Sunday, July 31, 2011

Introduction to Psychological Testing

Testing gives identity and meaning to the otherwise unknown territory of human thought and behavior. It facilitates the assessment of individuals and their unique human imprint in a more immediate time frame, giving the tester a more lucid picture of their many defining characteristics. Tests are used in most organizational and research settings, in the interest of self-understanding, or for entertainment value. Reliability and validity are the cornerstones that give strength and credence to any test, without which, the test is simply a fascination, and no more reliable than the common anecdote.

Defining “Test”

The word test derives its etymology from the late 14th century Old French word for a "small vessel used in assaying precious metals" (Harper, 2010, para. 1). In the 1590s records show its use as “trial or examination to determine the correctness of something” (Harper, 2010, para 1). The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing defines test as, “an evaluative device or procedure in which a sample of an examinee’s behavior in a specified domain is obtained and subsequently evaluated and scored using a standardized process” (Hogan, 2007, p. 38). According to Hogan (2007) a test is a systematic and standardized quantification procedure or device that yields information about behavior and cognitive processes, and measures a sample of behavior rather than an extensive examination of the variety of a person’s behaviors.

Major Categories of Tests

The five major categories of psychological tests include mental ability, achievement, personality, interests and attitudes, and neuropsychological tests. Mental ability tests measure cognitive functions such as intelligence, memory, spatial visualization, and creative thinking and achievement tests assess capability within certain areas of expertise, and may include assessments of reading, math, science, and social studies, or can identify more specific achievement. Personality tests are designed to produce information about personality and are the most widely applied of all psychological tests. These tests compare an individual’s responses to different clinical groups for similarity, and may measure depression, eating disorders, pathological or disabling conditions, or fascinations of the human personality.

Interests and attitudes tests may include vocational interest measures, which are widely used in high schools and colleges. Also within this category are measures of attitude toward specific topics and groups (Hogan, 2007). Neuropsychological tests are designed to give information about brain function and the central nervous system. Assessing brain function may include “tests of memory for verbal and figural material, psychomotor coordination, and abstract thinking” (Hogan, 2007, p. 8).

Primary Uses and Users

Primary users of tests include four diverse groups including clinical, educational, personnel, and research (Hogan, 2007). In clinical settings, tests are used in counseling, school psychology, and neuropsychology to identify the nature and severity of specific problems, and may be used to assess progress or gauge the effectiveness of a therapeutic application. In the educational group, typical users are teachers, educational administrators, and parents. In educational settings, tests are used to assess student learning, to document competence for professional licensure, and to predict success in academic work (Hogan, 2007).

In a personnel or employment setting, testing is used in organizations for selecting the most qualified individual for a specific position, or as in the military, assigning individuals to tasks that optimize efficiency. Testing is also used for performance evaluations during employment (Spector, 2010). In a research capacity, tests are used in psychology, education, and behavioral and social sciences. Tests may serve to define the dependent variable or the reliable baseline by which further testing is measured. Furthermore, tests serve as describing important characteristics of samples used in research, or in researching standard or newly designed tests.

Comparing and Contrasting Reliability and Validity
Two of the most important concepts in testing are reliability and validity; whereas validity refers to whether the test measures what it aims to measure, reliability refers to the consistency of the measurement (Hogan, 2007). Both concepts give tests their value. A measure can be reliable without having validity; however, a test cannot be valid if it is not reliable. According to Hogan (2007), the expected components of testing are consistency, replicability, and dependability. Using these terms, a test must consistently produce the same or similar information, and it must tend toward replication “within a certain margin of error” (Hogan, 2007, p. 113). Furthermore, the test must be dependable and produce the same score for an individual.

Validity is the most important characteristic of a test. Hogan (2007) explains it is imprecise to question the validity of a test, but rather “refer to the interpretation of a score for a particular purpose or use” (p. 157). Simply stated, it is important to establish appropriateness between the test and the inferences made by its yield. For example, it is neither appropriate nor effective to infer fluidity in the French language by interpreting scores on a Rorschach test. When referring to validity, it is important to assess to what degree a test is valid for the particular purpose, rather than trying to determine whether it is generally valid. Equally critical is the need to determine the accuracy of norms.

“In the final analysis…the user tries to answer the question: Am I better off using this test as a source of information or not using it?” (Hogan, 2007, p. 202). Reliability and validity are the cornerstones that give strength to tests. According to Meyer et al. (2001), the validity of psychological tests is strong and compelling, and is equal to the validity of medical tests. When tests are both reliable and valid, they have the ability to yield information useable for scientific investigation and application (Rapaport, Schafer, & Gill, 1945). Science depends on testing as a fundamental part of scientific investigation and therapeutic application.


Tests provide a practical and efficient way to gather information, especially in human thought and behavior (Rapaport, Schafer, & Gill, 1945). The major categories of tests supply valuable information to many types of users in a variety of fields. Various disciplines depend on the reliability and validity of testing to define norms, validate scientific exploration, assess mental states, facilitate learning, and determine future needs.


Harper, D. (2010). Test. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved July 17, 2011, from

Hogan, T. P. (2007). Psychological testing: a practical introduction (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ:
John Wiley & Sons.

Meyer, G. J., Finn, S. E., Eyde, L. D., Kay, G. G., Moreland, K. L., Dies, R. R., Eisman, E. J.,

Kubiszyn, T. W., Read, G. M. (2001). Psychological testing and psychological
assessment: a review of evidence and issues. American Psychologist, 56(2), 128-165. doi:

Rapaport, D., Schafer, R., & Gill, M. M. (1945). Diagnostic psychological testing. Chicago:
Year book.

Spector, P. E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: research and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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