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Psychological testing

Psychologists often undertake psychological testing of individuals, groups or organisations that can provide valuable information about their perceptions, thoughts and feelings, or their cognitive functioning such as memory and learning.

Testing is a formal process using validated and reliable measures of aspects of an individual's psychological or cognitive functioning. It might include paper and pencil tests like questionnaires and  surveys, or the completion of set puzzle-like activities that evaluate certain skills such as planning, memory or problem-solving.

Psychological testing can answer a broad range of questions. For example, a prospective employer may have a psychologist test candidates as part of the employment recruitment process to determine what skills they have in a particular area. A psychologist may help test an individual to judge whether they are competent to manage their own affairs responsibly. 

Psychologists often assess children with special learning needs, people with brain injuries, or older adults experiencing problems with declining memory so that they, and others around them better understand their needs. Other psychologists provide assessments for the criminal justice system, or evaluate and provide professional psychological opinion to the courts on child custody cases.

Below are some frequently asked questions that will help explain the process of psychological testing, as well as enable better preparation for those who are due to undertake testing.


A psychological assessment is conducted by a psychologist to gather information about how people think, feel, behave and react. The focus of a psychological assessment will vary depending on the purpose. Generally psychological assessments include a range of ways for gathering information and may include interview, observation, consultation with other professionals and formal psychological testing. Psychological testing involves the administration, scoring and interpreting of psychological tests.

Psychologists take the information gathered from the different assessment procedures to develop a complete picture of a person’s abilities and behaviour. This information can then be used as a basis for making recommendations for treatment or, for example in the case of children, for educational planning, or for an adult with a mental illness for the development of a treatment plan. The information gathered may also be written up and presented in a psychological report.

A psychological test provides a measure of characteristics and abilities in individuals including aptitude and intelligence.  Psychological tests have a number of important qualities that distinguish them from other tests or questionnaires.  Psychological tests are based on psychological theories that take account and explain individual differences. They are standardised such that they are administered and scored in a consistent manner and provide a basis through the development of norms for comparing an individual’s performance with those of the general population, taking account of such factors as age and background.  In addition, psychological tests have the qualities of validity, which means that the test actually measures what it claims to measure and reliability which refers to how accurate the measure is across different times and different people.

The format of psychological tests varies and can include pencil and paper tasks or computer-based tasks and may include activities such as putting together puzzles, drawing, solving problems and recalling information. Psychological tests may also involve observing someone’s interactions and behaviour or having another person who knows the individual well rate their behaviour and other abilities.  Psychologists typically draw inferences about an individual’s underlying abilities based on their performance on psychological tests and have had extensive training in test development and interpretation in order to do so.

There are a range of reasons for undergoing psychological testing. For example, it may be that you are experiencing some difficulties and psychological testing will assist in understanding what is happening and determining how to work to overcome these difficulties. Psychological testing may also occur when people are high achievers and educators may want to know how best to focus on the individual’s learning to ensure they reach their full potential.  Employers frequently request psychological testing so that they can determine whether someone’s abilities will be appropriate for a particular job.

In Australia, psychological testing is usually performed by a psychologist. Psychologists are trained in the administration, interpretation and reporting of psychological tests. A non-psychologist may administer and score a psychological test as long as they have had appropriate training to do so and are working under the supervision of a psychologist who must be directly involved in the interpretation and reporting of the findings of the psychological test.

It is important to identify a psychologist who has expertise in conducting the type of testing that you are seeking. There are a number ways that you can find a psychologist who can conduct the assessment that you need.  These include through your medical practitioner who may recommend a psychologist whom he or she knows conducts this type of work. If the testing is for a child, your child’s school may have access to a psychologist who provides testing for educational reasons or be able to recommend a psychologist who can do so. The APS “Find a Psychologist” service, which can be accessed by phone (1800 333 497) or online, can also be used to identify a suitable psychologist.

