Psychology For Dummies
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Psychological tests are part of the entire psychological assessment process. Assessment is a set of scientific procedures used to measure and evaluate an individual’s behavior and mental processes. Psychologist Anne Anastasi (1908–2001), a past president of the American Psychological Association, defines a psychological test as an objective, standardized sample of behavior or mental processes. Nearly all topics in psychology can be measured with a test.

Clinical tests

Clinical psychologists (psychologists who work with mental disorders and abnormal behavior) typically use clinical testing as a way to clarify diagnoses and assess the scope and nature of a person’s or family’s disturbance and dysfunction. Specific tests are designed to assess the extent to which a patient may or may not be experiencing the symptoms of a particular disorder. These are diagnostic tests.

Behavioral and adaptive functioning tests are two types of clinical tests that determine how well a person is doing in her everyday life and whether she exhibits specific problem behaviors. A common instrument used with children is the Child Behavior Checklist, which assesses the extent of a child’s behavior problems. Another commonly used clinical test is the Conner’s Parent Rating Scale, which detects attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.

In addition to disorder-specific inventories and tests, a wide variety of tests designed for other purposes lend themselves to the diagnostic process. Intelligence tests are designed to measure intelligence, but they can also show signs of cognitive dysfunction and learning disabilities. Personality tests are designed to measure personality, but they can also provide helpful insight to the types of psychological problems an individual is experiencing.

Educational and achievement tests

Educational and achievement tests measure an individual’s current level of academic competence. Glen Aylward, chair of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, identifies three major purposes of this type of testing:
  • Identify students who need special instruction.

  • Identify the nature of a student’s difficulties in order to rule out learning disabilities.

  • Assist in educational planning and approach to instruction.

A typical educational/achievement test assesses the most common areas of school activity: reading, mathematics, spelling, and writing skills. Some tests include other areas such as science and social studies. A popular achievement test in use today is the Woodcock-Johnson Psychoeducational Battery, Revised. The test consists of nine subtests, measuring the standard areas of instruction but in more detail (mathematics is broken down into calculation and applied problems, for example).

When a student has a hard time in school, it’s not unusual to administer an achievement test. Sometimes, students have a difficult time because they have a learning disability. Part of identifying a learning disability is assessing the student’s achievement level. Other times, a student struggles because of non-academic difficulties including emotional problems, substance abuse, or family issues. An achievement test sometimes helps to tease out these non-academic problems.

Personality tests

Personality tests measure many different things, not just personality. Numerous tests are designed to measure emotion, motivation, and interpersonal skills as well as specific aspects of personality, according to the given theory on which a test is based. Most personality tests are known as self-reports. With self-reports, the person answering questions about herself, typically in a pencil-and-paper format, provides the information.

Personality tests are usually developed with a particular theory of personality in mind. A test may measure id, ego, or superego issues, for example, if it originates from a Freudian view of personality development.


Perhaps the most widely used personality test in the United States is the MMPI-2, The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, 2nd Edition. Almost all American psychologists are trained to use the MMPI-2, which is considered to be a very reliable and valid instrument.

A patient’s results from a MMPI-2 test provide rich information about the presence of psychopathology and level of severity, if present. The test’s results also reveal information about the emotional, behavioral, and social functioning of the test taker. A lot of psychologists use the MMPI-2 as a way to check the accuracy of their observations and diagnoses.

The MMPI-2 test consists of 567 individual items and produces a score on nine clinical categories or scales. If a score is over a specific cutoff, it usually gets the attention of the psychologist administering the test. Psychologists consider such scores to be of clinical significance. The MMPI-2 covers a wide variety of areas, including depression, physical complaints, anger, social contact, anxiety, and energy level.

Projective personality tests

Projective personality tests are a unique breed of test. When most people think of psychological testing, these kinds of tests come readily to mind. The stereotype involves sitting across from a psychologist, looking at a card with smeared ink or a picture of somebody doing something on it, and answering questions like “What do you see here?”

(You can take a free, mock personality test at here.)

Projective personality tests are based on the projective hypothesis, which states that when presented with ambiguous stimuli, people project parts of themselves and their psychological functioning that they may not reveal if asked directly The idea is that many people can’t exactly describe what’s going on mentally and emotionally because of psychological defense mechanisms. Projective tests get past the defenses and penetrate the deep recesses of the psyche.

Perhaps the most popular projective personality test and maybe even the most popular psychological test of all time is the Rorschach Inkblot Test (RIT). The RIT consists of ten cards, each with its own standard inkblot figure. None of these inkblots are a picture or representation of anything. They were created by simply pouring ink onto a sheet of paper and folding it in half. The only meaning and structure the cards have are provided by the projections of the test taker himself.

About This Article

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Adam Cash is a clinical psychologist who has practiced in a variety of settings including forensic institutions and outpatient clinics. He has taught Psychology at both the community college and university levels. He is currently in private practice specializing in psychological assessment, child psychology, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

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