The Unisex Edition of the ACT Interest Inventory (UNIACT) is an assessment designed to identify personally relevant career (educational and occupational) options. Results are intended to help people see the connection between the work world and the activities they like to do. UNIACT is a component of several programs and services offered by ACT, such as the ACT Program, PLAN, EXPLORE, DISCOVER, and the Career Planning survey. Through these programs and others, UNIACT is administered to about 4 million persons annually. Since 1973, the ACT Interest Inventory has been administered to about 70 million persons, making it one of the most used psychological assessments in the world.
ACT Interest Inventory Characteristics
UNIACT items emphasize work-relevant activities (e.g., build a picture frame, conduct a meeting, help settle an argument between friends) that are familiar to persons, either through participation or observation. Item content does not include occupational titles or specific job duties because persons needing help with career planning may have minimal or inaccurate knowledge about a wide range of occupations. Items are responded to using a three-choice response format (dislike, indifferent, like).
UNIACT items were carefully chosen to minimize gender-related differences in responses. Item content avoids activities subject to gender-role stereotypes. This feature of UNIACT minimizes gender divergences in the career options typically suggested to males and females and permits the use of combined-sex norms.
UNIACT results are reported for six scales paralleling the six interest and occupational types in John L. Holland’s theory of careers. Scale titles and descriptions (with parallel Holland types in parentheses) are listed as follows:
- Science & Technology (Investigative): Investigating and attempting to understand phenomena in the natural sciences through reading, research, and discussion.
- Arts (Artistic): Expressing oneself through activities such as painting, designing, singing, dancing, and writing; artistic appreciation of such activities (e.g., listening to music, reading literature).
- Social Service (Social): Helping, enlightening, or serving others through activities such as teaching, counseling, working in service-oriented organizations, engaging in social-political studies.
- Administration & Sales (Enterprising): Persuading, influencing, directing, or motivating others through activities such as sales, supervision, and aspects of business management.
- Business Operations (Conventional): Developing and/or maintaining accurate and orderly files, records, accounts, and so on; designing and/or following systematic procedures for performing business activities.
- Technical (Realistic): Working with tools, instruments, and mechanical or electrical equipment. Activities include designing, building, repairing machinery, and raising crops/animals.
ACT Interest Inventory Background
The ACT Interest Inventory was first introduced in 1973. The UNIACT edition of the ACT Interest Inventory was introduced in 1977. Two major revisions of UNIACT, based on both item content considerations and empirical evidence of item performance, were undertaken in 1987-1989 and 2003-2006, leading to the current 90-item and 72-item versions of the inventory. The current versions are available in two levels: Level 1 is intended for students in Grades 8-12, and Level 2 is intended for college students and adults.
According to Holland’s theory, relationships among Holland’s six types can be represented by a hexagon. Types adjacent on the hexagon (e.g., Social and Artistic) resemble each other most, while types on opposite sides of the hexagon (e.g., Social and Realistic) resemble each other least. Holland’s hexagon is a two-dimensional figure, thus suggesting that there are two underlying dimensions.
Numerous studies suggest that two bipolar dimensions of work tasks and work-task preferences underlie Holland’s hexagon: data versus ideas, and things versus people. The relationships between these four basic work tasks and the six UNIACT scales are listed as follows:
- Science & Technology: Work typically involves primarily ideas, and secondarily, things.
- Arts: Work typically involves primarily ideas, and secondarily, people.
- Social Service: Work typically involves primarily people.
- Administration & Sales: Work typically involves primarily data, and secondarily, people.
- Business Operations: Work typically involves primarily data, and secondarily, things.
- Technical: Work typically involves primarily things.
One of the special features of UNIACT is that results are presented visually via the ACT World-of-Work Map. This map locates and displays occupational groups on two dimensions according to their involvement with data-ideas and people-things. Based on empirical data from multiple sources, the map provides an overview of the entire world of work, summarizing a large amount of information to facilitate the understanding of basic similarities and differences among occupations.
