Face Validity | Guide with Definition & Examples

Face validity is about whether a test appears to measure what it’s supposed to measure. This type of validity is concerned with whether a measure seems relevant and appropriate for what it’s assessing on the surface.

Types of measurement validity
Face validity is one of four types of measurement validity. The other three are:

  • Construct validity: Does the test measure the concept that it’s intended to measure?
  • Content validity: Is the test fully representative of what it aims to measure?
  • Criterion validity: Do the results accurately measure the concrete outcome they are designed to measure?

Why face validity matters

Face validity is important because it’s a simple first step to measuring the overall validity of a test or technique. It’s a relatively intuitive, quick, and easy way to start checking whether a new measure seems useful at first glance.

Good face validity means that anyone who reviews your measure says that it seems to be measuring what it’s supposed to. With poor face validity, someone reviewing your measure may be left confused about what you’re measuring and why you’re using this method.

To have face validity, your measure should be:

  • Clearly relevant for what it’s measuring
  • Appropriate for the participants
  • Adequate for its purpose
Example: Good vs. poor face validity
You’re looking to measure participants’ ages in a health study.

You have two methods of recording age:

  1. Asking participants to self-report their birthdate and then calculating the age
  2. Counting up the number of gray hairs on each participant’s head and guesstimating age on that basis

These two methods have dramatically different levels of face validity:

  • The first method is high in face validity because it directly assesses age.
  • The second method is low in face validity because it’s not a relevant or appropriate measure of age.

Having face validity doesn’t guarantee that you have good overall measurement validity or reliability. It’s considered a weak form of validity because it’s assessed subjectively without any systematic testing or statistical analyses.

But testing face validity is an important first step to reviewing the validity of your test. Once you’ve secured face validity, you can assess more complex forms of validity like content or criterion validity.

How to assess face validity

To assess face validity, you ask other people to review your measurement technique and items and gauge their suitability for measuring your variable of interest.

Ask them the following questions:

  • Are the components of the measure (e.g., questions) relevant to what’s being measured?
  • Does the measurement method seem useful for measuring the variable?
  • Is the measure seemingly appropriate for capturing the variable?

You can create a short questionnaire to send to your test reviewers, or you can informally ask them about whether the test seems to measure what it’s supposed to.

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Who should assess face validity?

There’s a debate in academia about whether you should ask experts, such as other researchers, or laypeople, such as potential participants, to judge the face validity of tests.

It’s often best to ask a variety of people to review your measurements. While experts have a deep understanding of research methods, the people you’re studying can provide you with valuable insights you may otherwise miss.

You’ll have a good understanding of face validity in your test if there’s strong agreement between different groups of people.

Example: Assessing face validity
You find an inventory that measures the emotional states of teenagers, and you plan to use it in a study. Before starting the study, you send the inventory out to two different groups: fellow researchers and potential participants.

Your researcher colleagues come back to you with positive feedback and say it has good face validity.

But the potential participants tell you that they are not sure what some questions are actually asking for because of the jargon used. They also tell you that some questions seem outdated and don’t make sense to them. The inventory has poor face validity from their perspective.

When should you test face validity?

It’s important to get an indicator of face validity at an early stage in the research process or anytime you’re applying an existing test in new conditions or with different populations.

Here are three example situations where (re-)assessing face validity is important.

You’re developing a brand new measure or test

Example: Developing a new test
You develop a personality test for job seekers. Your test asks respondents how they would react in specific situations at work.

You ask employers, employees, and unemployed job seekers to review your test for face validity. While employers say that it has strong face validity, the other two groups say that they cannot always answer questions like these accurately without knowing the job and company well. For them, it has limited face validity.

You’re using an existing test for a population the test wasn’t designed for

Example: Repurposing an existing test for a new population
You decide to assess math and verbal skills for a study. You take an IQ test developed for high school students in the US and plan to use it for high school students in India.

Potential participants, teachers, and other researchers in India review your test for face validity. They all find the verbal section low in face validity because some questions are highly culture-bound to the US. However, the math section is strong in face validity.

You’re using an existing test in a context it wasn’t designed for

Example: Repurposing an existing test for a new context
In a diary study, you ask participants to report their daily calorie intake and moods. You rework an existing questionnaire into a short-form version so that you can quickly collect data every day for two weeks. The original questionnaire has 20 questions, while your new version has only three.

You ask potential participants and colleagues about the face validity of your short-form questionnaire. Their feedback indicates that it’s clear, concise, and has good face validity.

Frequently asked questions about face validity

What is the definition of face validity?

Face validity is about whether a test appears to measure what it’s supposed to measure. This type of validity is concerned with whether a measure seems relevant and appropriate for what it’s assessing only on the surface.

Why is face validity important?

Face validity is important because it’s a simple first step to measuring the overall validity of a test or technique. It’s a relatively intuitive, quick, and easy way to start checking whether a new measure seems useful at first glance.

Good face validity means that anyone who reviews your measure says that it seems to be measuring what it’s supposed to. With poor face validity, someone reviewing your measure may be left confused about what you’re measuring and why you’re using this method.

Who should assess face validity?

It’s often best to ask a variety of people to review your measurements. You can ask experts, such as other researchers, or laypeople, such as potential participants, to judge the face validity of tests.

While experts have a deep understanding of research methods, the people you’re studying can provide you with valuable insights you may have missed otherwise.

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Pritha Bhandari

Pritha has an academic background in English, psychology and cognitive neuroscience. As an interdisciplinary researcher, she enjoys writing articles explaining tricky research concepts for students and academics.