Some government services, for example through schools or community health centres, may be able to provide certain assessments free of charge to those who meet their eligibility requirements. You should investigate this possibility with the relevant organisations. It may be that you still decide to pay for the assessment to be done privately, for example because there is a long waiting period for accessing the assessment, or you may find you are not eligible for the particular assessment. The cost of the assessment through private psychology services will depend on the reason for undertaking the testing, the number of tests that need to be administered, what other information needs to be gathered for a full assessment, and what report of the assessment is required. As the work and time involved can vary greatly it is not possible to provide a general indication of the cost.  For this reason the cost of a particular assessment and what will be covered as part of that assessment should be discussed and agreed upon with the psychologist prior to the assessment. Psychologists may have different approaches to determining payment for an assessment. For example, some psychologists will charge a set fee for the administration of tests and report preparation for specific purposes (e.g., a specific diagnosis) while others may charge by the hour.

Psychologists generally prefer that there is no-one else present while they are conducting formal testing. The main reason for this is the importance of following standardised procedures that involve working with the individual with no-one else present and it has been shown that a person’s behaviour will often change when someone else is present. This may lead to the outcome of the testing being unreliable. For example, having someone in the room may be a distraction for you or may even increase your anxiety and this would affect your performance. The person may also find it difficult to avoid making verbal or nonverbal responses during the session. There may be some instances when the psychologist may agree to have someone else in the room, for example, to settle a highly anxious or distressed child. However, this is likely to be dependent on the child’s age and temperament and would be avoided wherever possible. If another person does stay in the room then it is important that they are positioned wherever possible behind the person being assessed to reduce the possibility of distraction. The psychologist will be expected to document in the report that another person was present and to form a judgment on whether this would have impacted on the test results.

There are several different ways of conducting psychological tests and obtaining the information that is used in psychological assessments.  These include what we refer to as paper and pencil tests where the individual may provide answers in a test booklet using a pen or pencil, or the psychologist may note down the individual’s answers in the test booklet.  Many tests are now computer based where the individual enters answers directly into the computer using the keyboard, mouse or possibly a joystick.  These tests can be administered using online testing where the test is stored remotely from the computer and accessed through the internet.  In addition to these different types, psychological testing may involve group testing for which tests are designed to be administered to a group of individuals at the same time, or may involve individual testing with the psychologist working directly with one individual, sometimes for extended periods to undertake a full assessment.

Psychological testing covers a number of different areas with the main ones being described below.

Achievement testing often focusses on particular areas (e.g., mathematics, reading) that assess how well an individual is progressing in that area along with providing information about difficulties they may have in learning in that same area.  Achievement tests are frequently used in educational testing to assess individual children’s progress.

Adaptive behaviour assessments typically measure an individual’s day-to-day functioning, for example, how a child acts and behaves and whether he or she has the necessary life skills to cope at school or at home.  Usually a range of social and practical skills is assessed.  Adaptive behaviour is often assessed in conjunction with cognitive tests, especially for individuals who find it difficult to complete everyday tasks and where low cognitive functioning is suspected.

Aptitude testing recognises that individuals vary in their ability to undertake different tasks, for example with some individuals having more mechanical ability than others, or having better use of language for reasoning tasks.  Aptitude testing focusses on measuring these differing abilities and is often used in job selection or vocational testing to assist in determining the extent to which an individual has the characteristics and abilities suitable for a particular job or to assist an individual in finding a job that makes use of his or her strengths.

Cognitive testing typically involves assessing a range of abilities including an individual’s problem solving, reasoning, vocabulary, comprehension and memory abilities.  Cognitive tests, used for this purpose, usually consist of a series of different tasks (sometimes referred to as subtests) measuring different abilities.  Cognitive tests include those referred to as intelligence tests, IQ tests, or general ability tests and are often used in educational contexts, for example to benefit children by providing information that assists them reach their full potential.

Educational testing includes the use of achievement tests in particular areas (e.g., mathematics, reading) that assess how well an individual is progressing in that area along with providing information about difficulties they may have in learning in that same area.  More general cognitive tests are also used frequently in educational settings, and sometimes in conjunction with achievement tests, for example to consider whether an individual student is achieving in a specific area at a level that would be expected from his or her general abilities.  Educational testing is important for ensuring that any difficulties children experience are identified and addressed and is generally regarded as beneficial for ensuring children reach their full potential.

