Psychological assessment is a process that involves checking the integration of information from multiple sources, such as tests of normal and abnormal personality, tests of ability or intelligence, tests of interests or attitudes, as well as information from personal interviews. Collateral information is also collected about personal, occupational, or medical history, such as from records or from interviews with parents, spouses, teachers, or previous therapists or physicians. A psychological test is one of the sources of data used within the process of assessment; usually more than one test is used.
Many psychologists do some level of assessment when providing services to clients or patients, and may use for example, simple checklists to osis for treatment settings; to assess a particular area of functioning or disability often for school settings; to help select type of treatment or to assess treatment outcomes; to help courts decide issues such as child custody or competency to stand trial; or to help assess job applicants or employees and provide career development counseling or training. Psychological testing measures an individual’s performance at a specific point in time.
Psychologists talk about a person’s “present functioning” in terms of their test data. Therefore psychological tests can’t predict future or innate potential. Psychological testing uses a combination of techniques to help arrive at some hypotheses about a person and their behavior, personality and capabilities. It is a way of performing a psychological battery on a person. Psychologists are the only profession that is expertly trained to perform and interpret psychological tests. Psychological testing should never be performed in a vacuum.
A part of a thorough assessment of an individual is that they also undergo a full medical examination, to rule out the possibilities of a medical, disease or organic cause for the individual’s symptoms. It’s often helpful to have this done first, before psychological testing (as it may make psychological testing moot). Psychological testing is something that’s typically done in a formal manner only by a licensed psychologist (the actual testing may sometimes be administered by a psychology intern or trainee studying to become a psychologist).
Depending upon what kind of testing is being done, it can last anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to a full day. Testing is usually done in a psychologist’s office and consists largely of paper-and-pencil tests (nowadays often administered on a computer for ease-of-use). There are Four Components of Psychological Testing: Norm-Referenced Tests A standardized psychological test is a task or set of tasks given under standard, set conditions. It is designed to assess some aspect of a person’s knowledge, skill or personality.
A psychological test provides a scale of measurement for consistent individual differences regarding some psychological concept and serves to line up people according to that concept. Tests can be thought of as yardsticks, but they are less efficient and reliable than actual yardsticks. A test yields one or more objectively obtained quantitative scores so that, as much as possible, each person is assessed in the same way. The intent is to provide a fair and equitable comparison among test takers.
Norm-references psychological tests are standardized on a clearly defined group, termed the norm group, and scaled so that each individual score reflects a rank within the norm group. Norm-referenced tests have been developed to assess many areas, including intelligence; reading, arithmetic, and spelling abilities; visual-motor skills; gross and fine motor skills; and adaptive behavior. Psychologists have a choice of many well-standardized and psychometrically sound tests with which to evaluate an individual. Norm-referenced tests have several benefits over non-norm-referenced tests.
They provide valuable information about a person’s level of functioning in the areas covered by the tests. They relatively little time to administer, permitting a sampling of behavior within a few hours. Each appraisal can provide a wealth of information that would be unavailable to even the most skilled observer who did not use testing. Finally, norm-referenced tests also provide an index for evaluating change in many different aspects of the child’s physical and social world. Interviews Valuable information is gained through interviewing.
When it’s for a child, interviews are conducted not only the child, but the parents, teachers and other individuals familiar with the child. Interviews are more open and less structured than formal testing and give those being interviewed an opportunity to convey information in their own words. A formal clinical interview is often conducted with the individual before the start of any psychological assessment or testing. This interview can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, and includes questions about the individual’s personal and childhood history, recent life experiences, work and school history, and family background.
Observations Observations of the person being referred in their natural setting — especially if it’s a child — can provide additional valuable assessment information. In the case of a child, how do they behave in school settings, at home, and in the neighborhood? Does the teacher treat them differently than other children? How do their friends react to them? The answers to these and similar questions can give a better picture of a child and the settings in which they function. It can also help the professional conducting the assessment better formulate treatment recommendations.
Informal Assessment Standardized norm-referenced tests may at times need to be supplemented with more informal assessment procedures, as such as projective tests or even career-testing or teacher-made tests. For example, in the case of a child, it may be valuable to obtain language samples from the child, test the child’s ability to profit from systematic cues, and evaluate the child’s reading skills under various conditions. The realm of informal assessment is vast, but informal testing must be used more cautiously since the scientific validity of the assessment is less known.
Psychologists seek to take the information gathered from psychological assessment and weave it into a comprehensive and complete picture of the person being tested. Recommendations are based on all the assessment results and from discussion with peers, family, and others who may shed light on the person’s behavior in different settings. For instance, in children, information must be obtained from parents and teachers in order for psychological assessment to be considered complete and relevant to the child. Major discrepancies among the findings must be resolved before any diagnostic decisions or recommendations for treatment are made.
