Psychological tests are written, visual, or verbal evaluations administered to assess the cognitive and emotional functioning of children and adults.
Psychological tests are used to assess a variety of mental abilities and attributes, including achievement and ability, personality, and neurological functioning.
Achievement and ability tests
Achievement and ability tests are designed to measure the level of an individual's intellectual functioning and cognitive ability. Most achievement and ability tests are standardized, meaning that norms were established during the design phase of the test by administering the test to a large representative sample of the test population. Achievement and ability tests follow a uniform testing protocol, or procedure (i.e., test instructions, test conditions, and scoring procedures) and their scores can be interpreted in relation to established norms. Common achievement and ability tests include the Wechsler intelligence test (WISC-III and WAIS) and the Stanford-Binet intelligence scales.
Personality tests and inventories evaluate the thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behavioral traits that comprise personality. The results of these tests determine an individual's personality strengths and weaknesses, and may identify certain disturbances in personality, or psychopathology. Tests such as the Minnesota multiphasic personality inventory (MMPI-2) and the Millon clinical multiaxial inventory III (MCMI-III), are used to screen individuals for specific psychopathologies or emotional problems.
Another type of personality test is the projective personality assessment. A projective test asks a subject to interpret some ambiguous stimuli, such as a series of inkblots. The subject's responses provide insight into his or her thought processes and personality traits. For example, the Rorschach inkblot test and the Holtzman ink blot test (HIT) use a series of inkblots that the test subject is asked to identify. Another projective assessment, the Thematic apperception test (TAT), asks the subject to tell a story about a series of pictures. Some consider projective tests to be less reliable than objective personality tests. If the examiner is not well-trained in psychometric evaluation, subjective interpretations may affect the evaluation of these tests.
Many insurance plans cover all or a portion of diagnostic neuropsychological or psychological testing. As of 1997, Medicare reimbursed for psychological and neuropsychological testing. Billing time typically includes test administration, scoring and interpretation, and reporting.
Psychological testing requires a clinically trained examiner. All psychological tests should be administered, scored, and interpreted by a trained professional, preferably a psychologist or psychiatrist with expertise in the appropriate area.
Psychological tests are only one element of a psychological assessment. They should never be used alone as the sole basis for a diagnosis. A detailed history of the test subject and a review of psychological, medical, educational, or other relevant records are required to lay the groundwork for interpreting the results of any psychological measurement.
Cultural and language differences in the test subject may affect test performance and may result in inaccurate
Psychological tests are formalized measures of mental functioning. Most are objective and quantifiable; however, certain projective tests may involve some level of subjective interpretation. Also known as inventories, measurements, questionnaires, and scales, psychological tests are administered in a variety of settings, including preschools, primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, outpatient healthcare settings, social agencies, prisons, and employment or human resource offices. They come in a variety of formats, including written, verbal, and computer administered.
Prior to the administration of any psychological test, the administrator should provide the test subject with information on the nature of the test and its intended use, complete standardized instructions for taking the test (including any time limits and penalties for incorrect responses), and information on the confidentiality of the results. After these disclosures are made, informed consent should be obtained from the test subject before testing begins (except in cases of legally mandated testing, where consent is not required of the subject).
All psychological and neuropsychological assessments should be administered, scored, and interpreted by a trained professional. When interpreting test results for test subjects, the test administrator will review with subjects: what the test evaluates, its precision in evaluation, any margins of error involved in scoring, and what the individual scores mean in the context of overall test norms and the background of the test subject.
The American Psychological Association. Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. Washington, DC: APA Press, 1985.
The Buros Institute of Mental Measurements at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Twelfth Mental Measurements Yearbook, ed. Jane C. Conoley and James C. Impara. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
Keyser, Daniel J., and Richard C. Sweetland, eds. Test Critiques. Vols. 1-10. Kansas City: Test Corporation of America, 1984-1992; Austin: Pro-ed, 1993-1994.
Maddox, Taddy. Tests: A Comprehensive Reference for Assessments in Psychology, Education, and Business. 4th ed. Austin: Pro-ed, 1997.
Shore, Milton F, et al. When Your Child Needs Testing. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1992.
Wodrich, David L. Children's Psychological Testing: A Guide for Nonpsychologists. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 1997.
American Psychological Association (APA). 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. (202) 336-5700. <ttp://www.apa.org>.
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. 1131 Shriver Laboratory (Bldg 075), University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742. <http://ericae.net>.
Paula Anne Ford-Martin
Norms—A fixed or ideal standard; normative or mean score for a particular age group.
Quantifiable—Can be expressed as a number. The results of quantifiable psychological tests can be translated into numerical values, or scores.
Representative sample—A random sample of people that adequately represent the test taking population in age, gender, race, and socioeconomic standing.
Standardization—The process of determining established norms and procedures for a test to act as a standard reference point for future test results.