Though a psychological test may sound intimidating, the goal of these evaluations is to give insights into symptoms or behaviors to ultimately help improve your life. And knowing the pros and cons of psychological testing may help you better understand the role they can play in your wellbeing.
Much like common medical procedures like X-rays or blood tests are used to get to the bottom of physical issues, psychological evaluations can help reveal if a mental health or brain condition is the cause of your symptoms, per the American Psychological Association (APA). In non-medical settings, these tests may also be used to assess your personality, interests and skills for, say, a potential job.
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Here are five advantages of psychological testing, plus two drawbacks.
Uses of Psychological Tests
Per the APA, types and uses of psychological tests include:
- Aptitude tests to check for learning disabilities like dyslexia, or to assess a job candidate's skills
- Neuropsychiatric tests to check for brain injury or illness like dementia
- Personality tests to understand your interests, values and character, or to check for anger or interpersonal issues
- Psychiatric assessments to evaluate whether you have a mental health condition like depression or anxiety
Pros of Psychological Testing
Psychological testing may help you address mental health issues or sources of stress in your life. Here are the advantages of these evaluations.
1. They Can Help You Get a Diagnosis
If you suspect you have a mental illness or other mental health issues, psychological testing in a medical or mental health care setting may help you reach a diagnosis, according to the APA.
Evaluations like mood questionnaires or interviews with a therapist can provide a better understanding of your symptoms, behaviors, thoughts and emotions, all of which may help reveal underlying causes of your problems, per the Mayo Clinic.
The same goes for learning disabilities, developmental disorders and brain injury or illness, according to the APA. Medical or mental health professionals can investigate whether you might have a particular condition through various kinds of tests, including:
- Skill-based assessments like reading tests
- Tests to check your motor skills, like responding to images on a computer to measure reaction time, per the Cleveland Clinic
- Cognitive tasks to check your memory, thinking, language or judgment, like recalling information, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine
These kinds of evaluations should be administered by a trained professional like a psychologist, per the APA.
2. They Can Help You Get Treatment
The pros of psychological testing don't stop at a diagnosis — pinpointing the root cause of your symptoms can also pave the way for getting the right treatment for your condition.
Psychological testing can also help reveal which areas to focus on during treatment, particularly when it comes to brain illness or injury, according to the Cleveland Clinic. For example, a neuropsychological test could help identify whether your treatment should address your interpersonal skills more than your physical abilities.
3. They Can Establish a Baseline
Psychological tests — particularly neuropsychological tests that examine your brain function, like those used after a brain injury or stroke — can help establish a baseline against which to measure your recovery progress, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
For example, you can compare your motor skill test results before, during and after treatment for a concussion to measure how your abilities have changed.
Many psychological tests are norm-referenced, which means your results are compared to the results of other people with a similar background to flag any noteworthy differences, per the Cleveland Clinic.
4. They Can Help You Address Non-Medical Problems
Psychological tests aren't only used in the case of diagnosable illness or injury. Other tests — like personality or psychiatric evaluations — can reveal interpersonal dynamics, sources of stress or environmental factors that may be causing you problems, per the APA.
Once you've identified those root causes, you can address your mental health with the help of a professional.
5. They Can Reveal Professional Strengths and Weaknesses
Another advantage of psychological testing is its ability to assess your professional skills, including interpersonal and cognitive abilities. These kinds of tests can help identify your interests, values, motivations and decision-making processes when it comes to work, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Your results can reveal what you value and the pros and cons of how you operate in professional settings, which can help you make informed decisions about your career (or other areas of your life, for that matter).
For instance, if you take a personality test that reveals you have a penchant for social engagement, it may help you decide to enter a career path or take on projects that allow you to work closely with people.
Cons of Psychological Testing
While there are many advantages to these evaluations, psychological tests aren't without their faults, including the following:
1. They Can Be Biased
Psychological tests don't always account for other factors that may influence your behavior, like your culture, language, socioeconomic status, educational background or race, per September 2012 research in the Handbook of Psychology.
For instance, giving an English reading test to a person who doesn't speak fluent English will not accurately measure their cognitive ability.
2. The Results Are Up for Interpretation
Similarly, test results often need to be interpreted by your medical provider. And in some cases, their understanding of the results may not reflect the full context of your life, symptoms, personality or emotions, according to the Handbook of Psychology. This may get in the way of a proper diagnosis, treatment or understanding of your behavior.
- American Psychological Association: "Understanding psychological testing and assessment"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Self-Assessment"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Neuropsychological Testing and Assessment"
- Mayo Clinic: "Mental Illness"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Cognitive Testing"
- Handbook of Psychology: "Bias in Psychological Assessment"
- The American Psychological Association
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.