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Psychological Testing and Evaluation

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Psychological testing and evaluation consists of a series of tests that help determine the cause of mental health symptoms and disorders, to determine the correct diagnosis and follow up with the appropriate course of treatment. Often the symptoms of a problem are apparent, such as when a child experiences academic and social problems at school, or an adult struggles to maintain personal and professional relationships, but the cause of the problem is not always clear. In such cases, psychological testing may be warranted. Aptitude tests, personality tests and screenings for cognitive impairment are common types of evaluation.

When It's Used

When a child is having behavioral, social, or academic problems, it may be because of a learning disorder, attention deficit, a mood disorder such as anxiety or depression, or even aggression. Specific types of psychological tests can help the mental health professional to rule out some conditions while honing in on an accurate diagnosis.

Psychological testing and evaluation is used in a wide variety of scenarios, and the tests range accordingly. They are used in adults, for instance, to determine the extent of a brain injury or a cognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, and often administered to children with suspected or confirmed learning disabilities.

Tests are also used to decide if a person is mentally competent to stand trial. Other conditions include personality disorders, intellectual disability, and even stroke. Assessments for aptitude in educational environments are conducted with other evaluations concerning achievement.

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What to Expect

Generally, a medical doctor, social worker, or government employee provides a referral for psychological testing and evaluation that takes place in a mental health facility, hospital, university medical center, school, or private office. It may take up to several hours and more than one visit with a clinician to complete in-depth psychological testing and evaluation. During this time, the client takes a series of standardized written tests that may take the form of questionnaires, ability ranking lists, surveys, and checklists. These are known as norm-referenced tests, indicating that they are generally uniform; this is useful, for example, to determine a child’s abilities within a certain age bracket.

While clients may take the tests on their own, there are usually follow-up interviews with the tester. If testing sessions are lengthy, there will be break periods. The psychologist uses information from the tests and clinical interviews to write up an overall evaluation, determine a diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan or provide referrals, if necessary. In addition, medical records and a thorough history may be needed.

One neither can nor should prepare for these tests. There is no way to practice, in fact, it is ill-advised to do so, as this may not arrive at a true evaluation. While the questionnaires, surveys, and checklists are standardized, the tests are chosen to fit an individual’s particular needs. An individual cannot pass or fail an evaluation. Also, answers to these tests are neither right nor wrong. The best way to approach these evaluations is by being honest and mindful.

This type of testing is not the same as a psychiatric assessment, which is more about mental disorders that can include psychosis, schizophrenia, suicidal ideation, among others.

A physical exam is useful in ruling out any medical illness that may appear to be psychologically based. There may be, for example, a thyroid condition or neurologic problem masquerading as a mental health difficulty. Share with your health provider all information about any condition you have had along with prescription medication you have taken, as well as over-the-counter drugs and supplements.

The goal of psychological testing is for the mental health professional to understand how a patient thinks and what he perceives. This will better provide the professional with all the information needed.

What to Look for in Psychological Testing and Evaluation

There are training and certification programs in assessment, test administration, and interpretation available; and a mental health professional with training is qualified to perform psychological testing and evaluation. The health professional, usually a psychologist, who administers the tests and conducts the interview may or may not be the treating therapist. Once a diagnosis is made, the testing clinician may refer the client to another specialist for treatment. In addition to checking credentials, it is important in all cases to find a mental health professional with whom you and your child, if involved, feel comfortable working. Assessment should arrive at treatment plans that are personalized to the needs of the individual.

Meyer GJ, Finn SE, Eyde LD, et al. Psychological testing and psychological assessment: A review of evidence and issues. American Psychologist. Feb 2001;56(2): 128-165.    
Poston JM and Hanson WE. Meta-analysis of psychological assessment as a therapeutic intervention. Psychological Assessment. 2010;22(2):203-2012
Iowa Psychological Association. Assessment Statement Position
American Psychological Association website.
Last updated: 05/04/2022