Psychological assessment is never focused on a single test score or number. Every person has a range of competencies that can be evaluated through a number of methods. A psychologist is there to evaluate the competencies as well as the limitations of the person, and report on them in an objective but helpful manner. A psychological assessment report will not only note weaknesses found in testing, but also the individual’s strengths. Psychological testing is divided into four primary types: * Clinical Interview * Assessment of Intellectual Functioning (IQ) * Personality Assessment * Behavioral Assessment.
In addition to these primary types of psychological assessment, other kinds of psychological tests are available for specific areas, such as aptitude or achievement in school, career or work counseling, management skills, and career planning. The Clinical Interview The clinical interview is a core component of any psychological testing. Some people know the clinical interview as an “intake interview”, “admission interview” or “diagnostic interview” (although technically these are often very different things). Clinical interviews typically last from 1 to 2 hours in length, and occur most often in a clinician’s office.
Many types of mental health professionals can conduct a clinical interview — psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, amongst others. The clinical interview is an opportunity for the professional to gather important background and family data about the person. Think of it as an information-gathering session for the professional’s benefit (but ultimately for your benefit). You may have to recall or review a lot of your life and personal history with the professional, who will often ask specific questions about various stages in your life.
Some components of the clinical interview have now become computerized, meaning you will answer a series of questions on a computer in the clinician’s office instead of talking directly to a person. This is most often done for basic demographic information, but can also include structured diagnostic interview questions to help the clinicians formulate an initial diagnostic impression. Before any formal psychological testing is done, a clinical interview is nearly always conducted (even if the person has already gone through one with a different professional).
Psychologists conducting the testing will often want to form their own clinical impressions, which can be best done through a direct interview with the person. Assessment of Intellectual Functioning (IQ) Your IQ — intellectual quotient — is a theoretical construct of a measure of general intelligence. It’s important to note that IQ tests do not measure actual intelligence — they measure what we believe might be important components of intelligence. There are two primary measures used to test a person’s intellectual functions — intelligence tests and neuropsychological assessment.
Intelligence tests are the more common type administered and include the Stanford-Binet and the Wechsler scales. Neuropsychological assessment — which can take up to 2 days to administer — is a far more extensive form of assessment. It is focused not just on testing for intelligence, but also on determining all of the cognitive strengths and deficits of the person. Neuropsychological assessment is most usually done with people who have suffered some sort of brain damage, dysfunction or some kind of organic brain problem, just as having a brain hemorrhage.
The most commonly administered IQ test is called the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale—Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV). It generally takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to administer, and is appropriate for any individual aged 16 or older to take. (Children can be administered an IQ test especially designed for them called the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fourth Edition, or the WISC-IV. ) The WAIS-IV is divided into four major scales to arrive at what’s called a “full scale IQ. ” Each scale is further divided into a number of mandatory and optional (also called supplemental) subtests.
The mandatory subtests are necessary to arrive at a person’s full scale IQ. The supplemental subtests provide additional, valuable information about a person’s cognitive abilities. Verbal Comprehension Scale * Similarities * Vocabulary * Information * Supplemental Subtest: Comprehension Perceptual Reasoning Scale * Block Design * Matrix Reasoning * Visual Puzzles * Supplemental Subtests: Picture Completion; Figure Weights (16-69) only Working Memory Scale * Digit Span * Arithmetic * Supplemental Subtest: Letter-Number Sequencing (16-69 only) Processing Speed Scale * Symbol Search * Coding Supplemental Subtest: Cancellation (16-69 only) As you can surmise from the names of some of the scales of the test, measuring IQ isn’t just answering questions about information or vocabulary. Because some of the subtests require physical manipulation of objects, the Wechsler is tapping into many different components of a person’s brain and thought processes (including the creative). For this reason and others, online IQ tests are not equivalent to real IQ tests given by a psychologist. Personality Assessment Personality assessment is designed to help a professional better understand an individual’s personality.
Personality is a complex combination of factors that has been developed over a person’s entire childhood and young adulthood. There are genetic, environmental and social components to personality — our personalities are not shaped by one single influence. Therefore tests that measure personality take into account this complexity and rich texture. There are two primary types of personality tests — objective, by far the most commonly used today, and projective. Objective tests include things like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), the 16PF, and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III).
