Do You Have Potential?

October 17, 2009

Earlier this year, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced a new kind of assessment tool, the “Personal Potential Index” (PPI) that purports to evaluate soft skills not measured by traditional standardized entrance tests for graduate school such as the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). According to the article (“New ‘potential’ index looks at what admissions tests can’t,” Mary Beth Marklein, USA Today, July 7, 2009), the index will help graduate schools determine whether or not applicants have six skills that are indicators of success in school and at work not measured by traditional tests of cognitive abilities.

Here, according to the ETS website (read more at http://www.ets.org; search for ETS Personal Potential Index©), are the six personal attributes that will be evaluated in part through use of structured and quantifiable questions. I am providing you with language directly from the website (retrieved 10/17/09) rather than interpreting what these qualities might mean to me. As you read about these attributes, think about what someone might say about you upon graduation when you are considering further education or are seeking a job:

Knowledge and Creativity
• Has a broad perspective on the field
• Is among the brightest persons I know
• Produces novel ideas
• Is intensely curious about the field

Communication Skills
• Speaks in a clear, organized and logical manner
• Writes with precision and style
• Speaks in a way that is interesting
• Organizes writing well

• Supports the efforts of others
• Behaves in an open and friendly manner
• Works well in group settings
• Gives criticism/feedback to others in a helpful way

• Accepts feedback without getting defensive
• Works well under stress
• Can overcome challenges and setbacks
• Works extremely hard

Planning and Organization
• Sets realistic goals
• Organizes work and time effectively
• Meets deadlines
• Makes plans and sticks to them

Ethics and Integrity
• Is among the most honest people know
• Maintains high ethical standards
• Is worthy of trust from others
• Demonstrates sincerity

How will you demonstrate to your teachers and others you work with that you possess these soft skills? What can you do to develop them? Are any of these skills culturally biased? If so, how might you address this bias and aid a potential evaluator in understanding your cultural differences?

If someone were asked to evaluate you today, what would s/he say were your strengths and your challenges? How would you rate yourself on a five-point Likert scale like the one that evaluators will use in their response to ETS (1=below average; 2=average; 3=above average; 4=outstanding—top five percent; 5=truly exceptional—top one percent)?

Each course that you take is an opportunity to create a relationship that could lead to a letter of recommendation. It is difficult to predict whose input you may want, so it’s better to treat every course, every instructor, every work or volunteer experience as a potential source of positive feedback about who you are as a learner, worker, and human being. As I’ve said before, being a jerk is not a good strategy, but positive recommendations require active commitment to multiple kinds of engagement like those assessed by the PPI.

Are you someone you’d like to have in a class, be in a group with, hire for a job? If so, why? If not, why not?

Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.
• Winston Churchill


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