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Physical Ability Tests

Physical ability tests typically ask individuals to perform job-related tasks requiring manual labor or physical skill. These tasks measure physical abilities such as strength, muscular flexibility, and stamina. Examples of physical ability tests include:

  • Muscular Tension Tests - Tasks requiring pushing, pulling, lifting
  • Muscular Power Tests - Tasks requiring the individual to overcome some initial resistance (e.g., loosening a nut on a bolt)
  • Muscular Endurance Tests - Tasks involving repetitions of tool use (e.g., removing objects from belts)
  • Cardiovascular Endurance Tests - Tasks assessing aerobic capacity (e.g., climbing stairs)
  • Flexibility Tests - Tasks where bending, twisting, stretching or reaching of a body segment occurs (e.g., installing lighting fixtures)
  • Balance Tests - Tasks in which stability of body position is difficult to maintain (e.g., standing on rungs of a ladder)

While some physical ability tests may require electronically monitored machines, equipment needs can often be kept simple. For example, stamina can be measured with a treadmill and an electrocardiograph, or with a simple set of steps. However, a possible drawback of using simpler methods is less precise measurement.

Many factors must be taken into consideration when using physical ability tests. First, employment selection based on physical abilities can be litigious. Legal challenges have arisen over the years because physical ability tests, especially those involving strength and endurance, tend to screen out a disproportionate number of women and some ethnic minorities. Therefore, it is crucial to have validity evidence justifying the job-relatedness of physical ability measures. Second, physical ability tests involving the monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, or other physiological factors are considered medical exams under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Administering medical exams to job applicants prior to making a job offer is expressly prohibited. Finally, there is the concern of candidates injuring themselves while performing a physical ability test (e.g., a test involving heavy lifting may result in a back injury or aggravate an existing medical condition).


(See Section VI for a summary of each article)

Arvey, R. D., Maxwell, S. E., & Salas, E. (1992). Development of physical ability tests for police officers: A construct validation approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77,996-1009.

Arvey, R. D., Nutting, S. M., & Landon, T. E. (1992). Validation strategies for physical ability testing in police and fire settings. Public Personnel Management, 21, 301-312.

Campbell, W. J., & Fox, H. R. (2002). Testing individuals with disabilities in the employment context: An overview of issues and practices. In R. B. Ekstrom & D. K. Smith (Eds.) Assessing Individuals with Disabilities in Educational, Employment, and Counseling Settings (1st ed, p. 198). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Campion, M. A. (1983). Personnel selection for physically demanding jobs: Review and recommendations. Personnel Psychology, 36, 527-550.

Hogan, J. (1991). The structure of physical performance in occupational tasks. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 495-507.

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