Psychological testing. What is psychological testing? Let’s break it down! Testing refers to an observation or examination, similar to what we might expect a student would take at school (i.e., a math test). This is all too familiar for most of us. It provides an indication of how well we are doing in terms of our knowledge and our progress within a given area of study (i.e., math). However, we might not all be too familiar for what it means to take a psychological test (because we have probably never taken one before!).
A psychological test taps into more than “what we know,” but also gives us the opportunity to evaluate how a person is doing emotionally, as well as the interplay between the two. Yes! It is possible that what is happening to a person emotionally can impact their thinking and their ability to carry out daily tasks. For instance, think of a time where something in your life was taking up your head space, and it was very difficult to focus on important things such as school, work, and your life responsibilities. This can be very difficult and may impact how well you are able to function in these areas of your life. In this case, psychological testing can be very helpful in determining whether social-emotional issues are driving these attentional difficulties, or whether it might be an actual diagnosis (such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; ADHD) that is being worsened by the emotions you are feeling.
In this way, psychological testing is a tool! Psychological testing gives us a full scope of how a person is doing, providing samples across both their mental and emotional functioning, and allows us to compare these samples to a standardized group of people (Urbina, 2004). Although it might still sound daunting, it is a beneficial process. It allows an individual to gain a sense of clarity and helps to better inform providers on appropriate routes for treatment, if necessary.
You might be asking yourself: What should I expect if I pursue this type of testing for myself or my child? This question is completely valid and normal to ask! Usually, these types of evaluations are conducted over three sessions. The first appointment is called the intake, which is an hour or so that allows the individual or family to discuss their current concerns, history, and ask questions of the psychologist. At this time, the psychologist will determine whether they think that the individual would benefit from psychological testing.
From that point, the testing session would be scheduled, and a “battery” would be developed based on the concern(s) presented. A battery is the collection of measures and activities that are determined to be helpful in gaining the full scope of the individual and providing answers for the presenting concern(s) [i.e., if concerns are pertaining to attention, tools used to measure these concerns, such as tasks requiring focus and working memory, will be incorporated]. In terms of duration, the testing session can be about 3 to 5 hours long but can be broken down into smaller sessions to ensure that the individual does their best performance (and the psychologist receives the most accurate picture of their functioning!).
On the day of testing, you could expect that the psychologist will meet with you as the client and/or your child (if you are pursuing testing for your child) to discuss more thoroughly the areas of concern, any updates since the intake appointment, and relevant background information. At this time, the person may provide additional materials that provide further insight and information for the psychologist. Examples may include school records, any mental health information, and past diagnostic reports. The psychologist will then work one-on-one with you, or your child, to complete a variety of measures and activities, one of which is an intelligence test (to determine the individual’s IQ and level of mental functioning). Measures may also include rating scales to gain more information in addition to other assessments. If applicable, parents are also asked to complete rating scales to provide information about the child’s typical day-to-day functioning. Input from teachers and other community providers may also be requested when appropriate.
At the conclusion of the testing process, a written report detailing the findings along with recommendations tailored to the individual’s diagnostic profile(s) and unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses is provided. This report can then be used by current or future providers to help determine a person’s next steps and best route for treatment, as described before!
The third and final portion of the testing process is a feedback session with a provider, if desired. The feedback session involves a discussion of evaluation results, clinical impressions, diagnostic considerations, and recommendations. This appointment allows the individual or family to ask any questions that they may have after reviewing the report, which can be extremely helpful to those that may feel overwhelmed! This is an opportunity for the individual or family to feel confident in moving forward and taking those next steps.
Hopefully, this gives a better picture of what it means to engage in psychological testing, how it’s used, and the benefits of the testing process. While we spoke about psychological testing broadly and utilized some specific examples (i.e., attentional, or emotional concerns), there are many additional reasons that psychological testing can be used. Other common reasons that youth are referred for assessment by their parents, pediatrician, or school are to evaluate cognitive strengths/weaknesses, to rule out developmental disabilities, or assess their emotional functioning (e.g., worries, sadness). Psychological testing is then used to determine the extent to which these concerns may be impacting behavioral or academic performance.