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Knowing how the process is scored is not going to provide direct knowledge that will help a candidate maximize his or her score on an assessment center.  However, having some understanding of the process is a concern to some candidates and, to that extent, it is worthwhile to briefly describe some of the scoring procedures that are used in performance-based assessment programs.

The scoring process of an assessment center consists of observing and evaluating candidates' behaviors in order to come up with a score for each candidate.  Because some assessment center exercises differ in how they are administered and responded to, the scoring of exercises may vary.  There is no best way to score an assessment center.  This chapter will take a look at one type of the scoring process of assessment centers.

Assessors, as a group or council, will observe a candidate's performance.  Observing is done live or by recording the individual's presentation for later viewing.  A live scoring consists of a panel of assessors sitting in a room with each candidate, evaluating the presentation simultaneously as he or she speaks.  Regarding video-based scoring, the candidates give their presentation to a video camera, which can sometimes play the role of the candidate's supervisor.  Video-taped assessment centers are favored by experienced assessors.  Due to the increased accuracy of video recorded presentations and the lack of assessor/candidate interaction as an influencing factor, assessors are able to watch an individual several times if necessary, leading to a more accurate evaluation of the candidate's presentation.

No matter what method is used, one of several systematic procedures for recording behavior observations will be followed by the assessors.  The assessor will usually be trained to first observe the candidate, whether live or video recorded, as a team.  This team is the assessor council.  They will then note relevant behaviors for each of the dimensions, most often using a scoring guide that shows examples of positive and negative behaviors.  Assessors will both individually and as a group classify and evaluate the behaviors linked to the dimensions.  On an individual basis, the council discusses the candidate's behaviors linked to the dimensions and then scores the candidate on each of the dimensions using either a consensus method or a mathematical method formulated to integrate the observations of the assessors.

The assessors will often use an odd-based scale, called a Likert scale, with 3, 5, 7 or 9 points on the scale.  The scale may be a five point scale, but more often is likely to be a seven point scale.  The value of using an odd-based scale, like 3, 5, or 7, is that there is always a center point on the scale, i.e., 2 for a 3-point scale, 3 for a 5-point scale, and 4 for a 7-point scale.

  7 6.1  Superior

  6 5.1  Very Good

  5 4.1  Good

  4 3.1  Clearly Competent

  3 2.1  Competent but Needs Improvement

  2 1.1  Clearly Needs Improvement

  1 0.1  Poor

The assessors will use a scale similar to this one, and through either the consensus method or by plugging the individual assessor judgments into a mathematical formula, they will integrate the judgments of all the assessors into one score on the scale for each dimension.  The mathematical formula is quicker, but unless restrictions are put on the assessors, averaging the different scores for the assessors can oftentimes miss the candidate's true score (i.e., Assessor A says "1," Assessor B says "3," and Assessors C says "5," which when averaged together gives the candidate a "3").  Consensus, although it takes longer, forces each of the assessors to support his/her judgment with actual behaviors given by the candidate.  The consensus method is sometimes called the judgment method.  Both the consensus method and the mathematical formula method are professionally accepted.  The overall score for the exercise can be derived by either summing the dimension scores or using a consensus after scoring each of the dimensions to give him or her an overall score for the exercise.  Either way is acceptable.

The consensus of the assessors on the score for each dimension means that each assessor feels that the final rating is an adequate and fair representation of how the candidate performed on that dimension.  The advantage of this system is represented by all of the strengths of small group decision making.  If anyone has ever participated in the ubiquitous exercise "Lost at Sea" used by professional training programs for decision making, you will readily see that the values of the teams that are required to use the consensus method always exceed the performance of the teams that use the statistical method.  Benjamin Franklin referred to this method as the "Genius of the People."  It is sometimes referred to as the modified Delphi model.

Many professionals in the field believe that three assessors are the best; that two assessors tend to increase the subjectivity of the process; and using only one assessor, of course, leaves even more room for the subjective biases of that assessor.

Of course, if one wants to consistently have three assessors scoring the exercise, the consultant should actually recruit four assessors so if an emergency, illness or Act of God requires one assessor to leave, there will still be a full panel of three assessors scoring the candidates.  Also, by rotating an assessor off from time to time, fatigue is mitigated.  If the number of candidates is no more than 60, then one panel of assessors can rate all candidates on an exercise.  This means that the department can allot two days of training and five days of assessing (if videos were used, all candidates were recorded on the same day, and the security of the exercise could be maintained).  It is very difficult to get assessors to volunteer for more than seven days away from their departments.  Therefore, if the number of candidates exceeds 60, there will need to be more than one panel per exercise.  It is difficult for a panel of assessors to score more than twelve oral exercises in a day and three or four traditional written in-baskets.

If you would like to review additional promotional exam prep packages, go to our Assessment Center Exam Prep pages at the links below:

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Don McNea Fire School's Assessment Center Exam Preparation has been put together by Fire Chiefs who are nationally-recognized authors and who have been assessors for thousands of assessment center examinations.

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