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Types of psychological tests: their functions and characteristics

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Within psychology, the evaluation of the mental state of the subject who comes to the consultation or who requires our services is a necessary and essential element. 

Psychology professionals have a series of tools in order to perform this evaluation, including different types of psychological tests .

Psychological test: concept

It is considered psychological test to all that test, method or instrument used in order to evaluate or measure one or more of one of the different characteristics that are part of the psyche of the individual. The psychological tests are based on the observable behavior and the expression of the subjectivity of the analyzed in order to infer the characteristics and mental state of the subject, being necessary a subsequent analysis in order to be able to extract information with clinical significance.

The psychological tests try to the extent possible that the information obtained through its realization is valid and reliable , trying to reflect what is intended to be measured (let’s not forget that the psychological characteristics are constructs not directly observable) and that they can be replicated by other professionals (that is, that the information that a person obtains about a subject can be obtained by another professional if he performs the same measurement). 

Likewise, the scores obtained have to be transformed in order to have a meaning, being generally compared or with the average obtained by representative samples of the population, with the previous performance itself or with a criterion established beforehand.

Based on this concept numerous types of psychological tests have been formulated, created following different criteria and with different objectives .

Dimensions and types of derived psychological tests

When conducting a psychological test there are numerous aspects that we have to take into account when assessing what kind of information we want to obtain and how we are going to get it. 

Some of the main dimensions to be evaluated are the following.

1. Structuring level

The different types of psychological tests can vary greatly as the information is requested in a more or less concise way or else the analyst is left more or less free to express himself.

This aspect is essential in order to obtain the information . Having a very structured test will allow obtaining short and concise answers, directing the evaluation to the aspects considered most relevant. However, a large amount of relevant information that could help a better adjustment and understanding of the mental state of the subject can be lost.

In this sense we can find unstructured types of psychological tests (in which the content of the evaluation varies according to the subject’s responses), semi-structured (in which although freedom of response is offered and the questions vary depending on the information that is reflected, an attempt is made to follow a more or less predetermined script) or structured (in which although the answers issued are taken into account, the evaluation follows a predefined course)

2. Voluntary level

With voluntariness we refer to the degree to which the subject has control over the responseissued. For example, if an electroencephalogram is done, the subject has no control over what response he emits, while in some tests the individual can decide the type of response he gives.

3. Level of masking

Masking is understood as the degree to which the subject knows the purpose of the test or test being applied and / or the connotations of their responses. In this sense the tests can be masked (such as the Rorschach test, in which the individual does not know what their answers mean) or not masked.

4. Level of objectivity

The level of objectivity of the data refers to the degree to which the responses are derived from the subjectivity of the patient or they are empirical and visible data. In this sense we can find different types of psychological tests, objective tests and subjective tests , although all measuring instruments can be evaluated in this regard.

According to the number of evaluated

When we think of a psychological evaluation, we usually imagine a situation in which a person is being analyzed by a professional, usually in the clinical or human resources field.

However, either in these or in other contexts it is often possible to make a joint evaluation of several individuals , or even perform an evaluation of a group as such. So we can find:

1. Individual tests

These are those types of psychological tests in which the characteristics or performance of a single subject are evaluated . It is usually a test that requires a certain level of specialization to perform, and they provide a lot of information regarding the same individual. Likewise, it allows establishing a relationship with the evaluator that can allow him to see and analyze various aspects that may or may not be included in the test.

2. Group or group tests

The collective tests are those that are carried out in a group. They usually require a lower level of training for their application than the individual ones. Although they save time and money , they usually involve some loss of information regarding the individual and evaluation by a psychologist or evaluator is very difficult.

Depending on the content

The tests can also be classified according to what type of mental content they are dedicated to evaluate . In this sense we can find the following types of psychological tests.

1. Intelligence Test

Intellectual capacity is one of the aspects that have been most evaluated throughout history. Its use is intended to discover the potential and capacity for adaptation and use of various strategies , along with the ability to store and use one’s own mental resources is evaluated with these tests.

2. Skills test

But mental abilities are not limited only to intelligence, there being many other characteristics that allow our behaviors to be more or less effective in one or several areas. Especially applied in personnel selection , this type of tests reflect the capacity in specific aspects of reality and allow to predict the effectiveness and performance of the subject.

3. Personality test

People tend to behave and see the world in a certain way, pattern that we acquire partly by inheritance and partly according to our experiences throughout development. Measuring these patterns of behavior , beliefs, emotions and thinking allows us to get an idea of ​​the way of being of the person evaluated, as well as the way they usually see or act in the world.

