Psychological assessment — also known as psychological testing — is done to help a psychologist better understand an individual and provide valuable insights into the individual’s behavior, skills, thoughts and personality. Psychological testing commonly includes intelligence testing, personality testing, and skills testing, among other areas.
Psychological assessment is never focused on a single test score or number. Every person has a range of competencies that can be evaluated through a number of methods. A psychologist is there to evaluate the competencies as well as the limitations of the person, and report on them in an objective but helpful manner. A psychological assessment report will not only note weaknesses found in testing, but also the individual’s strengths.
There are a number of core principles that form the foundation for psychological assessment:
- Tests are samples of behavior.
- Tests do not directly reveal traits or capacities, but may allow inferences to be made about the person being examined.
- Tests should have adequate reliability and validity.
- Test scores and other test performances may be adversely affected by temporary states of fatigue, anxiety, or stress; by disturbances in temperament or personality; or by brain damage.
- Test results should be interpreted in light of the person’s cultural background, primary language, and any handicaps.
- Test results are dependent on the person’s cooperation and motivation.
- Tests purporting to measure the same ability may produce different scores for that ability.
- Test results should be interpreted in relation to other behavioral data and to case history information, never in isolation.
Psychological assessment is a powerful tool, but its effectiveness depends upon the skill and knowledge of the person administering and interpreting the test. When used wisely and in a cautious manner, psychological assessment can help a person learn more about themselves and gain valuable insights. When used inappropriated, psychological testing can mislead a person who is making an important life decision or decision about treatment, possibly causing harm.
Good psychologists know this and will take great care in writing up a psychological assessment report, communicating in careful and cautious language.