Because the data-ideas and people-things dimensions underlie Holland’s six types, scores on Holland’s six types can be expressed as a location on these dimensions—and hence, on the World-of-Work Map. UNIACT scores are transformed to map locations, letting persons see the direction of their work task preferences and identify occupational options having related work tasks. For example, if a person’s highest UNI-ACT scores suggest an interest in working with people, results refer the person to the areas of the map with occupations that primarily involve working with people. In effect, the World-of-Work Map serves as a visual bridge from scores to occupations. The map can be used to link Holland-type scores from any career assessment to occupational options.
ACT Interest Inventory Technical Information
Nationally representative norms are based on persons at four age levels: Grade 8, Grade 10, Grade 12, and adult. All norms were obtained from ACT program files. To improve the national representativeness of the samples, individual records were weighted to more closely match the characteristics of the target populations with respect to gender, ethnicity, and region of the country. Samples consisted of more than 250,000 students for the Grade 8-12 levels and more than 2,000 persons for the adult level.
Evidence of reliability and validity is essential in evaluating any psychological assessment. One type of reliability is internal consistency—the degree to which the items in a scale are related to each other. For example, internal consistency reliabilities for a large sample of Grade 12 students who completed the 72-item UNIACT ranged from .85 to .91 for males and from .83 to .91 for females. Results were similar for a large sample of Grade 8 students: .82 to .90 for males and .81 to .89 for females.
Judgments about the adequacy of reliability and validity evidence for an assessment should be made in context. Factors such as the purpose of the assessment and the number of items in the scale should be kept in mind.
Validity generally refers to the extent to which assessment results measure what they are purported to measure. Thus, validity is evaluated in light of the purpose of the assessment. As mentioned above, UNI-ACT results are used to identify occupations in line with a person’s preferences for basic work tasks. If UNIACT results differentiate various criterion groups—and do so in sensible, meaningful ways— they can be used to identify occupational groups having work tasks that are compatible with a person’s preferences.
Evidence of criterion-related validity requires data from criterion groups. Typical methods of determining criterion group membership involve selecting high school seniors with the same occupational choice, college students with the same major, or employed adults with the same occupation. According to Holland’s theory, I-type (scientific) interests should predominate among I-type criterion groups, A-type (artistic) interests should predominate among A-type criterion groups, and so on. Across a number of groups, agreement between criterion group membership and measured predominant interests (highest interest score) provides an index of criterion-related validity.
Based on data collected since 1973, using both current and prior editions of UNIACT, agreement rates (expressed as the percentage of groups with matching predominant interests) were obtained for more than 600 groups representing more than 78,000 persons. The total agreement rate across all groups was 73%. Agreement rates varied by age: 72% for high school seniors, 70% for college students, and 81% for employed adults. These agreement rates far exceed chance (1 in 6, or 17%).
The above evidence represents only a small part of the extensive reliability and validity evidence available on UNIACT. Additional information, based on data from various age groups and racial/ethnic groups, is found in published studies and summarized in manuals and other materials available from ACT. For example, the UNIACT technical manual summarizes reliability and validity evidence for five racial/ ethnic groups.
- ACT. (1995). Technical manual: Revised Unisex Edition of the ACT Interest Inventory (UNIACT). Iowa City, IA: Author.
- ACT. (2000). Career Planning Survey technical manual. Iowa City, IA: Author.
- ACT. (2006). Research support for DISCOVER assessment components. Iowa City, IA: Author.
- Day, S. X., Rounds, J., & Swaney, K. (1998). The structure of vocational interests for diverse racial-ethnic groups. Psychological Science, 9, 40-14.
- Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
- Prediger, D. J., & Swaney, K. B. (1995). Using UNIACT in a comprehensive approach to assessment for career planning. Journal of Career Assessment, 3, 429-451.
- Prediger, D. J., & Swaney, K. B. (2004). Work task dimensions underlying the world of work: Research results for diverse occupational databases. Journal of Career Assessment, 12, 440-459.