Forensic psychological testing involves the use of psychological tests in legal settings.  Psychologists make use of a wide range of tests in these settings and may be required to complete reports for the courts based on their assessments.  Forensic psychological tests may include cognitive, personality and neuropsychological assessments depending on the requirements that are to be met in the forensic setting.  Psychologists who undertake forensic assessments need to have a good understanding of the legal system within which they are practising.

Mental health assessment is usually undertaken in a broader context involving clinical interviews to gather a range of information including a developmental and family history, psychiatric and medical history, information about the presenting problem and a risk assessment.  The psychologist may conduct a mental status examination, which is a structured assessment of a person’s appearance, behaviour and thinking, along with administering standardised tests to measure an individual’s current psychiatric presentation such as their mood, anxiety levels and emotional and social functioning.

Neuropsychological testing provides an assessment that relates to the way the brain functions and assists in the diagnosis of possible deficits that can be linked to specific parts of the brain.  At times a battery of tests is used, that is, several different tests are used together to provide more detailed information about individuals and their brain functioning.  For example, such tests may investigate memory functioning in individuals with acquired brain injury or as a result of ageing. These tests may be specifically designed as neuropsychological tests or they may make use of more general cognitive tests.

Personality assessment, as the name indicates, focusses on assessing an individual’s personality characteristics.  The particular characteristics assessed will depend on the theory or approach on which the assessment is based and may for example consider whether an individual is more extroverted or introverted, or how self-assured or reserved they are, or more generally how they might react to different situations.  An area closely linked to personality is temperament which refers to characteristics that determine the way individuals behave in different situations.  These characteristics are often regarded as being innate and include general activity levels, adaptability and mood.

Vocational testing is often used to assess an individual’s suitability for undertaking employment in a particular area or whether he or she can meet the requirements of a particular job opportunity.  Alternatively it may be used to assist individuals to select suitable careers.  Vocational testing often makes use of aptitude tests that consider an individual’s ability to learn to undertake tasks or develop skills in a particular area.  They also draw upon measures of personality to examine whether a person will be suitable for working in particular work settings that may, for example, be highly stressful, or require the ability to work with others as part of a team.

The amount of time it takes to complete a psychological assessment varies greatly depending on the test. Individual tests may take as little time as 15 minutes, for example to administer a short screening test, or may take more than one hour, for example to administer a more comprehensive test of cognitive abilities. In addition a psychologist may administer more than one test and obtain background information before administering any test. This will take longer than only administering a single test. Before taking part in any psychological testing the psychologist should clearly explain what is involved and how long it is expected to take. It is important that this information is provided before you consent to participating in the assessment.

The first right you have is to decline to undertake the assessment at all. Professional psychologists will respect your choice so you should ask what is involved and what the outcomes will be prior to starting the assessment. Psychologists respect and support informed consent and it forms part of their code of ethics. Once you have agreed to undertake the assessment, your rights to respect and consideration throughout the process should be both acknowledged and accommodated. Feel free to comment if something distresses or confuses you. Once the assessment is completed, some preliminary immediate feedback is generally provided and then the psychologist will write a report over the next week or so. This report, which takes considerable time and deliberation, will be provided to you if you were the requesting person or it will be sent to the referring agency (GP, school, courts) if they were the primary source of the request. In the latter case, whether you receive a copy of the report will depend on the circumstances and you should discuss this with the psychologist during the assessment process. The APS has developed a document which explains test taker rights in psychological testing in detail.

The psychologist will need to collect some basic personal details such as name, address and contact details. If the test-taker is a child the psychologist will seek to have contact details for the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the child. In addition, prior to taking part in psychological testing the psychologist will want to be sure that you (or in the case of children, the parents or guardians) have a good understanding of what the testing will involve, how the information from the testing will be used, who has access to the information, how much the service will cost, and any other information that is important for you to know prior to agreeing to proceed with the testing. This information is often put in a “consent form” that essentially is an agreement between the psychologist and the client. The psychologist will usually seek to gain consent in written form so that they have a record of the agreement but will typically talk through the content of the consent form, to check your understanding before asking you to sign the consent form to confirm that you understand and agree with the testing process. The consent form should clearly state that you can withdraw from the service at any time.

