LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER is the provisional title of a book written by Leslie Pratch, a clinical psychologist. In it, she describes how she tries to identify the psychological qualities associated with effective business leadership. She discusses unstructured, semi-structured, and structured methods of psychological assessment in the excerpt below.
“In psychological assessment there is a frame of reference of tests that are highly structured, semi-structured, and unstructured. This dimension refers to the degree to which a test does or does not have a high degree of specificity in the tasks involved.
“Examples of structured tests include personality inventories (true means this statement describes me; false, this statement does not describe me) or the Graduate Management Aptitude Test. Tasks are so highly defined that the respondent is fully aware of what is expected of her—to find the standard answer rather than the one reflecting personal choice. Because the task requires that the individual respond with a prescribed answer, her responses provide little information about her uniqueness as a person.
“Indeed, on structured tasks, the more unique the respondent’s answers, the stronger the inference that an internal psychological process has become so powerful it has pervaded the situation from which the respondent should be able to exclude it. In such situations, straightforward, objective questions do not bring forth straightforward, objective answers. Instead, answers are so colored by the invading personalized material that they spoil the appropriateness of the response and reflect a diminished capacity for coping with everyday situations.
“In contrast, with unstructured tests, the respondent has minimal information regarding the demands of the task. That means that the respondent must turn to his or her own personal resources to formulate what the task involves and how to cope with it.
“Reviewing a person’s responses to structured, semi-structured, and unstructured tests makes possible comparative inferences on all three levels of personality, to assess whether the person has the capacity to cope effectively with all three types of demands. If the respondent is not successful on all three, then I note whether there is difficulty only in the more personal, unstructured situation, whether the difficulty is more pervasive and includes difficulty at the semi-structured level, or whether the difficulties permeate all aspects of functioning.
“By mapping this continuum of structured to semi-structured to unstructured situations onto life situations, one can understand the degree to which an individual is dependent on external guidance and direction for effective coping. My definition of the effective and emotionally healthy person is based on the concept of the capacity to cope with most of life’s situations, ranging from those that permit little initiative to those that require a great deal of initiative. A battery of tests, of the type just described, provides a basis for judging the individual’s ability to match that definition. From this description, one might expect that more effective coping on unstructured psychological tests would differentiate effective from ineffective leaders, and that active coping across the three levels assessed would characterize most effective leaders.”