The COPAS was developed as a result of a well-defined set of needs and guidelines during the eighties and early nineties at consecutive national psychometric workshops of the then Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) and of the associated Institute of Municipal Personnel Practitioners (IMPP) for the establishment of a cognitive measuring instrument that would serve the needs of South African economic, business and work community well. Perhaps the most significant ‘moment’ in the COPAS existence was the Planning and Development (P&D) thereof by especially the IMPP-Task Team. The P&D took place over three successive meetings of the Task Team who formulated the following guidelines the instrument had to adhere to in its basic design, purpose and practical applications:

  1. Measure cognitive related elements/competencies that are practical and simple to administer.
  2. Have a wide application, covering the entire range of the literate population.
  3. Have no, or a very low, cultural loading.
  4. Have a minimum of reliance on language, only in instructions, but none during the ‘doing’ of the test itself.
  5. Render a quick/immediate ‘score’.
  6. Measure various aspects of the cognitive function, e.g. cognitive ability, potential and capacity.
  7. Measure a variety of cognitive elements/abilities, e.g. Concept formation, Mental alertness, Logical thinking, Original thinking, Spatial relations, Insight, problem-solving – i.e. the test-items to measure each of these elements must be developed and included in the ‘experimental’ test and validated during the test-development process.
  8. Alternate measuring instruments must be developed to be utilized if the testee must be re-tested within six to nine months or where a short screening test is only required.
  9. Must be a valid, reliable and fair instrument.
  10. Must have face-validity and be a user-friendly instrument.
  11. It must be developed in South Africa and adhere to all the uniqueness of this country.

The above initiated a project involving various sub-teams from many disciplines and sectors in the economy and countries working together over a period of nearly four years to develop the Cognitive & Potential Assessment (COPAS). The basic process was completed during 1998 and it was decided to call the resulting instrument the COPAS to distinguish it from earlier releases thereof that were used for experimental purposes.

The COPAS was developed in accordance with the above guidelines with the purpose to measure the testee’s cognitive function in a comprehensive way. It consists of symbolic test-items and measures the candidate’s Current Mental Ability, Potential to Develop and Eventual Cognitive Capacity if the optimal opportunity and stimulation for cognitive growth are available.

In addition to the above, the COPAS provides a Profile of the six most important Cognitive Constructs, e.g. Analytical, Original and Figurative Thinking in problem-solving in practice. It also provides a measure of Accuracy with which the testee completed the test and applies his cognitive capacity in practice. The COPAS is quick and easy to perform and takes approximately 40 minutes to one hour to complete – depending on the areas the user wants to measure. The user is provided with a variety of options as to what cognitive information they want to be printed out to serve their needs best. It also offers a low level of cognitive measurement in the form of VERSION II.

The COPAS is also fully linked to the 5-Complexity Work Levels embodied in the Stratified Systems Theory (SST) of Elliot Jacques.

Measuring Areas – Scales

Three Basic Areas

  1. Current Mental Ability
  2. Optimal Learning Potential
  3. Eventual Cognitive Capacity

Six Cognitive Constructs Profile

  1. Mental Alertness
  2. Analytical & Logical Reasoning
  3. Numerical Ability
  4. Original & Creative Thinking
  5. Spatial Relations & Concept Formation
  6. Alertness to detail & in Perception

Purpose: Comprehensive measure of cognition as applied in the World of Work

  1. Present Mental Ability used
  2. Optimal Cognitive Development
  3. Profile of ‘good’ Cognitive Ability
  4. The typical accuracy level of applying cognitive
  5. Complexity level to be able to function effectively in the World of Work
  6. Selection
  7. Career Planning & Development


Reliability: Ranging from 0.90 to 0.97 (Significant).

Validity: Ranging from 0.48 to 0.69 (Significant).

Fairness: No significant differences were detected via the ‘Norm Process’ regarding four critical (sensitive) factors used, namely age, gender, ethnicity, and language at the 0.001 level.

Readability & Ease of Comprehension: The test consists of symbolic test-items only to enhance the comprehension and increase the face validity of the instrument amongst ‘lower-level’ assessees, and a lower complexity-level COPAS was developed – i.e., COPAS I.

The seven ‘Readability Action (described earlier in the paper) were/are applied on the COPAS.


The Standard COPAS can be used at a grade 6 schooling level.

The COPAS Version II can be used at the grade 4 schooling level.

If a difference of bigger than 0.5 is found between the Current Mental Ability and the Mental Alertness Scale, the test results must be considered invalid.

The most important scale generated by the COPAS is the Current Mental Ability.

The COPAS must be interpreted by a registered psychologist.

If a candidate must be evaluated within a period of six months after completing the Main COPAS, the candidate in question must be submitted to the Alternative COPAS.

The user of the COPAS must be guided by the so-called Interpretive Notes provided in the User Manual.


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