The best way to prepare for psychological testing is to make sure you have information about why the psychologist plans to ask you to take a test or tests, how long it will take, what will happen to the results and how they may be used to assist you. It is important that you have all this information. You should also make sure you know where to go for the testing and what time you are expected to be there so you can plan ahead. You should advise the psychologist of any special issues, such as if you have literacy, communication or mobility difficulties that might impact on you doing the test. Being rested (especially having had a good night’s sleep) and in good health will help ensure you are in the best frame of mind to take the test. Some people may feel anxious about being in a testing situation. There are exercises you can do to help reduce this anxiety and your psychologist should be able to help you with this. Even if you are a bit anxious or nervous, however, the psychologist should take this into account when interpreting your results. They will be expected to form a judgment on whether this or any other factor may have impacted on the test results. Many psychological tests are designed to measure abilities or traits in a way that practicing or swatting before the test will not help at all. Others are developed with restricted access to ensure you are not able find out answers beforehand and for this reason you will not be given any access to the test before you take it. In some other cases however, for example for some types of reasoning tests for job selection, you may find that there are some examples on the internet which will help you practice some types of questions.

For many tests this will not be possible as they have been developed so that your performance is measured in carefully controlled conditions (e.g., a quiet room free from distractions) that will not affect your performance. In addition, many psychological tests have restricted access to ensure that they are not available to individuals before the assessment so that no benefit can be gained by knowing about the questions beforehand. There are some tests however including some personality measures where there is no real difference between the results of those undertaking such a test at home and those undertaking the test under supervised conditions in an office as long as once can be sure that it is the intended individual taking the test and not someone else doing it for them. As a result, it would be unusual for a psychologist to give you the test to take home. In almost all cases you will be expected to attend a centre of the psychologist’s consulting rooms to take the test.

This may vary according to the nature and purpose of the assessment. In some circumstances you may be told the name of the test prior to the assessment but more often the psychologist will explain the purpose of the testing along with other details including how long it will take. It is more helpful usually to know about the purpose of the testing, what it might involve and the time it will take than to know the name of the test. In addition, knowledge of the specific tests could compromise the test which may have been developed assuming individuals would not have access to it. For many tests access beforehand may then result in a higher test performance and in some circumstances lead to an unfair advantage. Tests administered online often draw randomly from a large databank of test questions, or make use of a technique known as computer-adaptive testing. Such testing methods help to ensure that prior knowledge of the tests, or some of its questions, does not provide an advantage for any individuals.

When psychological tests are developed they are administered to a range of individuals drawn from the population for which the test is designed to be used. For example a test of general ability for children will be administered to children across the different ages that are covered by the test. This information is used to provide test norms that the psychologist uses to interpret an individual’s score in comparison with others. Thus with an intelligence test, the norms will indicate whether the score a person achieves on a test is at the average level or above or below average. It will also provide information about how much above or below average including the percentage of the population who would be expected to perform at that level or higher or lower. When norms are developed through extensive research they take into account a range of factors that might impact on performance including age, gender and culture.

There are a number of different ways for psychologists to report scores depending on the test and the way in which an individual psychologist chooses to convey the outcome of testing.  Usually these scores do not convey directly the number of correct answers in a test but are calculated from the individual’s performance in comparison with the test norm, that is, in comparison with how others from the same age group and background have performed.  Often the psychologist may provide the results using more than one way, for example providing a verbal description of the result, as well as a score.  What is important is that the psychologist reports the outcome for you in a way that you understand what it means and if you are not sure then you should ask for more information.

The different ways in which test results are described include:

Standard Scores are scores on a numerical scale that cover the range of possible scores for the population for which the test has been developed.  These scores are standardised for the population so that they have set ranges represented by numbers.  For example, for most tests of intelligence if an individual has a standard score of 100 then that means they have performed at the average level taking into consideration their age and other factors such as ethnic background.  In contrast, a person who has a score of 130 is performing better than 98% percent of the population.  Other standard scores that psychologists use have different ranges and include T scores; Z scores; Stanines, and Stens.  Use of these in a report should be accompanied by a clear explanation of what they are and how to interpret them.

