Although some professionals, including school counselors and learning disability specialists, conduct psychological testing, their testing is limited in scope and to a specific problem. Psychologists are thoroughly trained in all aspects of psychological testing and are the primary professionals in this area.
Testing formats include surveys, pencil-and-paper tests, exercises and activities (like putting a puzzle together), interviews, and observation. Psychological testing focuses on the subject matter of psychology, behavior, and mental processes.
Intelligence testsIntelligence tests may be the most frequently administered type of psychological test. They measure a broad range of intellectual and cognitive abilities and often provide a general measure of intelligence, which is sometimes called an IQ — intelligence quotient.
Intelligence tests are used in a wide variety of settings and applications. They can be used for diagnostic purposes to identify disabilities and cognitive disorders. They’re commonly used in academic and school settings. Intelligence tests have been around since the beginning of psychology as an established science, dating back to the work of Wilhelm Wundt — one of the founders of psychology — in the early 20th century.
The most commonly used tests of intelligence are the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 4th Edition, for adults, and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, 4th Edition, for children. Each of these tests contains several subtests designed to measure specific aspects of intelligence, such as attention, general knowledge, visual organization, and comprehension. Both tests provide individual scores for each subtest and an overall score representing overall intelligence.
Neuropsychological and cognitive testsAlthough not a new field, tests of neuropsychological functioning and cognitive ability, related specifically to brain functioning, are rapidly becoming a standard part of a psychologist’s testing toolset. Neuropsychological tests have traditionally been used to augment neurological exams and brain imaging techniques (such as MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans) but they’re being used more widely now in psychoeducational testing and other clinical testing situations.
The technology of scanning techniques picks up on the presence of brain damage, but neuropsychological tests serve as a more precise measure of the actual functional impairments an individual may suffer from. Scans say, “Yep, there’s damage!” Neuropsychological tests say, “. . . and here’s the cognitive problem related to it.”Neuropsychological testing is used in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other places where psychologists work with patients who are suspected of neuropsychological impairment. People suffering head trauma, developmental disorder, or other insults to the brain may need a thorough neuropsychological examination.
A popular neuropsychological test is a collection of tests called a test battery. The Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Test Battery includes tests that measure neuropsychological constructs, such as memory, attention and concentration, language ability, motor skills, auditory skill, and planning. Completing the battery requires several hours, and it’s never done in one sitting. However, when conducted by a competent professional, the testing can yield a tremendous amount of helpful information.
Many neuropsychological instruments are available; some are comprehensive, like the Halstead-Reitan, and some are designed to measure a specific function such as language or attention. A neuropsychological evaluation is conducted using a comprehensive instrument or a collection of individual instruments to create a profile of neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses. The following areas of neuropsychological functioning are typically assessed:
Executive Functions: Focusing, planning, organizing, monitoring, inhibiting, and self-regulating
Communication and Language: Perceiving, receiving, and expressing self with language and nonverbal communication
Memory: Auditory memory, visual memory, working memory, and long-term memory
Sensorimotor Functions: Sensory and motor functions, including hearing, touch, smell, and fine and gross muscle movements
Visual-Spatial Functions: Visual perception, visual motor coordination, visual scanning, and perceptual reasoning
Speed and Efficiency: How fast and how efficient thinking is