A New, Interactive Approach to Psychological Testing

8 years old school girl wearing glasses holding tablet pc

Psychological testing, which used to be extremely time-consuming and costly, has entered the digital age.  “Interactive” testing via iPad is now available.

History of Psychological Testing

“IQ testing”, for measuring “intelligence” or cognitive abilities, began in this country after the turn of the last century.  Americans have always been a pragmatic people, sticklers for precision and for measurement in an effort to make psychological processes and functioning more tangible.  In Europe at that time, Sigmund Freud had invented the “talking cure”, or the therapy method called “psychoanalysis”, that many considered to be a very subjective process.  Psychoanalysis also found its way to America, but there was another complementary movement in this country toward objective measurement of psychological processes.

One example of this trend was employed on a large scale with the testing of soldiers recruited to fight in the First World War.

Monument to the Heroes of the First world war. Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg), Russia

This may have been the first instance in which psychological methods and tools were utilized to support the need to build a better organization (supposedly by screening out those recruits believed to be inappropriate for enlistment).  After that initial effort, most formal psychological testing was associated with schools and education, and today, it is strongly associated with learning problems, Special Education, and the determination of learning disabilities.

Psychological Testing: the Old, Paper-and-Pencil Way

As a psychologist who has spent 15 years completing these formal school evaluations, I can tell you (and I think parents would tell you), these evaluations are massively time-consuming, requiring months of work before the people who want and need the results get the chance to consider them.

Answer sheet with pencil

An enormous amount of time goes into completing a report.  In my experience, over the years it seems that these reports have been getting longer and longer: once a 10 page report was considered to be too long-winded.  Now it’s not unusual to see reports that are 20 and even 30 pages long.  Professionals in the field of psychology seem to have adopted the belief that if they explained their results more, their evaluations would be more appreciated and valued.

Surely, a 30-page report on a single child or adult is overkill.  A lot of the time that is spent cranking out a report could be better utilized applying professional skills and experience to mulling over, thinking about, meditating on the test results in conjunction with other observational data and feedback that is usually provided for these formal evaluations.

Compared to the lengthy amount of time it takes to get the results of a psychological testing, medical test results are returned with blazing speed.  With the long wait for results and many other factors, psychological testing continues to be viewed with a lot of skepticism, and even with suspicion.  It is right to wonder if the time and the cost are really worth the end result?

Psychological Testing: the Interactive, Online Way

In the last few years, one of the big psychological testing companies (Pearson) started adapting their tests for administration using Apple iPads.  They adapted a relatively large number of the most frequently used psychological tests for a psychologist to administer using one iPad, and for the test-taker to take the test with another iPad, connected to one another by Bluetooth.  In addition to the enormous potential for increased convenience associated with managing test materials using this technology, the application provides the capacity to get the test results quickly and conveniently because the scoring can be done automatically as each subtest is completed.

With the new iPad administration (called “Q Interactive”), anyone who can use and benefit from this type of information can have quick access to the results.  Test scores are presented in a standard format (in tables), along with a brief interpretation of the meaning of those scores.  That should be enough to answer the question: What do the test results mean to the person who was tested?

Psychological testing can measure many types of mental function

Psychologists often start testing with a measure of verbal abilities (associated with the use and understanding of language), as distinguished from non-verbal, or perceptual reasoning abilities (which most people associate with hands-on tasks).  This type of testing is usually thought of as “IQ testing” but encompasses much more than that implies.  In the digital world in which we live,  the things that we do require a combination of these verbal and non-verbal mental functions and abilities, a combination of thinking and doing.

Another priority of testing is to measure some of the supporting mental functions, including memory, attention, and rates of information processing.  Measuring these supportive functions is especially critical in diagnosing attention problems and ADHD.

It may be useful to think of psychological testing as a process that often confirms what is already suspected.   A doctor might strongly suspect that you have any number of physical ailments, like a broken bone, but no matter how certain, an X-ray will be ordered.

Just as a psychological test might confirm a suspected problem, testing can be very helpful in ruling out psychological issues.    For example, take a teenager who is experiencing a lot of conflict with his or her parents and is not completing school work.  Testing results might show that this child or teenager had significant problems with attention or memory that negatively impacted on learning.  Tests can also measure other aspects of the teen’s personality, including his or her social or emotional functioning.  Perhaps tests reveal that this teen’s development, socialization, and even academic achievement is normal, or typical of peers.boy in detention

This is not an uncommon situation.  Many people with a behavioral disorder, like ADHD, might be relieved to find out through testing that their learning problems and attention issues have nothing to do with an emotional problem, or a failure to develop relationships, or to understand ideas and gain knowledge.  Testing can distinguish between problematic and non-problematic areas of mental functioning.

Why Do Testing?

In some cases, testing may be suggested by teachers or employers.  In other cases, a psychiatrist or therapist may request help from a psychologist who uses testing to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. Often, the patient him- or herself may wish to confirm or disconfirm what others have suspected or other professionals have diagnosed.

For example, many children and adults are suspected to have or are referred to see if they have the diagnosis, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Various standardized tests and observational rating scales can go a long way to demonstrate the validity and severity of such a diagnosis, as well as the type of ADHD.

Psychological testing can also help to diagnose dementia (such as Alzheimer’s Disease), or brain damage from an injury.  Currently, there is much concern about the prevalence of concussions, especially in school-age children.  While specific concussion testing (often done by a medical doctor) is good for measuring performance parameters, these are superficial measures when compared to the range of functions and the strengths and weaknesses that can be assessed by formal psychological testing.

For academic purposes and learning problems, schools generally want to see a full battery of tests on their students, but partial batteries may supplement the school’s evaluation by confirming, challenging, or updating the results.  When a pediatrician refers a child or adult for testing, it’s likely that they are seeking to support their own assessment needs with objective test data and other information from outside the environment of the doctor’s office.  The same would be true for physicians who are treating patients who are suspected of suffering from depression or anxiety, or children who are exhibiting unusual behaviors, such as those seen in Autistic Spectrum Disorders.  Therapists, counselors, and other clinicians might be able to profit from information provided by partial batteries of testing that target specific areas of concern, like cognitive functioning, memory, attention, or executive functioning.

Testing at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley

Charles Gallagher, PsyD

At Psych Choices, psychological testing is now available through the state-of-the-art, innovative Q-Interactive technology.  If an entire testing process or full battery is needed, I estimate that it may be completed in about 6 hours over 2 days of testing, and  the results can be analyzed and presented in a report within one week.

Psychological testing is often covered by insurance.   For a full report with interpretation, there will be an additional cost to the patient.   In cases where insurance coverage is not possible, the cost will depend on the specific tests administered, but it is estimated that a full, formal evaluation will generally range from $500 to $700.  At Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley, we will first verify insurance coverage and then discuss any additional costs or payment options before testing is scheduled.

To make an appointment for Q-Interactive psychological testing by Dr. Charles Gallagher at Psych Choices, please use our Make An Appointment page or call the Intake Coordinator at 610-626-8085, ext. 213.