Definition & Overview

Psychological testing is an assessment test performed by a skilled professional, usually a psychologist, to evaluate the emotional, intellectual and/or behavioral functioning of an individual. Psychological assessment can be administered to children and adults alike, and are performed for a wide variety of reasons (some of which will be explained later on in this article) in a spectrum of settings including schools, universities, social agencies, hospitals and outpatient health care settings.

Some psychological tests are simple, written tests answerable by yes or now, while some are designed for an individual to interactively respond to a virtual reality-like environment. While some tests are administered one-on-one and require individualized interpretation, some psychological testing are administered to large populations and interpreted by a computerized software. Despite these wide-ranging differences in psychological assessment, all of them are aimed at one goal: to help psychologists and experts collect data and interpret them to inform individuals about their current function, make them understand their behaviors and predict future functioning.

Who should undergo & expected results

Psychological assessment is commonly suggested for specific reasons. In children, they are used to:

  • determine the presence of developmental delay, learning disability or processing problems
  • diagnose conditions such as attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorders, emotional disturbances (mood, anxiety disorders) or disruptive behavior disorders
  • identify giftedness or to test intelligence
  • determine vocational ability (such as for career counseling in young adults)
  • track intellectual development
  • determine socialization problems

In adults, psychological assessment is sought for:

  • screening job candidates for possible psychopathology issues, such as personality or depressive disorder
  • educational purposes, such as to determine one’s strengths and weaknesses
  • for behavioral management
  • as a requirement for the use of supportive drug therapies
  • to affirm clinical findings, such as when no evidence of physical pathology is observed for a given condition

Psychological testing is much like medical tests as they are performed only when the patient shows symptoms or requires it, for one reason or another.

How does the procedure work?

Psychological tests are almost always a formalized, systematic measure of mental function. There are several types of psychological tests and can be categorized into the following:

  1. Achievement and aptitude tests - these are tests designed to measure the level of intellectual and cognitive function (often for children); they utilize a uniform testing protocol and interpreted in reference to established norms

  2. Intelligence tests - tests that attempt to measure intelligence (as a measure of potential) or “Intelligence Quotient” belong to this category

  3. Neuropsychological tests - range of tests that measure cognitive abilities of those who have experienced brain damage, traumatic brain injury or other neurological problems, often to identify impairment and assess level of functioning; screening for children with developmental delays or disabilities belong to this category

  4. Occupational tests - these types of psychological test aim to determine how well your interests with your chosen career path

  5. Personality tests - these tests evaluate behavioral traits, emotions and attitudes to determine personal strengths and weaknesses as well as to identify personality issues or emotional disturbances

  6. Specific clinic tests - tests that aim to measure specific clinical problems, such as current level of depression or anxiety

Psychological testing is administered, evaluated and interpreted by a professional psychologist who is trained in this area of expertise. As mentioned earlier, the test can vary in form to include:

  • Standard tests - formal, standardized, written tests that are evaluated objectively to measure intelligence, a particular trait, or disorders; these tests use the same materials, administration instructions and scoring procedures for all test-takers to ensure meaningful comparisons and minimal bias

  • Clinical interview - psychological tests may also include a clinical interview where patients will be asked about their concerns and medical history; psychologists will listen to the answers and observe behavior to subjectively confirm the presence of a condition (usually done alongside other objective tests due to the subjectivity of this assessment method)

  • Naturalistic behavioral observations - this type of testing is critically important for diagnosing psychological conditions, such as in children; this includes observing the patient in the actual home, work or school setting to help further pinpoint symptoms of a suspected condition

Seeing a psychologist

There is no one-size-fits-all set of psychological testing available. These tests are customized to fit the needs and circumstances of every patient. As such, the specific type of tests and assessment materials that a psychologist will use on you may differ significantly from what is administered to others. Furthermore, tests are not done on a pass-or-fail basis. All information provided would be used to reach a diagnosis, which will then be used as basis of an appropriate treatment plan, if deemed necessary. As soon as a psychologist fully evaluates you and provides the diagnosis, you may be referred to other specialists for treatment.

Possible complications and risks

You should only seek for the services of an expert when getting a psychological assessment. Note, too that psychologists often recommend a combination of different tests in order to come up with a comprehensive diagnosis. Moreover, information gathered through the tests are often not the only sole basis for the diagnosis. Personal history, an in-depth review of medical, educational and psychological background, as well as consideration of extraneous factors such as cultural and language differences and test limitations, must also be taken into context.

There are usually no complications or risks involved in a psychological testing. The tests can successfully provide valuable insights into one’s mental abilities and behavior. However, one has to consider that psychological tests are merely tools that may have certain limitations. Despite possible extensive testing, there are uncertainties in measurements that the tests may fail to reveal. Moreover, results of the tests may only be relevant for a certain period, and must often be updated to remain valid and reliable.

References:

  • A Guide to Psychology and Its Practice. “Psychological Testing”Available: http://www.guidetopsychology.com/testing.htm
  • American Psychological Association. “Understanding Psychological Testing and Assessment.”Available: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/assessment.aspx
  • National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Frequently Performed Psychological Tests.”Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK321/ Shum, D., O’Gorman, J. et. al. “Psychological Testing and Assessment 2nd Ed.”Oxford University Press: 2013.
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