Psychological testing can provide valuable insights into peoples' behaviors and mental abilities. Data from psychological testing is used to make decisions in both academic and workplace settings. Because psychological testing gathers information about peoples' behaviors and abilities, they are critical for a decision-making process that is more sensitive to the specific needs of individuals than any decisions based solely on human judgement. However, it is important to note the limitations of psychological tests so the results are not used inappropriately.
Varying Interpretations and Uses
While psychological tests are potentially valuable resources, they are merely tools and do not directly lead to any actions. Any decisions made as a result of the test scores become the responsibility of the administering psychologist or others who access the information. Two psychologists may interpret the results differently and take different courses of action. Thus, Oxford University urges psychologists to use other forms of data to corroborate decisions made using psychological test scores. For example, anecdotal notes about a student’s current level of performance in the classroom should be used alongside psychological test results to make any decision that will affect the student.
Uncertainty of Measurements
Because psychological tests are attempting to measure things that are not directly observable, there is always going to be a gap between what a test is attempting to measure and what it actually measures. Developers of many widely used psychological tests have worked hard to make them as valid as possible, but the nature of the tests often rely on indirect measures such as an individual responding to hypothetical situations. Decisions made in a testing situation are not always the same actions people would take when faced with the situation in reality. Even after extensive testing, there may be areas of uncertainty that test results do not reveal.
As time goes on, because of changes in psychological theories and advancements in technology, psychological tests only remain relevant for a time. Social or cultural changes can lead to test items becoming obsolete, or new psychological theories may replace the founding theories of the tests. To remain valid and reliable, psychological tests must be updated often. For example, in the past when more people attended church, test developers expected test-takers to be familiar with the Bible. As church attendance began to decline, using test questions related to the Bible no longer made sense.
Because all widely used psychological test instruments in the United States were standardized in English, test results are often not accurate for people who speak another language. Even when tests are translated into native languages, problems occur with words that have multiple meanings and idioms specific to one language or culture. Once translated, the tests are no longer truly standardized. Psychological tests often use the dominant, middle-class culture as the standard. This limits their validity for children from a different economic or cultural background who may not have the same experiences or language that the test assumes as standard. It is nearly impossible to create test questions that account for the different experiences of individuals, so psychologist Raymond Lloyd Richmond reminds test administrators to use results with caution.
Anne Post has experience teaching in both public and private school settings, as well as several early childhood programs. Post holds a Bachelor of Science in education from the State University of New York at Geneseo with expertise in both childhood education and special education.