Projective tests include the Rorschach Inkblot Test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Draw-a-Person test. Objective Tests The most common objective personality test is the MMPI-2, a 567 true/false test that is a good measure of dysfunction within personality. It is less useful as a measure of healthy or positive personality traits, because its design was based on helping a professional to find a psychiatric diagnostic label that best suited an individual. Originally developed in the 1940s, it was significantly revised in 1989 (and had another minor revision in 2001).
The MMPI-2 measures personality traits such as paranoia, hypomania, social introversion, masculinity/femininity, and psychopathology, among others. It does this by connecting an individual’s responses to dozens of questions scattered throughout the test that are positively or negatively correlated with a particular personality trait. Because the questions are not always obviously related to the trait to which they are correlated, it is difficult to “fake” this test. The MMPI-2 is most often self-administered on a computer in a clinician’s office.
The Millon (MCMI-III) is specifically used to arrive at a DSM-IV personality disorder diagnosis. Because it takes only about a third of the time to take as the MMPI-2, it is often preferred when a simple assessment of an individual’s personality disorder is needed. Because the MMPI-2 is not an ideal measure for people with healthy personalities, other measures, such as the 16PF may be more appropriate. The 16PF measures 16 basic personality traits and can help a person better understand where their personality falls amongst those traits: Warmth (Reserved vs. Warm; Factor A) Reasoning (Concrete vs. Abstract; Factor B)
Emotional Stability (Reactive vs. Emotionally Stable; Factor C) Dominance (Deferential vs. Dominant; Factor E) Liveliness (Serious vs. Lively; Factor F) Rule-Consciousness (Expedient vs. Rule-Conscious; Factor G) Social Boldness (Shy vs. Socially Bold; Factor H) Sensitivity (Utilitarian vs. Sensitive; Factor I) Vigilance (Trusting vs. Vigilant; Factor L) Abstractedness (Grounded vs. Abstracted; Factor M) Privateness (Forthright vs. Private; Factor N) Apprehension (Self-Assured vs. Apprehensive; Factor O) Openness to Change (Traditional vs. Open to Change; Factor Q1) Self-Reliance (Group-Oriented vs. Self-Reliant; Factor Q2) Perfectionism (Tolerates Disorder vs. Perfectionistic; Factor Q3) Tension (Relaxed vs. Tense; Factor Q4) This type of assessment might be administered so that a person can better understand themselves, and it can also help a professional better understand what type of approach or strategy to employ in treatment to best help the person. Projective Tests The most famous projective test is the Rorschach Inkblot Test. The test is composed 5 black and white inkblot cards and 5 colored inkblot cards that an individual is shown and then asked to tell the professional what they see.
The most popular scoring system for the Rorschach is the Exner system, developed in the 1970s. Responses are scored based the location described in the inkblot, and its determinants — the things in the blot that prompted the person’s response. So yes, for the Rorschach there are answers that are “more right” than others. The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is comprised of 31 cards that depict people in a variety of situations. A few contain only objects and one card is completely blank. Often only a small subset of the cards is given (such as 10 or 20). The person viewing the card is asked to make up a story about what they see.
The TAT is not often formally scored; instead it’s a test designed to try and distinguish recurring themes in the person’s life. The pictures themselves have no inherent or “correct” story; therefore anything a person says about the picture may be an unconscious reflection into the person’s life or inner turmoil. Behavioral Assessment Behavioral assessment is the process of observing or measuring a person’s actual behavior to try and better understand the behavior and the thoughts behind it, and determine possible reinforcing components or triggers for the behavior.
Through the process of behavioral assessment, a person — and/or a professional — can track behaviors and help change them. After a clinical interview, the core of behavioral assessment is naturalistic observation — that is, observing the person in a natural setting and taking notes (much like an anthropologist). This can be done at home (think “Super Nanny” when Nanny spends the first day simply observing the current family patterns of behavior), at school, at work, or in a hospital or inpatient setting. Target negative and positive behaviors are observed, as well as their respective reinforcements.
Then the therapist has a good idea of what needs to change in order to obtain new, healthier behaviors. Self-monitoring is also a component of behavioral assessment. For instance, when a person is asked to keep a mood journal and track their moods over the course of a week or month, that’s a form of self-monitoring. Inventories and checklists, popular nowadays online in the form of quizzes, can also be a form of behavioral assessment. For instance, the Beck Depression Inventory is a popular depression behavioral assessment.
