Documents regulating tests in South Africa


Documents regulating tests in South Africa

In South Africa, psychometric tests are controlled by law. Recently the regulatory environment changed, and now the consultants at Psytech SA find ourselves fielding many questions around this. In some cases, people are
asking for documentary proof of the changes to the regulations. So we felt it necessary to collect them in one place.
Disclaimer: Please note that the interpretations in this article should not be construed as legal advice. This is merely an attempt to guide colleagues based on the documents that apply to our profession. Colleagues are free to have a different opinion, and if in doubt, you are encouraged to verify the information presented here, with the Professional Board for Psychology of the HPCSA or with a legal advisor.

 Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act as originally passed, placed limitations on the use of psychometric testing in occupational settings in South Africa. Specifically, it specified in section 8 that psychometric tests and related techniques need to have certain properties before they can be used legally to assess persons for jobs. These are:
  • Tests must be reliable
  • Tests must be valid
  • Tests may not discriminate unfairly against any individual or group
  • It must be possible to use them fairly
Also note that it is allowed to discriminate on the basis of the inherent requirements of the job. It is unfair discrimination which is forbidden.
The Employment Equity Amendment Act became effective in August 2014.


The additional requirement introduced by this amendment act, namely that tests needed to be certified by the HPCSA in order to be used in Industry, was recently set aside by a decision of the High Court. The other requirements as mentioned above, remain valid.



 The list of classified tests


The Board is legally obliged to update the list of tests that are classified as being psychological at least on an annual basis.

It is important to note that the Psychometrics Committee now only classifies a test based on what it measures.

No quality review is done by the committee any longer, because the High Court decided that reviewing and certifying tests does not fall within the mandate of the Board. The function of the list of classified tests is now to identify those instruments that may not be used by unregistered persons. Classification of tests is voluntary at present, and the process is not onerous or time-consuming. No fee is charged for the classification.


Voluntary review of tests

Assessment Standards South Africa (ASSA) now reviews psychological as well as nonpsychological tests for quality. The European Federation of Psychological Associations framework is followed in a simplified form. The parameters specified by the Employment Equity Act are covered by this review. Submitting tests to ASSA for review is not compulsory, but the review results will provide decision-makers with important information regarding the quality of measures they may be considering for use.

The scope of practice of the profession of psychology

This regulation, which has been in effect since 2008, defines the actions that are reserved for the profession of psychology. These actions are commonly referred to as “psychological acts“.
It is a criminal offence for persons who are not registered with the HPCSA as psychology practitioners, to perform any of these actions.
What makes a test psychological?
When a test is submitted for classification, the reviewers need to decide whether the use this test will result in a psychological act.
It is clear from this regulation that assessment activities are emphasised as being reserved for the profession of psychology.
Which constructs are included?
The types of constructs that result in a psychological act if they are assessed, include:
    • Behaviour
    • Mental Processes
    • Personality adjustments
    • Personality dynamics
    • Personality make-up
    • Personality functioning
    • Emotional functions
    • Temperament
    • Adjustments of individuals 
    • Adjustments of groups of persons
    • Intellectual abilities
    • Aptitude
    • Interests
    • Neuropsychological disorders
    • Mental functioning deficiencies
    • Psychophysiological functioning
    • Psychopathology
What is notable about this list is how comprehensive it is. 
It should also be noted that the assessments of individuals as well as groups of people is included.
What types of assessment methods are included?
The types of assessment methods that are controlled because they result in a psychological act include:
    • Tests
    • Questionnaires
    • Instruments
    • Apparatus
    • Devices
    • “Similar methods”
    • Projections
    • Other techniques
The range of assessment methods is very wide indeed.
Assessment for what purpose?
The scope of practice is written very comprehensively. Assessments that result in a psychological act include:
    • Assessment for diagnostic purposes.
    • Assessment aimed at aiding persons or groups of persons in adjustment of personality, emotional or behavioural problems.
    • Assessment aimed at the promotion of positive personality change, growth and development.
    • Assessment for personnel career selection.
Thus, the fact that assessments may be done to assist growth and development does not make any difference.
Occupational assessments are not exempt.
If a test is psychological, what are the implications? 
Only registered psychology practitioners may exercise control over psychological tests – including doing research and development on them.
This is why we at Psytech require you to give your HPCSA registration number when you order test materials or the credits to score them.
We also check the online register to verify that your registration is still active.

 The code of conduct for the profession of psychology

The code of conduct for practitioners registered under the Health Professions Act is very comprehensive. There is a generic section as well as a section for each of the professions.
The document which you can download here contains the generic section as well as the section specific to the profession of psychology.
The code is not difficult to understand, and because assessment is a psychological act, almost the entire code is relevant. It is not necessary to reiterate the entire code here. There are however some specific aspects of the code with particular relevance to testing and assessment, that we shall highlight here because we have received enquiries about them.
Aspects of the ethical code that are particularly relevant to psychological assessment
“Secret remedies” are forbidden
  • Tests are a form of health technology. Their workings must be open to scrutiny, and they must be able to fulfil the claims that are made for them. (item 19)
  • In terms of this requirement, the requirement that publishers and developers should submit tests for evaluation and classification, is justified. Classification is done by the Board, but the psychometric properties of tests should also be verified and there is now an organisation (ASSA) that does this work.
Cooperation with instructions, directives and processes
  • It is considered misconduct to defeat or obstruct the Council or Board in the performance of its duties (Item 20). 
  • This implies that registered practitioners who control, research or develop tests must comply with the classification process.
Assessment within a professional relationship only
  • Assessment must be conducted in the context of a defined professional relationship (Item 44)
Informed consent
  • Clients must give written informed consent to be tested. (Item 46)
  • When consent is implied, such as in the case of a job application, written informed consent is not required.
  • Consent is not required when testing is a legal requirement
  • Consent is not required when the purpose of the testing is to evaluate decision-making and mental incapacity.
  • However, in the case of automated or internet-based testing, informed consent must be obtained (Item 46(6)).
  • In the process of obtaining informed consent, the limits to confidentiality must be clarified.
Group assessments 
  • Practitioners need to declare the limits of their findings when group assessments are done. This would apply to observed behavioural exercises, 360-degree assessments, reports on group discussions and so forth. These assessments are considered less reliable and valid than individually-derived scores.
Electronic, internet, and other indirect assessments
  • When such assessments are used, the practitioner must declare this and appropriately limit the nature and extent of his or her findings.
  • This is relevant to the use of all computerised assessments and computer-generated reports.
  • Informed consent must be obtained for automated and internet-based testing, even when this testing is done for the purpose of a job application.
Communicating of results
  • Releasing test results or raw data to persons who are not qualified to use that information is considered misuse of assessment information (Item 45)
  • When test results are communicated, they must be accompanied by adequate interpretative aids and explanations. (Item 49 and Item 52)
  • When results are communicated to another psychologist or professional, the client needs to give informed written consent.