Army Alpha Testing


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The first mental tests designed to be used for mass, group testing were developed by psychologists for the U.S. Army in 1917-1918. The group tests were modeled after intelligence tests designed for individual use in one-on-one assessment. In developing the mental tests, the psychologists subscribed to the position that one could be quite intelligent, but illiterate or not proficient in the English language. Based on this reasoning, two major tests were developed, the Army Alpha for literate groups, and the Army Beta for illiterates, low literates or non-English speaking (Yerkes, 1921). Both tests were based on the theoretical position that intelligence was an inherited trait, and the assumption was made that native intelligence was being assessed. Each test was made- up of a number of subtests (Figure 4), the contents of which differed depending on whether the test was for literates or illiterates, low literates or non- English speakers.
Test 1: Following Oral Directions, involves auding and comprehending simple or complex oral language directions and looking at and marking in the appropriate places on the answer sheet.

Test 2: Arithmetical Problems, requires both the ability to read and comprehend the stated problem and the knowledge of arithmetic to perform the computations called for.

Test3: Practical Judgment, clearly requires reading and comprehending language. Additionally, however, it requires knowledge of culturally, normative expectations to make the "correct" choice.
Test 4: Synonyms-Antonyms, requires specific vocabulary knowledge, in addition to the knowledge of "same" and "opposite."
Test 5: Disarranged Sentences, requires semantic knowledge about flies as well as grammatical knowledge to rearrange the sentences, and information has to be held in working memory while rearranging the sentences.
Test 6: Number Series Completion, emphasizes reasoning with number knowledge in working memory.
Test 7: Analogies, clearly emphasizes culturally determined, semantic knowledge retrieval from the long term memory knowledge base, and also information processing in working memory to detect similarities among the different knowledge domains addressed by the analogies.
Test 8: Information is heavily loaded with cultural knowledge requirements.
Based on a person's total Alpha score he was assigned a letter grade of A (superior intelligence), B. C+, C (average intelligence), C-, D, or D- (inferior intelligence). The letter grade became the person's mental category, and was taken as a general indicator of the person's native intelligence. This position was held even though there was a clear relationship of Alpha scores to years of schooling, in which much of the special knowledge, vocabulary and cultural knowledge would have been developed.

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Correlations of subtest scores with education were found in one special study to range from .51 for Test 3 (Practical Judgment) and years of schooling to .68 for Test 4 and years of schooling, when low literates and non-English speaking were excluded. With low literates included (but not non-English speaking), these correlations ranged from .60 for Test 7 (Analogies) to .74 for Test 2 (Arithmetic) and years of schooling (Yerkes, 1921, p. 781, Table 326). Generally, the correlations of Alpha total test scores with education ranged from .65 if the low literates and non-English speaking were excluded to .75 when the latter were included (Yerkes, 1921, pp. 779-780).
In determining who should take the Beta test, decisions were made frequently in terms of the number of years of education reported. Generally, those with fewer than four, five, or six years of education were sent to Beta testing. Additionally, men who were non-English speakers, or very poor in speaking English were sent for Beta testing. In some cases, men who tried the Alpha tests but were subsequently judged to be poor readers were readministered the Beta tests. The procedures were not uniform across the testing locations.
there are two main aspects to literacy. On the one hand, literacy involves the use of graphics technology to produce a second signaling system for speech. That is, the written language is a graphical representation of the spoken language to a large degree.
However, the second major aspect of literacy is the use of the elements of graphics technology - light, space, and permanence - to produce graphic devices to be used in information processing for problem solving, reasoning, and communicating. In the subtests of the Beta test, it is clear that literacy as the use of graphics technology for problem solving and reasoning is included in every subtest.
Test 1: Maze, requires looking at the graphically represented maze while reasoning about the path to be taken.
Test 2: Cube Analysis, requires counting cubes in the graphic representation and this combines the use of graphics information with knowledge of the language of arithmetic for counting
Test 3: X-O Series, requires reading graphic displays in left to right sequences while reasoning in working memory.
Test 4: Digit Symbol, requires scanning the upper number and graphic symbols, holding them in working memory while scanning the lower numbers and then producing the appropriate mark to match the graphic symbol to the number.
Test 5: Number Checking, is similar to Test 4 in requiring scanning and matching of graphic symbols, this time in numeric forms.
Test 6: Picture Completion, clearly involves the scanning of graphic displays and the knowledge of the depicted objects to complete the picture.
Test 7: Geometrical Construction, involves studying in working memory the graphics information on the left and mentally rearranging it to construct the figure on the right.
Inter-correlations among the Beta subtests ranged from a low of .41 for subtests 1 (Maze) and 5 (Number Checking) to a high of .75 for subtests 5 (Number Checking) and 4 (Digit Symbol). Perhaps the relatively high correlation of .75 for subtests 4 and 5 reflects the fact that both make extensive use of number reading (Yerkes, 1921, p. 155, Table 634).
The intercorrelations among the Alpha and Beta subtests that were obtained for the sample of men who first took the Alpha and then were referred for Beta testing ranged from a low of .36 for Beta test 2 (Cube Analysis) with Alpha test 3 (Practical Judgment) to a high of .68 for Beta test 4 (Digit Symbol) with Alpha test 2 (Arithmetical Problems) (Yerkes, 1921, p. 634, Table 155). These are quite a bit lower than the correlations in the range of .59 to .86 for intercorrelations among the Alpha tests given above.
The correlation of Beta total scores with schooling ranged from .45 for a sample of over 11,000 native born men with education levels ranging from none to college, to .67 for a sample of 653 native-loom draftees (Yerkes, 1921, p. 781, tables 327, 328). For a sample of 5,803 foreign born the correlation of Beta total score with schooling was .50. In general, then, the correlations of Beta scores with years of schooling were lower than the correlations of Alpha scores and education (.75) when the full range of Alpha test takers (including those subsequently sent for Beta testing) was included.
When the Alpha and Beta test total scores (excluding non-English speakers) were correlated with mental age scores on the Stanford-Binet individually administered intelligence test, the resulting coefficients were .81 and .73, respectively. Since the Stanford-Binet is essentially an auding test, in which the administrator speaks of questions and the given information, it is perhaps to be expected that the correlation between the heavily language-laden Alpha and Stanford-Binet tests would be greater than the very low language-based Beta test with the Stanford- Binet. For a sample of 653 recruits, the correlation of Stanford-Binet with years of schooling was .65 (Yerkes, 1921, p. 782, Table 330).
Figure 3, shows the results of assessments with the Alpha and Beta tests for several special studies. These results show trends that have persisted up to the present time with national assessments. First, for both the Alpha and Beta tests, scores generally increase as years of education increase. Second, whites exceed blacks at all levels of education. Third, scores for Northern blacks exceed those of Southern blacks.
As mentioned earlier, the fact that poorly educated Officers performed well on the Alpha test was interpreted as indicating that the Alpha measured native intelligence. However, careful examination of the types of items that made-up each subtest suggests that literacy practices may have been higher among the Officers and this may have led to their improved performance on the Alpha test.
Reference
Robert M. Yerkes (1921). Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. XV. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.








Source: Robert M. Yerkes (1921). Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Memoirs of the National Academy ofSciences, Vol. XV. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Offices, pp. 766-771.
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