4. Psychopathology tests

The presence of problems and even mental disorders is an increasingly frequent element in today’s society. Diagnosing these problems allows us to guide the individual regarding different measures and treatments to be applied in order to solve the difficulties he suffers.

5. Neuropsychological test

This type of psychological tests are used in order to help determine the mental and perceptual state of an individual , usually applied in subjects who have suffered an injury of some kind. Therefore, the objective with which they are designed is the extent of possible damage to different types of mental processes.

6. Development / aging test

This type of test is used to assess the degree to which an individual develops throughout the life cycle , observing the presence of alterations and comparing the degree of development in relation to the regulations.

7. Interest test / professional vocation

They are based on the analysis of the preferences of the subject, allowing their orientation towards certain goals or objectives . Normally they apply to young people who go through their adolescence or post-adolescence and who need to be oriented to decide their formative trajectory.

Based on performance criteria

Another fundamental aspect when carrying out a test is to consider how it will be evaluated. In this aspect we can find two great types of psychological tests.

1. Maximum execution test

The maximum performance tests aim to assess the maximum potential of a person in a psychological characteristic or aspect. Therefore, the efficiency of the individual is taken into account, the time it takes to finish a task being relevant and the characteristic measured according to its correction and speed being evaluated. Objective and sometimes psychometric techniques tend to use this type of criteria, as in intelligence or neuropsychological tests.

2. Typical execution tests

This type of test is characterized in that it seeks to evaluate the performance or the typical characteristics of the subject in certain tasks or aspects, that is, what is usual and daily in the individual. The time it takes to complete the requested task is not of interest or significant per se. Within this group are usually subjective and projective techniques , which assess aspects such as personality.

Pervin’s classification

Taking into account all the previous aspects, various authors have generated different classifications of the types of psychological tests throughout history. One of the most widespread and accepted classifications is that of Pervin , who considers the existence of the following categories.

1. Psychometric test

Psychometric tests are those used to measure specific characteristics of the psyche , such as intelligence or aptitude tests. It is one of the types of psychological tests that consider that individuals will respond sincerely, applying non-masked tests, in which the answers are voluntarily controlled by the subject. 

They are highly structured , and are frequently used both in clinical and in fields such as labor and education.

2. Test objectives

Highly structured, this type of test and tests are based on physiological correlates in order to measure a certain element. Due to this, the answers given are not voluntary nor can they be modified. However, the purpose of the test is usually clear, so it would be considered unmasked. Different instruments and devices are used to record the individual’s responses, not depending on the evaluator for the record per se. Typical examples of objective tests may be the polygraph or the  biofeedback .

Within the objective tests we can find:

  • Cognitive tests . Evaluate aspects such as attention, concentration or perception
  • Test engines . Evaluate the performance of muscle responses to various stimuli
  • Psychophysiological test . They assess the relationship between behavior and physiology in aspects such as breathing, heart rate, temperature, sexual response or digestion-

3. Subjective tests

It is the most common type of psychological tests when measuring aspects of personality and experiences of the subject from self-verifications or self-descriptions provided by the same subject according to a series of items. In the voluntary response, the individual may attempt to falsify the information provided , although different reliability scales often apply in order to detect such attempts. They are usually semi-structured and adapted to the objective or the specific element that is being measured.

4. Projective tests

Subjective tests are often used to analyze the deeper aspects and personality traits of the individual. It is the least structured type of psychological test, not restricting in any sense the response issued by the analysand and having all the subject’s responses a valid meaning that must be analyzed and assessed. 

These answers are subjective, since they represent the internal world of the subject in question . The individual in question does not know the meaning or meaning of their answers, being one of the types of masked psychological tests. Each response and aspect represented is important, but it only makes sense and can be given significance in relation to the whole.

The main problem of this type of test is in the wide freedom of possible answers and the low level of standardization of these, being able to interpret the same response from different points of view according to the method of interpretation used. He doesn’t usually know the psychological meaning of his answers.

Within the subjective tests we can find different typologies. Specifically stand out:

  • Structural tests . In them the patient must make sense and organize a visual material. One of the most famous is the  Rorschach Test .
  • Thematic tests . It is requested to tell a story from the material presented in sheets (the TAT or Thematic Apperception Test is usually the best known).
  • Expressive tests . The subject is asked to draw a specific element (one of the best known is the HTC, test in which a person, a house and a tree are drawn)
  • Constructive tests . The individual is requested to build a specific element with the pieces provided (the Imaginary Village Test is a good example of this)
  • Associative tests . In this type of projective psychological tests, the analyst is asked to associate a word (either orally or in writing), with another word or stimulus that is provided. The Word Association test is one of the most used.
  • Refractory tests . It is based on personality analysis based on the products of the subject’s activity, such as his writing.
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