What are psychological tests and what are they used for?

A psychological assessment is used to understand an individual’s functioning and behavior to arrive at a diagnosis and treatment
What are psychological tests and what are they used for?

When you consult an ophthalmologist for an issue with your vision, they will conduct a series of tests on you—they will make you do an exam or check your eyes for signs of an infection. The results of these tests will help them arrive at a diagnosis and put you on the correct treatment plan: spectacles or just eye drops.

Similarly, psychologists and psychiatrists conduct tests to understand an individual’s functioning and behavior to arrive at a diagnosis of a mental health issue and the corresponding treatment.


What is a psychological assessment?


Psychological assessment is a series of tests conducted by a psychologist, to gather information about how people think, feel, behave and react. The findings are used to develop a report of the person’s abilities and behavior—known as a psychological report—which is then used as a basis to make recommendations for the individual’s treatment.

Psychological assessments and reports are used in other fields as well—like in the case of career planning for young adults or in the job application process to determine how well an applicant will fit into the open role.

The procedures used to create an assessment are:

  • Interviews

  • Observation

  • Written assessment

  • Consultation with other mental health professionals

  • Formal psychological tests

Psychological assessment is also used in other fields, like:

  • Education—to assess a student’s ability to learn, and progress in the classroom

  • Legal system—to assess the mental health status of a person


What is a psychological test?


A psychological test is used to measure an individual’s different abilities, such as their aptitude in a particular field, cognitive functions like memory and spatial recognition, or even traits like introvertedness. These tests are based on scientifically tested psychological theories.

The format of a test can vary from pencil and paper tasks to computer-based ones. They include activities such as puzzle-solving, drawing, logic problem solving, and memory games.

Some tests also use techniques—known as projective techniques—which aim to access the unconscious. In these instances, the subject’s responses are analyzed through psychological interpretation and more complex algorithms than the non-projective techniques mentioned above. For example, the Rorschach test, popularly known as the ink-blot test can provide insight into the person’s personality and emotional functioning.

Psychological tests may also involve observing someone’s interactions and behavior. Based on the result of the test, an inference will be drawn about the individual’s inherent abilities and potential.


What do psychological tests measure?


Psychological testing covers a number of different areas:

Mental health assessment

A mental health assessment includes information about a person’s medical history, their family history, and the current status of their mental health. The assessment helps identify if there are any mental health issues present, and determine a diagnosis and treatment accordingly.

A psychologist or psychiatrist is likely to start an appointment with a mental health assessment, which will enable them to correctly diagnose and treat you.

Adaptive behavior assessments

This measures the social and practical skills of a person, to determine their ability to function on a daily basis at home, school or work; and are usually conducted along with cognitive tests.

For example, it may be used to assess a child’s ability to function in social activities with other students in school.

Aptitude testing

An aptitude test measures a person’s ability to perform different kinds of tasks. This is done to determine the areas in which their skills are the strongest. Some people may be better with quantitative tasks that require math and logical reasoning skills, some at language, and some at creative thinking.

These tests are used by vocational therapists to measure ability, and figure out the kind of professions or job roles a person may be suited for. They may also be used by career counselors to guide people towards higher education in fields where they demonstrate high ability.

Cognitive testing

A cognitive test measures a person’s cognitive abilities— problem solving, reasoning, vocabulary, comprehension, and memory. They are more commonly known as intelligence or IQ tests, and are used in the field of education to identify a person’s strengths and potential.

For instance, a child may be given a cognitive test to measure their ability in different subjects; allowing educators to help the child work on the subjects they’re having trouble with.

Educational/achievement testing

Educational testing is conducted to test how much an individual has progressed in learning a specific subject—like mathematics, reading comprehension—to identify any difficulties they may have had in it.

Achievement tests are the examinations that students take in schools and colleges.

Forensic psychological testing

Forensic testing is used in the legal field, to determine whether a suspect is capable of committing the crime they have been accused of. It comprises cognitive, personality, and neuropsychological tests.

Neuropsychological testing

Neuropsychological tests analyze how an individual’s brain works, in order to identify any problems in its functioning.

For instance, a person with a head injury may have to undergo neuropsychological tests to check their brain’s ability to retain information.

Personality assessment

A personality test focuses on the personality traits of an individual. It helps evaluate if a person is more introverted or extroverted, cautious or spontaneous, and how they may react or respond to various life situations.

Interpretation of psychological tests

Psychological tests are not meant to be interpreted without the context of the person being tested—their environment, socioeconomic status or physical health. While the tests do use scientifically verified scales, using its results as a stand-alone criteria can lead to misinterpretation.

For example, in the case of a blood work report—it is necessary for a doctor to read the numbers in relation to your symptoms and general physical health to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.

Similarly, it’s important to note that even though many of the psychological tests mentioned above are easily available on the internet, taking them without consulting a mental health professional may not lead to getting an actual analysis of your personality, aptitude or behavior. This in turn, could mean not getting the help you need.

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