Army Alpha Testing

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Army Alpha Testing

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

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. 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

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

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.
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