The Great Debate; Ipsative vs. Normative

The Prevue Personality Assessment is a normative test. Users of Prevue Assessments often ask what is the difference between ipsative and normative tests?

First, the form of questions posed in these two types of assessments are usually quite distinct. The questions in the ipsative test ask the test taker to choose between one of two extremes while the normative test gives the test taker the option of an in-between or middle response between the two extremes. The ipsative test, therefore, forces the test taker to choose between being, for example, either extremely introverted or extroverted, when in fact the vast majority of us are somewhere in between.

The second and more important difference is well explained in a recently published definition in the British Psychological Society’s ‘Assessment & Development Matters’: “Ipsative tests are tests which compare the balance of characteristics within a given individual. An ipsative test might identify someone’s strongest personality characteristic, for example, and also show which characteristics they are weakest in. But it wouldn’t say anything about how that person stacks up against someone else on those characteristics.” In short the ipsative test does not compare individuals to a “norm” or other standard for comparison that is critical for screening, selection and promotion decisions.

The best argument for using ipsative tests is made in the BPS definition noted above when it goes on to say; “So ipsative tests are useful for giving tailored advice, for example, in vocational guidance, but not for comparing people. For that, you need normative tests, where the measures are standardized against population norms and can, therefore, give you an idea of how people, or groups of people, measure up against one another.”

On the other hand, the following quote from the famous psychometrician, Dr. Paul Kline, should carry the day in comparing these two types of personality assessments:

“It is clear that normative tests are far superior to ipsative tests as precise measures of psychological characteristics. Ipsative scores are only suitable as a basis of discussion. Since, however, it is perfectly possible to use normative tests as a basis for discussion and have, in addition, scores suitable for statistical analysis, there seems no reason to use ipsatively scored tests and they are not recommended.”


1. BPS Assessment & Development Matters Vol. 7 No. 4 Winter 2015
2. Handbook of Psychological Testing, Dr. Paul Kline, 1993