Percentiles (or percentile ranks) is another way in which a psychologist interprets scores based on the tests norms.  If a percentile is reported it indicates the percentage of similar individuals in the test norms whose scores on the test were lower than the test-taker’s score.  Thus, for example, if someone’s score places them in the 40th percentile, they have performed on this test at a higher level than 40 percent of the population on which the test was normed. Using percentiles provides a common language to enable a comparison on test results for tests of varying difficulty level, length and purpose.

Descriptive Classifications are also based on the norms for the testbut rather than just give a score as a number or even a range of possible scores they provide a description of where an individual falls on the scale being used.  Descriptive categories are usually directly linked to a range of scores that includes the individual’s score being reported. For example, for some intelligence tests, the following descriptive ranges may be used:

  • Very superior: Above 129
  • Superior: 120-129
  • High Average: 110-119
  • Average: 90-109
  • Low Average: 80-89
  • Borderline:70-79
  • Extremely Low: Below 70

Psychologists often report the range of scores surrounding the test taker’s score. This range is referred to as the confidence interval. The confidence level, which determines the size of the interval is typically set at either 90% or 95%, which relates to either a 10% or 5% chance of the score being incorrect. Simply put, the confidence interval improves the psychologist’s confidence that what they are reporting about the test taker is accurate. Even though the psychologist follows the required procedures for administering a test and the person taking the test is motivated to do well, it is still likely that there might be a small amount of error in the scores. This could result for example from the test-taker forgetting an answer to a question that they really knew or correctly guessing an answer they did not know. For these and other reasons providing a range of scores within which the actual score is expected to fall is preferred to only providing a single score.

It is important that you take the opportunity to seek answers to any questions that you have about the report. Some psychologists will meet with their client to discuss the report at the time of providing it. Alternatively if you receive it at another time it is important to contact the psychologist directly to raise any concerns when you have read the report. Psychologists are trained to interpret tests accurately and according to set procedures. It is important that this is explained to you and the basis of statements about you in the report is discussed if you have concerns.

Most test forms are covered by a copyright and also have access restricted to psychologists so copies of the test forms cannot be provided to clients. There are good reasons for this. The most important reason is that many tests are affected in their validity and reliability by practice effects. Psychologists rely on the fact that individuals being assessed have not seen these tests in advance and will often base their diagnostic and descriptive conclusions on that assumption. Another reason for restricting access is that there is potential for misinterpretation of the test information. Psychologists undergo extensive training in order to interpret test data. In the absence of this training, test results can be easily misconstrued. For these reasons the psychologist should be willing to provide a detailed report but cannot release the form that was completed.

Depending on the purpose of the testing and who requested it be undertaken, the psychologist may be expected to provide a written report to someone else, (e.g., medical practitioner, school counsellor). Before providing any of your personal information, however, including test results or a full psychological report to others, the psychologist must gain your written consent to do so. If at the time of testing, it is known that the report is to be given to someone else, then this should be included in the written consent. If a request is made to the psychologist at a later date for a copy of the report, then this cannot be provided without you signing an authority to release the information. In general, information provided to a psychologist is confidential and cannot be disclosed to others without your permission except for in a small number of circumstances such as when there is a risk of harm to someone or under a legal request such as a subpoena. Even if you have given written consent, however, you can withdraw this at any time. If you do the psychologist would be expected to explain the consequences of doing so.

Cognitive assessments are designed to reflect a child’s ability to follow instructions, plan and organise materials, and to organise thoughts. They may also take into account a child’s ability to consider sometimes complicated social and ethical questions, general knowledge and use of language. These skills are accumulated over a child’s life and cannot be ‘swatted’ for a test situation. There is not a body of knowledge that can be learned specifically for an intelligence (IQ) test.

Parents can best prepare their child for the test situation by ensuring that they are well rested, not hungry or thirsty, physically well and not made unduly anxious by the test. Children can often be made anxious by a parent’s anxiety about a test situation, so parents are advised to simply be encouraging and supportive of their child.

