a person may be best able to perform regardless of any previous course of study in that area. It is generally believed that aptitude tests are able to provide a general profile of a person’s strengths and weaknesses, while also being an excellent indicator of future academic achievement. The aptitude test that is most widely used in the United States for college admissions is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or SAT Reasoning Test.

Common aptitude tests are:

Nursing Entrance Tests: PSB PNEE PAX RN, HESI, DET, NET
Armed Forces: ASVAB (which includes the AFQT)
College Entrance:  CUNY
High School Exams: SSAT CBEST HSPT ISEE FCAT COOP

See our post on Studying for an Aptitude Test.

In contrast to aptitude tests, achievement tests are principally used to measure the level of knowledge that a person has previously acquired. Achievement tests are usually confined to a specific subject or area of knowledge. Achievement tests are also called Content Tests.   These types of tests are most often used for the purpose of determining the appropriate grade-level for students in school. Achievement tests are usually administered in a classroom or group setting at regular intervals in order to determine which students need extra instruction. The most recognized standardized achievement test in the United States is the American College Testing (ACT) college admissions test, but there are many other High School Tests. Many researchers disagree on whether aptitude test scores can actually be improved through specific courses of study. Some studies suggest that a person’s learning abilities can be improved by teaching them specific types of learning strategies. These types of learning strategies are designed to promote the development of overall thinking approaches and their application to specific tasks.

Another difference between aptitude and achievement tests is the possibility of preparing for them. When preparing to take an achievement or content test, a person may only need a simple review of what has been previously learned in order to score well on the test. Due to the nature of an aptitude test however, there is really no need for a person to prepare ahead of time, since there is no material to study or review. Some aptitude and achievement tests may appear to be very similar to each other as a person reaches higher levels of education. This similarity is partly due to the fact that the knowledge that a person has already acquired is usually a reliable predictor of their success at more advanced levels.



About the Author

Brian has a BA in Economics, and an MA in Psychology. He lives in British Columbia, Canada. He has traveled widely and has written extensively on education, testing and tests.

Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Great Post. This helped my college assignment. Thnaks Alot

  2. student says:

    I just want to ask your source for this article and your full name so that I can acknowledge you for my cited literature if I can include this one. Thank You!

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