Types Of Psychological Tests
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PSYCHOLOGICAL tests aren’t magic, so let’s get that clear right at the beginning. They assess and evaluate information that you give to the examiner, which is why the formal name of psychological testing is psychological assessment. You give this information either in the form of answers to interview questions or as answers on paper—or on a computer—to specific questions. Ultimately, a test’s accuracy depends on how carefully and seriously you answer the questions you’re asked.
Please note that you won’t find copies of any of the standard professional tests online because the tests are copyrighted by the test publishers. Also, for professional reasons, the security of the tests must be maintained, so all mental health professionals are under ethical obligations (enforced by licensing boards) to maintain proper test security.
Psychological tests fall into several categories:
Achievement and aptitude tests are usually seen in educational or employment settings, and they attempt to measure either how much you know about a certain topic (i.e., your achieved knowledge), such as mathematics or spelling, or how much of a capacity you have (i.e., your aptitude) to master material in a particular area, such as mechanical relationships.
Intelligence tests attempt to measure your intelligence—that is, your basic ability to understand the world around you, assimilate its functioning, and apply this knowledge to enhance the quality of your life. Or, as Alfred Whitehead said about intelligence, “it enables the individual to profit by error without being slaughtered by it.” Intelligence, therefore, is a measure of a potential, not a measure of what you’ve learned (as in an achievement test), and so it is supposed to be independent of culture. The challenge is to design a test that can actually be culture-free; most intelligence tests fail in this area to some extent for one reason or another.
The concept of IQ derives from about 1916 when a Stanford University psychologist, Lewis Terman, translated and revised the intelligence scale created by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon. Hence the name of the new instrument, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. In this instrument, Terman used the ratio of mental age to chronological age. This ratio—or quotient—concept led to the use of the term IQ (Intelligence Quotient). For example, a six year old child with a mental age of 6 would have an IQ of 100 (the “average” IQ score); a six year old child with a mental age of 9 would have an IQ of 150.
This mental age-chronological age concept works well for children, but what do you do about adults? What’s the difference between a mental age of 25, say, and a mental age of 45? Needless to say, the problems here are so complicated that today psychologists have generally given up the idea of IQ and speak simply about intelligence. Today, intelligence is measured according to individual deviation from standardized norms, with 100 being the average.
Neuropsychological tests attempt to measure deficits in cognitive functioning (i.e., your ability to think, speak, reason, etc.) that may result from some sort of brain damage, such as a stroke or a brain injury.
Occupational tests attempt to match your interests with the interests of persons in known careers. The logic here is that if the things that interest you in life match up with, say, the things that interest most school teachers, then you might make a good school teacher yourself.
Personality tests attempt to measure your basic personality style and are most used in research or forensic settings to help with clinical diagnoses. Two of the most well-known personality tests are
• the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), or the revised MMPI-2, composed of several hundred “yes or no” questions, and
• the Rorschach (the “inkblot test”), composed of several cards of inkblots—you simply give a description of the images and feelings you experience in looking at the blots.
Specific clinical tests attempt to measure specific clinical matters, such as your current level of anxiety or depression.
sychological tests are usually administered and interpreted by a psychologist because studies in psychopathology, along with academic courses and supervision in psychological testing, are an integral part of the doctoral degree in clinical psychology. A counselor who has had the appropriate academic courses and supervision may administer occupational tests or achievement and aptitude tests, but most counselors have not received the training to administer personality tests. Academic courses and supervision in psychological testing are usually not a part of a psychiatrist’s medical training, so most psychiatrists can ethically administer only some specific clinical tests that are straight-forward check-lists of symptoms.
Of course, ethics is one thing, and the desire to make money is another thing. Therefore you will often find individuals offering to do all kinds of psychological testing—especially on the Internet—even when they lack the professional training to administer and interpret such tests. So, as in all things, buyer beware.
Sometimes a psychologist who runs a clinic or has a private office will use legally registered assistants (in California these persons are called
“psychological assistants” or “registered psychologists”) or student interns to administer and score psychological tests under his or her direct supervision. As I have seen personally (as a result of my own training), this “supervision” can vary from highly concerned and ethical involvement with assistants to nothing more than a “rubber stamp” signature on the final report. There’s no way for the consumer to know how much the psychologist has actually been involved in the whole process. But as a consumer you have the right to be fully informed about the training and credentials of any assistant with whom you have contact
Justification for using tests
Psychological tests were created for three main reasons, all of which are interconnected:
It’s easier to get information from tests than by clinical interview. Most people won’t talk about this, but, believe it or not, many psychologists are rather inept at dealing with people, and so it’s a great relief to them to be able to administer a test rather than conduct a competent interview. Thankfully, such psychologists tend to specialize in testing (or research, or teaching) rather than psychotherapy. Think about this if ever you find yourself sitting in front of a steely-eyed psychologist while being given a battery of psychological tests.
The information from tests is more scientifically consistent than the information from a clinical interview. If a psychologist is simply trying to arrive at a diagnosis to help determine the course of psychotherapy, an interview is just fine. But when decisions have to be made about legal matters, disability issues, and so on, then the standardized information from tests allows one person to be directly compared with others, and it makes things more fair.
It’s harder to get away with lying on a test than in a clinical interview. Many tests have multiple “alarms” that go off when a test taker tries to lie. And some tests, such as the Rorschach (the “inkblot test”) don’t even give a clue as to what preferred, or healthy, responses might be, so it’s pretty much impossible to make yourself “look good” by fabricating deceptive answers to a test like this.