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Face validity is defined as the degree to which a test seems to measure what it reports to measure. Learn more about face validity from examples, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Face Validity?

Lila is a researcher who has just developed a new assessment that is meant to measure mathematical ability in college students.

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She selects a sample of 300 college students from three local universities and has them take the test. After the students complete the test, Lila asks all 300 participants to complete a follow-up questionnaire.In the questionnaire, Lila asks the participants what they think the purpose of the test is, what construct they believe is being measured, and whether or not they feel the assessment was an adequate measure of their mathematical ability. After analyzing the follow-up results, Lila finds that most of the participants agree that Lila’s assessment accurately measures their mathematical ability.

Lila has just demonstrated that her assessment has face validity.So what exactly is face validity? Face validity refers to the degree to which an assessment or test subjectively appears to measure the variable or construct that it is supposed to measure. In other words, face validity is when an assessment or test appears to do what it claims to do. In the example above, Lila claims that her test measures mathematical ability in college students. Since all of the participants who completed Lila’s test and the follow-up assessment agreed that the test appears to measure mathematical ability in college students, Lila’s test showed face validity.

Is It Really Valid?

It’s important to know that face validity does not necessarily mean that a test is a valid measure of a construct, but rather, the test looks like it is a valid measure. By valid, we mean that a test accurately measures what it is supposed to measure.Suppose Lila’s test looked valid to her participants because it involved basic mathematical processes (i.e., addition) and included several math word problems. Upon later review, Lila finds out that the word problems on her test were actually measuring reading comprehension instead of math ability and her questions are written for students at the high school level instead of college students.

Though it appeared that Lila’s test was aimed at the right target audience and construct, Lila was actually measuring something entirely different.Here we can see that face validity is all about appearances. Though face validity is purely subjective and superficial, researchers are interested in it because most researchers believe that a test should, in fact, appear to measure what it is supposed to measure.

Personal Experiences

Face validity is heavily influenced by the reviewer’s personal experiences. What may appear to be valid to one person might not appear to be valid to another. Suppose Lila decided to examine the face validity of her test by giving it to a random set of people she met on the street. They may see a few mathematical terms in her assessment and agree that her test has face validity.Now let’s suppose she also gave it to a group of mathematical experts. Because the experts are more knowledgeable about mathematical concepts, they are more likely to pick out discrepancies, incorrect mathematical language, and other issues in the test.

The experts may conclude that Lila’s assessment is not an accurate measure of mathematical ability, even though the people on the street might feel that the test is an accurate measure.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Face validity is the extent to which a test looks like it measures what it claims to measure. Face validity is all about appearances and is purely subjective. The personal experiences of the person or group that is examining face validity have an impact on a test’s face validity.

Key Facts about Face Validity

face validity
  • Face validity: When an assessment or test appears to do what it claims to do.
  • Face validity does not necessarily mean that a test is a valid measure.
  • A test can measure something entirely different from what it appears to.
  • Face validity is influenced by a reviewer’s personal experiences.

Learning Outcomes

As you finish the lesson, you should have learned how to:

  • Define face validity
  • Explain what it means to say that a test is valid
  • Describe how a researcher’s personal experiences play a role in face validity

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