Being competent in psychological testing is a core aspect of a psychologist’s training. The training provides psychologists with a detailed understanding of a range of tests including the theory or theories the tests are based on. The training also requires practice in administering tests in a standard way. This means that a psychologist administers the test to each individual according to set procedures and under the same conditions.

In addition, psychologists are required by their Code of Ethics to work only in areas in which they are fully competent. Although psychologists are trained to administer common psychological tests, it is important that they have expertise in the particular test they are administering. It is also important that they are competent in working with particular population groups (e.g., young children, people with disabilities). The person who has referred you for psychological testing may have information to reassure you about the suitability of a particular psychologist to provide specific testing. Otherwise, it is a good idea to ask the psychologist directly about their experience.

If a child is unwell, it is advisable to defer the assessment until a time where the child is in better health. However if your child has already taken the test then it is unlikely that the psychologist will be able to conduct a retest as then practice effects and general familiarity with the test will affect the result. However, an IQ test is not the only indicator of how your child is performing. If you report to the psychologist that your child was unwell on the day of the test, the psychologist can take this into account in the context other information that can be considered. This might include a detailed family, medical and developmental history of the child, an educational assessment, an adaptive behaviour assessment or other psychological screening tests. Psychologists normally make a diagnosis about a child’s functioning at school based on multiple sources of data, including a range of assessments such as intellectual assessment and adaptive behaviour functioning as well as parent and teacher reports.

The psychologist is correct in saying that the score cannot be changed afterwards as there is a requirement to follow the standard procedure and use only the scores provided at the time of testing. It is recognised that children may at times give a wrong answer when they know the correct one and this is one reason the psychologist will have given you a range of scores around the score of 129 to take account of some errors that can occur.

In addition to this, the way that final scores are calculated is quite complex and as a result, one wrong answer on one subtest does not equate to one missed point in the total score. It is quite possible in your child’s case that had he answered these questions correctly, the final score would not have changed.

Test results can be reported in different ways including standardised scores, percentiles, and descriptions. These descriptions are linked to a range of scores. So when your child was described as high average, depending on the test, it would indicate for example that the score was in the range from 111 to 120 where the score of 100 is average. That is, your child performed in a range that was somewhere between being better than76% and 91% of the population. It is important that when receiving feedback on a test performance, the psychologist explains what the scores mean and how to interpret them in a way you can understand rather than using technical terms. If you are unclear about what a score means or a descriptive range then you should ask the psychologist for more information.

In each state, government legislation is in place regarding minimum age requirement for school entry. Education departments and private schools may consider requests for children younger than the minimum age to be admitted to school. Generally there must be exceptional circumstances for these requests to be granted and each education department or private school may have different factors they take into account as part of considering this request. In some instances, one of the factors that may be considered is whether a child is considered to be in the ‘gifted range’ which on standard tests of intelligence means that a score of 130 or above must be attained.

Intelligence tests are designed to give the child the best chance of success. Intelligence tests generally consist of a number of different subtests, each investigating a different ability or skill. At the beginning of some subtests, there may be one or more practice or teaching items. These are included to ensure the child understands the instructions or actions required to work through the items in that subtest. It is part of the assessment procedure for assistance or demonstration to be used for these practice items. Once these have been completed the psychologist will continue on with the other test items in the subtest but will not offer further assistance. It is not always obvious to an observer when the practice examples finish and the subtest questions begin. The psychologist is required to follow rigorous standardised procedures when asking both the practice questions and the test questions and these will be administered in the same way each time. Performance on practice items does not contribute to the final score on the test.

It is difficult to say what the tests measure as it will depend on the job and also how much information is to be gathered. Employment related psychological testing often assesses reasoning ability (such as verbal reasoning), personality (or temperament) and sometimes vocational preferences, depending on the purpose of the testing. Specific aptitude tests (such as Speed and Accuracy or Mechanical Reasoning) may also be administered along with questionnaires in areas such as safety, integrity, leadership and emotional intelligence. Some testing may also incorporate work samples or require you to respond to various scenarios, verbally and/or in writing.

