perceptual aptitude

Vocational Aptitude Testing

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Over the past month, my colleague Tabitha Monahan and I have been dedicating our blog entries to vocational assessment as a critical tool for helping students learn about employment and set career goals for themselves. Previous blogs have provided an overview of vocational assessment as well as an in depth look at career interest inventories and real-life experiences, such as informational interviews and job shadows. Many of these tools provide opportunities for students to learn more about the world of work and types of jobs that match with their interests and things that they know they like. Today, I am going to share information about a different type of assessment, vocational aptitude testing.

It is not uncommon for middle and high school students to have job aspirations that do not fully align with their physical and cognitive strengths or even their general preferences for daily work (e.g., being seated, indoors, casually dressed, etc.). When you have had very little exposure to employment and you spend most of your time in a structured educational environment, it is hard to picture yourself as a worker and fully appreciate the skills, knowledge, education, abilities, and experience needed for a particular job. Vocational aptitude testing is formal testing of a set of abilities known to impact an individual’s potential for success and satisfaction in a variety of occupations.

Similar to intelligence or cognitive assessment tools, vocational aptitude tests vary in format, activities, and the defined abilities or factors that are tested. For instance, at NESCA three of the most common vocational aptitude tests we use are quite different from one another—an online computer-based assessment tool that is designed for self-administration, a paper-based assessment tool that is formally administered in an office or classroom with both a test booklet and scantron answer sheets, and a functional hands-on set of performance activities that simulate actual work activities (e.g., sorting mail by zip code, alphabetizing post cards, assembling pipes, tightening screws, etc.). However, most vocational aptitude tests include tests designed to evaluate the following aptitude factors (i.e., abilities):

Verbal Aptitude – The ability to understand and use words effectively, to comprehend verbal concepts and language, and to express ideas clearly in words. People who score highly generally do well in school, particularly in subjects where verbal concepts are important.

Numerical Aptitude – The ability to do arithmetic and other numerical computations quickly and accurately. People who score highly on this aptitude may do well in such school subjects as math and physics.

Spatial Aptitude – The ability to visualize two-dimensional objects in three-dimensional space, and to mentally manipulate objects through different spatial orientations. People who get high scores have the aptitude to perform well in school subjects and work involving drafting, art, architecture, clothes designing, and so on.

Perceptual Aptitude – The ability to compare and discriminate words, numbers, symbols, or other graphic material to see if slight differences exist between them. People who score highly in this area should do well in proofreading, copyediting, and nonverbal tasks that require attention to detail and rapid visual discriminations.

Manual Dexterity – The ability to coordinate eye and hand movements and perform manual tasks rapidly and accurately. High scores indicate the ability to manipulate tools and objects with speed and precision.

General Ability – The ability to learn and achieve in training or academic situations. People who get high scores “catch on” quickly in new situations, and are proficient in making judgments and in grasping underlying principles and solving problems. (This is often computed through summing or averaging an individual’s verbal and numerical aptitudes.)

Definitions provided by/taken from the Occupational Aptitude Survey and Interest Schedule Aptitude Survey (OASIS-3: AS) Examiner’s Manual.

If a student has participated in other kinds of standardized testing over time, especially intelligence testing and occupational therapy testing, it is likely that quite a bit of information is already known regarding the students’ aptitudes for employment. However, there are many vocational aptitude tests that are bundled with interest inventory tests, enabling a quick and clear comparison of the student’s vocational aptitudes and interests. For example, the OASIS-3 Aptitude Survey mentioned above is part of a testing kit that includes the OASIS-3 Interest Schedule and an Interpretation Workbook for easily comparing jobs within a student’s interest areas with their current career abilities.

Career aptitude testing can give a student a clear sense of their relative strengths and areas of challenge as well as a sense of how their current abilities compare with the abilities required for jobs of interest. However, it is important to caution that career aptitude testing does not predict the kind of work that a student should do. Results of career aptitude testing may differ considerably based on many factors, including new learning and work experiences. Results of testing should change as a student gains education and work exposure and can certainly be used to help us understand what skills might need remediation for a student to have a better chance of participating in certain kinds of employment.

One final thought regarding career aptitude testing is that while it can sometimes be an option to administer standardized testing with accommodations, I would encourage only providing accommodations that would reasonably be provided on a work site. For example, offering a student who has comprehension or processing speed difficulties the opportunity to take aptitude testing with unlimited time may not help the student to get a sense of how their aptitudes truly match up with the demands of a particular job. The reality is that most employers are not able to give employees unlimited time to do their jobs. Using text-to-speech during computer-based administration of a test may be far more relevant as long as test results are interpreted with the need for this accommodation in mind.

To read more about vocational assessment, check out the following blog entries:

For more information about vocation assessment and transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.


About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.