TESTS AND ASSESSMENTS
If you or a family member has been referred for psychological testing, you probably have some questions about what to expect. Or you may have heard about psychological testing and wonder if you or a family member should be tested. Psychological testing may sound intimidating, but it’s designed to help you.
In many ways, psychological testing and assessment are similar to medical tests. If a patient has physical symptoms, a primary care provider may order X-rays or blood tests to understand what’s causing those symptoms.
Psychologists use tests and other assessment tools to measure and observe a clients behavior to arrive at a diagnosis and guide treatment.
Psychologists use tests, clinical interviews and other assessment tools to measure and observe behavior to assist in assessments for a wide variety of reasons.
Children who are experiencing difficulty in school, for example, may undergo aptitude testing or tests for learning disabilities. Tests for skills such as dexterity, reaction time, and memory can help a neuropsychologist diagnose conditions such as brain injuries or dementia.
If a person is having problems at work or school, or in personal relationships, tests can help a psychologist understand whether the person might have issues with anger management or interpersonal skills, or certain personality traits that contribute to the problem. Other tests evaluate whether patients are experiencing emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression.
The underlying cause of a person’s problems isn’t always clear. For example, if a child is having trouble in school, do they have a reading problem such as dyslexia? An attention problem such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Difficulty with impulse control? Psychological tests and assessments allow a psychologist to understand the nature of the problem, and to figure out the best way to go about addressing.
What to Expect?
Tests and assessments are two separate but related components of a psychological evaluation. Psychologists use both types of tools to help them arrive at a diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Testing involves the use of formal tests such as questionnaires or checklists. These are often described as “norm-referenced” tests. That means the tests have been standardized so that test-takers are evaluated in a similar way, no matter where they live or who administers the test. A norm-referenced test of a child’s reading abilities, for example, may rank that child’s ability compared to other children of similar age or grade level. Norm-referenced tests have been developed and evaluated by researchers and have proven to be effective for measuring a particular trait or disorder.
A psychological assessment can include numerous components, such as norm-referenced psychological tests,
informal tests and surveys, interview information, school or medical records, medical evaluation, and observational data. A psychologist determines what information to users based on the specific questions being asked. For example, assessments can be used to determine if a person has a learning disorder, is competent to stand trial, or has a traumatic brain injury. They can also be used to determine if a person would be a good manager or how well they may work with a team.
One common assessment technique, for instance, is a clinical interview. When a psychologist speaks to a patient about his or her concerns and history, they’re able to observe how the patient thinks, reasons, and interacts with others. Assessments may also include interviewing other people who are close to the patient, such as teachers, coworkers, or family members. (Such interviews, however, would only be performed with written consent from the patient.)
Together, testing and assessment allow a psychologist to see the full picture of a person’s strengths and limitations.