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.