Psychological assessment encompasses a wide variety of types of tests, procedures and techniques used to help a psychologist better understand a person. Once psychological testing has been completed, the professional typically requires a few weeks to compile the data, interpret it, and write up a personalized assessment report for the individual. Such reports are usually lengthy and try to tie together the findings from all the various tests administered (if more than one test was administered). Findings that are outliers — e. g. only one test suggests something is significant but it is not backup by other tests — may be noted, but aren’t as significant as thematic findings that run through all the tests. The point of the test report is to summarize the findings in plain English, identify strengths and weaknesses, and help shed light on a person to help them better understand themselves. The old saying, “Know thyself” comes to mind. When used responsibly in a clinical or school setting, psychological testing has been shown to help individuals better “know thyself” in ways that simply talking to a person might never discover.
Public safety employment tests. Vocations within the public safety field (i. e. , fire service, law enforcement, corrections, and emergency medical services) often require Industrial and Organizational Psychology tests for initial employment and advancement throughout the ranks. The National Firefighter Selection Inventory – NFSI, the National Criminal Justice Officer Selection Inventory – NCJOSI, and the Integrity Inventory are prominent examples of these tests. Attitude tests Attitude test assess an individual’s feelings about an event, person, or object. Attitude scales are used in marketing to determine individual (and group) preferences for brands, or items.
Typically attitude tests use either a Thurstone scale, or Likert Scale to measure specific items. Neuropsychological tests These tests consist of specifically designed tasks used to measure a psychological function known to be linked to a particular brain structure or pathway. Neuropsychological tests can be used in a clinical context to assess impairment after an injury or illness known to affect neurocognitive functioning. When used in research, these tests can be used to contrast neuropsychological abilities across experimental groups.
Infant and Preschool Assessment. Due to the fact that infants and preschool aged children have limited capacities of communication, psychologists are unable to use traditional tests to assess them. Therefore, many tests have been designed just for children ages birth to around six years of age. These tests usually vary with age respectively from assessments of reflexes and developmental milestones, to sensory and motor skills, language skills, and simple cognitive skills. Common tests for this age group are split into categories: Infant Ability, Preschool Intelligence, and School Readiness.
Common infant ability tests include: Gesell Developmental Schedules (GDS) which measures the developmental progress of infants, Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) which tests newborn behavior, reflexes, and responses, Ordinal Scales of Psychological Development (OSPD) which assesses infant intellectual abilities, and Bayley-III which tests mental ability and motor skills. Common preschool intelligence tests include: McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities (MCAS) which is similar to an infant IQ test, Differential Ability Scales (DAS) which can be used to test for learning disability, Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-III (WPPSI-III) and Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales for Early Childhood which could be seen as infant versions of IQ tests, and Fagan Test of Infant Intelligence (FTII) which tests recognition memory. Finally, some common school readiness tests are: Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning-III (DIAL-III) which assesses motor, cognitive, and language skills, Denver II which tests motor, social, and language skills, and Home Observation for Measurement of Environment (HOME) which is a measure of the extent to which a child’s home environment facilitates school readiness.
Infant and preschool assessments, since they do not predict later childhood nor adult abilities, are mainly useful for testing if a child is experiencing developmental delay or disabilities. They are also useful for testing individual intelligence and ability, and, as aforementioned, there are some specifically designed to test school readiness and determine which children may struggle more in school. Direct observation tests Although most psychological tests are “rating scale” or “free response” measures, psychological assessment may also involve the observation of people as they complete activities.
This type of assessment is usually conducted with families in a laboratory, home or with children in a classroom. The purpose may be clinical, such as to establish a pre-intervention baseline of a child’s hyperactive or aggressive classroom behaviors or to observe the nature of a parent-child interaction in order to understand a relational disorder. Direct observation procedures are also used in research, for example to study the relationship between intrapsychic variables and specific target behaviors, or to explore sequences of behavioral interaction.
The Parent-Child Interaction Assessment-II (PCIA) is an example of a direct observation procedure that is used with school-age children and parents. The parents and children are video recorded playing at a make-believe zoo. The Parent-Child Early Relational Assessment (Clark, 1999) is used to study parents and young children and involves a feeding and a puzzle task. The MacArthur Story Stem Battery (MSSB) is used to elicit narratives from children.
The Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System-II (Eyberg, 1981) tracks the extent to which children follow the commands of parents and vice versa and is well suited to the study of children with Oppositional Defiant Disorders and their parents. Many psychological tests are generally not available to the public, but rather, have restrictions both from publishers of the tests and from psychology licensing boards that prevent the disclosure of the tests themselves and information about the interpretation of the results.
Test publishers consider both copyright and matters of professional ethics to be involved in protecting the secrecy of their tests, and they sell tests only to people who have proved their educational and professional qualifications to the test maker’s satisfaction. Purchasers are legally bound from giving test answers or the tests themselves out to the public unless permitted under the test maker’s standard conditions for administration of the tests.