Selecting the OJT Instructor

The Instructor Selection Test® is a standardized, objective test of the ability to explain. It is an optional, but valuable, component of the OJT training system, and is also available for use in classroom or supervisor training programs.

Four characteristics are required of a good instructor:

  1. The desire to teach
  2. The ability to get along with others
  3. Subject knowledge and skills
  4. The ability to teach the knowledge and skills to others.

Normally, in a training situation, people are selected to be instructors because they possess the first three characteristics. In these cases, volunteers with good personal and professional reputations are considered to have the qualifications to be instructors.

Good instructors should, at minimum, be better than average in each of these three characteristics. Ideally, they would be selected from those who are in the top quarter or fifth of each characteristic, as shown in these three normal curves, (below).

Desire to teach

People Skills

Subject Knowledge




Low           High

Low           High

Low           High


Good instructors should, at minimum, be better than average in each of these three characteristics. Ideally, they would be selected from those who are in the top quarter or fifth of each characteristic, as shown in these three normal curves (above). By definition, people's aptitudes for teaching range from low to high, and research has shown there is no positive correlation between teaching aptitude and the desire to teach, personality, or technical skills. (Nor with education, experience, age, or a number of other common determinants.) As is true for all aptitudes, aspiring instructors will range in teaching aptitude from very low to very high, with most considered average. This is shown in this curve (below).

Teaching Aptitude


Low            High

While people can be selected for the first three characteristics based on what they have already done, they typically aren't selected on their ability to teach their knowledge to others because their ability to do that isn't known.

What is needed in order to have the most effective and efficient training is a test to select those who have the most aptitude for teaching — those in the top quarter or fifth of the applicants, and who would become the best instructors.

Description of the test:

The Instructor Selection Test (IST) is the only objective test of instructor skill. It measures how well people perform in the basic teaching skill — explaining. The ability to explain how things work and how to do things (concepts, principles, procedures, and processes) is the key to effective and efficient instruction.

The test has four components:

Examinee - The applicant for a teaching or supervisor position who is being tested.

Students - People who will act as the examinee's students during the test. Two or three are required for each examinee.

Object - An object to be assembled by the students. The object has an illogical structure that cannot be known beforehand or guessed by the students.

Administrator - Someone who briefs the examinee and students and measures the test time with a stopwatch.


Using the IST, it is easy to identify those with the most potential to become good instructors. During the test, the examinee explains to students, one at a time, how to assemble the object. The time it takes for the students to assemble the object is measured with a stop watch. Times taken by examinees range from five to fifteen minutes, with an average of ten minutes.

The IST measures efficiency. It is based on the premise that the most effective instructors are also the most efficient. If an instructor applicant must continue to explain until the students understand the content, the time taken can be used as a measure of efficiency. Those instructors who seem to be the most clear and understandable also are those from whom people learn the fastest. This premise has been tested and proven: faster and more efficient learning is caused by better instructors.

The IST's validity was established at the Air Force's 5½-week-long master instructor course at the Air University's Academic Instructor School. A correlation study was conducted in which the times taken to teach the assembly process were compared with instructors' ratings of the teaching skills of explaining, clarifying, summarizing and achieving objectives, during practice teaching lessons. Low times were found to correspond to high ratings.

A correlation of .71 was at the .001 confidence level. The correlation found during the research study in teaching one student is heightened in the current test by using two or three students. And, the odds that the short times of instruction demonstrated by highly rated instructors and the longer times by less able instructors were coincidental is less than one in a thousand.


The Instructor Selection Test works. Because of the clear connection between the test scores and instructor effectiveness, the IST provides a valid selection test for purposes of employment and job assignment. This is essential for complying with Federal equal employment opportunity requirements and avoiding job discrimination litigation.

The IST can be used with all types of content and skill areas. Its content-free basis enables its use for qualifying or screening instructors in all subjects, including management, sales, medical, customer service, and technical training. It can also be used to screen applicants for supervisory positions, inasmuch as one of the primary roles of supervisors is to explain how and why things should be done.

Case Study of Its Use

  • Assume as a training manager, you need another instructor. You notify HR, which advertises internally. Five applicants are found. You check them out and find that
  • One isn’t really an expert performer; he just wants to volunteer to get ahead. No.
  • Another isn’t really a volunteer; she just wants to get off night shift. Not this one either.
  • The third isn’t really a “people person.” He’s been known to anger and ridicule co-workers. Not a good choice.
  • The remaining two applicants are experts, volunteers, and well liked. You decide to determine which will be the better trainer.

You schedule them to be tested the next day, one at 9 am and one at 10. When the first one comes in, you brief him and have him practice assembling the object he will explain. Then, you brief two office workers who have volunteered to be students.

sojt_assembly.gifYou go back to the examinee after 20 minutes and find that he is ready. He feels he can explain how to assemble the object just by looking at the photo. You put away the model object and set up the student’s end of the table with the pieces to be assembled. The examinee and the student will be seated about 8 feet apart.

You bring in the first volunteer and repeat the main points: to the student, don’t ask questions; and to the examinee, don’t point or ask questions. When they are ready, you say "Start" and you begin the stop watch. When the examinee is finished and the object has been assembled correctly, stop the watch. You find it took 13 minutes.

You repeat the test with the same examinee and the second volunteer student and find that this lesson takes 11 minutes. You drop the 13 minutes from the first test and use the second test score of 11 as this examinee's score.

You repeat this test with the second examinee at 10am. You find that her best time is 6.5 minutes. You also have become aware of some teaching traits of the two applicants that support the likelihood that the second examinee will be the better instructor. You select the second examinee to be the new trainer. The first examinee is satisfied because the numbers are reasonable and defensible. Even if the first examinee wasn’t satisfied, you would find that HR agrees with the results because the test is validated and meets EEO requirements.

You have your new trainer.

Instructor Selection Test® is a registered trademark of Paradigm Training Systems, Inc.