Test scores are considered in the light of the normative (comparison) benchmarks that should be relevant to the employment role and its context. Thus reasoning tests provide an indication of a person’s capacity to handle the cognitive demands of the role, independent of current knowledge and skills, as well as providing a good indication of potential for development. Personality measures assess, in general, areas such as interpersonal style, work approach and self-management. In essence, the testing helps to identify abilities and competencies relevant to the job demands, while also considering aspects of organisational ‘fit’, and areas for development. Such testing as part of a selection process is best used in conjunction with structured interviews and targeted reference checking.

There are a number of ways in which you can prepare. It is important to ask for information about the tests that you will be given and what their purpose is. Psychologists who administer tests are expected to provide this information beforehand. In addition, the internet provides information regarding practice test questions and strategies for taking tests. While example questions may be relatively simple, they can provide test takers with the opportunity to experience, in part, the testing process. You need to be aware of the source of information on the web, however, and judge whether it is meaningful and helpful. Prior to the test you should also make sure that you have all the practical details of the testing session including where the testing is taking place, the expected duration of testing, and any other associated activities such as an interview. If you know you become anxious in these types of settings, practise techniques such as deep breathing, from the lower diaphragm and make sure you take with you everything you might need including glasses or contact lenses if required and water to keep hydrated.

If you are undertaking testing in a home environment, ensure that your testing space is one in which distracting items are not evident that you are not disturbed and that mobile phones and even landlines will not be activated. For tests conducted over the internet, you should also make sure you have available a reliable computer and reliable internet connections and avoid using small mobile or gaming devices that may lead to difficulties for responding to test items. It is also important, prior to the commencement of the testing session, to inform the psychologist or other person administering a test if you think that your current state of health or general well-being, or a particular disability, may compromise your test results.

It is important to ask before taking the test(s) whether you will be given access to the results. Good practice requires that you sign a consent form prior to your undertaking the testing, and you should be made aware of your rights at this time including access to the results and the security of the test information. It is recommended that you clarify any areas of concern prior to the testing being undertaken. Individuals often have the opportunity to discuss the test results with the test user (often, and preferably, a psychologist). It is recommended that you contact the psychologist to obtain feedback as this provides you with the opportunity to clarify any matters to ensure that you have a sound understanding of the results of your testing.

Some organisations do provide a written report for you, although a fee may be charged for this. In addition, under some circumstances there may be a requirement under the law for you to be provided with access to your results.

Psychological screening may be used when there are a large number of candidates for a particular role, and the organisation is attempting to reduce the number of possible shortlisted candidates who will proceed to the more intensive selection activities. Through screening, organisations can select only those people who score relatively highly on certain criteria that are judged to be important for the role. Depending on the role, and the circumstances, people may be evaluated on such characteristics as their resilience, safety awareness, risk taking or mechanical aptitude.

It is also possible for psychological screening to take place at the end of a selection activity. For example, a final check may be undertaken to ensure that the leading candidate does not possess qualities, previously undetected, that will impact negatively on their future job performance or on their team. Under such circumstances, if this screening identified any concerns then further evaluation may be undertaken through additional interviews, performance checks or testing.

Some psychological tests measure personality factors including psychological strengths and vulnerabilities that are relevant to parenting.  Other tests check for psychological problems that are known to impact on parenting such as difficulty controlling anger or other emotions.  Some psychological instruments measure personality factors that are related to difficulties in co-parenting.  For example, the test might help to identify psychological factors that indicate a risk for on-going conflict with an ex-partner or other family members.  It is not always clear to the test-taker during the administration of a psychological test or instrument what it is measuring so it is important that the purpose of testing is explained to you by the psychologist. According to the current National Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting, all tests must be relevant to the purpose of the Single Expert’s examination. 

The psychologist who intends to administer tests as part of an assessment must obtain informed consent from the person taking the tests prior to proceeding. That is the case for all aspects of a psychological examination (interviews, home visits, behavioural observations, and reviews of subpoenaed documents).  You are not obliged to consent to any aspect of the examination.  If you do not participate, however, the psychologist is obliged to advise the Court of your decision not to consent and of the likely impact on the investigation and the psychologist’s ability to properly address the questions set by the Court. 

