The underlying rationale and theory
Simulations represent contextualized selection procedures that psychologically and/or physically mimic key aspects of the job (Lievens & De Soete, 2012). In accordance with this definition, contextualized SJTs aim to confront applicants with a set of situations similar to those they might encounter on the job and elicit their procedural knowledge about how to respond to these stimuli. Like other simulations such as assessment centre exercises or work samples, context-specific SJTs rest on the notions of point-to-point correspondence with the criterion (future job situations) and behavioural consistency (Bruk-Lee, Drew & Hawkes, 2014; Lievens & De Soete, 2012). Behavioural consistency denotes that candidates’ performance on a selection test will be consistent with their future job performance (Schmitt & Ostroff, 1986; Wernimont & Campbell, 1968). To this end, simulations should ideally be constructed in such a way that there is a high degree of correspondence between the conditions in the simulation and those in the actual job context and tasks. Assessment centre exercises, for example, mimic actual job situations and generate behavioural samples and hence are referred to as high-fidelity simulations (Thornton & Rupp, 2006). Fidelity refers to the degree to which the simulation authentically reflects the targeted job in terms of both stimuli and responses (Motowidlo, Dunnette & Carter, 1990). To reduce development and administration costs of such simulations, most SJTs adopt a low-fidelity format in simulating the situations and responses. That is, SJTs typically present written (or video-based) descriptions of job- related situations and require a response to them by opting for an alternative from a list of multiple-choice responses (McDaniel, Hartman, Whetzel & Grubb, 2007; Weekley, Ployhart & Holtz, 2006).
Notably, situation descriptions are key to SJTs when viewed from the contextualized perspective because they simulate job contexts, guide candidates’ situation perception and subsequent response selection and render responses more or less effective. Thus, the situation descriptions in SJTs aim to provide sufficient contextualization so that candidates can imagine the situation and make well-thought-out judgements about how they would or should behave according to the situational demands depicted (Richman-Hirsch, Olson- Buchanan & Drasgow, 2000). So, this view assumes that test-takers’ behavioural response selection is contingent on how they perceive and construe the stimuli (job-related situations), which aligns well with interactionist theories that consider behaviour to be a function of both the person’s traits and the person’s perception of the situation (Campion & Ploy- hart, 2013; Mischel & Shoda, 1995). Each situation conveys specific cues, which are interpreted by each test-taker. The person’s interpretation of the cues is guided by previous experiences in similar situations and determines the response selection believed to be appropriate. Without this context, it is assumed the test-taker is left in the dark as to what the appropriate response should be and might lack sufficient information to solve the item.