Many of us have taken some sort of psychological test, whether for mental health reasons, potential employment, job evaluations, or research. Their are basically three reasons that assessment devices are developed. If you recall the five goals of psychology (describe, explain, predict, control, improve), you’ll see how they are directed related to these goals.
Psychological assessment is often developed to assist with research. Imagine that you wanted to determine if a difference existed between the motivation of first born children and last born children. You would first need to define the construct of motivation and then determine how you would measure that construct. A good way to do this is to develop a test, or assessment device, that measures motivation. Once the test is normed and standardized, you can then administer it to your group of first borns and your group of last borns and then perform your statistical analysis on the results.
Diagnosis and Prediction
A second way psychological assessment is used is during treatment of disorders in order to help diagnosis or determine current level of functioning. In the non-mental health arena, such as in business and human relations, assessment techniques are used to help identify individual or group strengths and weaknesses. In either case, the results are used to make recommendations for improvement.
Some assessment, including those used for the above purpose, can be used to get a baseline of functioning. Once this is established, a therapist or medical provider can retest the individual at varying intervals to determine if changes are taking place. Imagine the person who presents with depression and scores a ten out of ten on some depression test. After treatment, they are given the same test and score a one out of ten. This would suggest (if of course the test was a good measure of depression) that treatment had been successful.
Through the rest of this chapter we’ll discuss different types of assessment and, like research, look at how to understand results.