Most psychological tests used in assessments being conducted to assist in legal decision-making (forensic examinations) include scales that indicate the possibility, or likelihood, that the person has been trying to create a particular impression (look good, look bad, hide vulnerabilities, deny certain perceptions or attitudes).  Also, the test is part of a broader examination and so the results are considered in conjunction with other sources of information.  And, the conclusions that psychologists make, can be vigorously challenged in court under cross-examination to determine whether or not incorrect conclusions have been drawn from test data or from other data collected during the examination.

Some psychological tests provide information on risk and protective factors, or assist the psychologist to interpret data more accurately from risk-assessment tools.  Psychologists who undertake examinations for Family Court purposes are expected to have formal training in conducting risk-assessments and other psychological tests used for forensic assessments.  Consequently, a competent forensic examination of risk conducted by a psychologist will provide a valid opinion on the matter to assist the Court.

The use of psychological tests or any aspect of psychological assessment in legal decision making is specialised and draws upon distinctly different methods of practice compared to other psychological assessment services.  Psychologists who undertake examinations for Family Court purposes should have formal training in forensic examination techniques broadly as well as specifically in the forensic examination of parenting, family processes, child maltreatment, and other aspects of human behaviour that are relevant to the legal issues that the Family Courts address.  The psychologist’s qualifications and forensic competencies should have been investigated prior to appointing that psychologist as a Single Expert Witness or as a Family Consultant.  Nonetheless, concerns about that expert’s competence can be raised with the Court at any stage during the litigation.

As psychological testing, including the administration, scoring and interpretation of answers, requires expert training, usually any checking will involve the Court ruling that a second psychologist examine the test data to determine whether or not those tests are forensically valid for the specific legal issues in dispute, were properly administered, and that the data were correctly scored and interpreted.  Having another psychologist review the data and records provides an informed independent view on whether the testing was conducted properly.

The psychologist conducting the family assessment should have clearly described the assessment process, the tests used, and the results obtained in his or her report.  The psychologist is also bound by a professional code of conduct that restricts access to psychological tests and associated materials to those people who are trained to use and interpret them. In the event that you are seeking information restricted by that code, and you are representing yourself, you will need to apply to the Court for permission to obtain a copy of the psychologist’s records. This request will need to be made in the form of a Subpoena.  The Court will expect you to have a reasonable belief about the importance and relevance of the information to the proceedings. In some circumstances the Judge will decide that the information may only be viewed in the court and may not be photocopied.  The Judge might also decide that the information is to be restricted from the parties involved and only released to the Independent Children’s Lawyer.

Subpoenas seeking reports from previous psychological tests and assessments can be issued by the court. The reports might contain information on general ability, personality, vocational reviews, or information from schools or universities and TAFE’s. Such information can be informative regarding the personal history of parents if for example there have been concerns raised about possible patterns of behaviour, mental health problems or brain injuries, that can impact a parent’s capacity to provide adequate care of a child. Similarly, psychological reports, including information from psychological tests, about a child who is a subject of a dispute can be of value to the Court. In particular, psychological assessments of the child will be of considerable value to a psychologist who is appointed as an “Independent Witness” or “Single Expert Witness” (SEW) in the matter. Even old reports can be valuable because they help the SEW understand the child’s history and any particular needs of the child including difficulties such as learning problems or behavioural challenges that need to be taken into account when determining the best interests of that child. As with all subpoenas, these can only be issued by the court and the subpoenaed documents must be delivered to the court before being released to the parties. One or more parties may object to the subpoena. The court will hear these objections and then make a decision as to whether this information should be released to the parties involved in the matter. It is advisable to always seek legal advice before deciding how to respond to such matters.

Test and testing definitions and resources

A range of psychological testing guidelines, standards and resources for psychologists have been developed by the Test and Testing Expert Group. 

Test taker rights in psychological testing

This resource provides advice to psychologists and clients about the rights of people undergoing psychological testing as part of an assessment.

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