Psychological Evaluation 101: What Is A Personality Test?

Like I mentioned in my initial post, a “psych eval” can refer to many different things. Today I thought I would educate a bit on what it means when you get a personality assessment or take a personality test. These are different than the “personality tests” you find on websites like Buzzfeed and are admittedly a lot less fun.

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A personality test measures different traits by asking a series of multiple-choice questions. You might be familiar with the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram test, both of which are popular personality tests that you can take for free online. Some employers use these tests to assess your individual strengths and play into those with your job assignments.

For the purposes of a psychological assessment, the personality tests used are a little bit different. First, instead of simply telling you which category you are the highest in, psychological personality tests use a statistical analysis of something called norm-referenced ratings to give information about your mental health. That was a lot of big words, so I’ll break it down the way I do when a client is referred for this kind of testing.

Everyone in the world gets nervous sometimes, but not everyone has an anxiety disorder. Everyone gets sad, but not everyone has depression. Everyone has days when they have trouble with focus, but not everyone has ADHD. Some things are just a typical part of the human experience. When psychologists develop measures for assessments, they test these measures on thousands of people to determine what falls outside of that “typical” range. So when I score your personality measure, I get a set of scores that tells me, compared to other people, in what ways are you struggling? What symptoms might line up with a diagnosis per the DSM-5? In order to tease this out, personality measures ask you A LOT of questions on a myriad of topics.

Common personality measures include the MMPI-2-RF (soon to be MMPI-3) and the MCMI-III or MCMI-IV, depending on which update you are currently working with (or MMPI-A/MACI for teenagers). Because people are always changing, these measures regularly get updated with improved questions and up-to-date statistics on what is typical.

These tests are helpful in choosing an appropriate diagnosis, and they can give us information on how your symptoms specifically are affecting you. They also have something called validity scales, which are groups of questions that assess the approach you took to the test. For example, if you went in with the intent of exaggerating your symptoms, or if you wanted to trick the evaluator into thinking nothing is wrong, the validity scales will tell me you weren’t being honest. An evaluation isn’t helpful unless you’re honest, so I do not recommend taking the time to complete the assessment if you don’t plan to tell the truth. Frankly, it’s a waste of your time and my time, and you still have to pay for the evaluation even if you invalidate the test.

Another thing to know about personality assessments is that the best provider to administer them depends on your referral source. It’s not uncommon for these measures to be used in custody or competency evaluations, so even though I do a lot of evaluations with personality assessments, I’m not qualified to take on every personality assessment.

Personality assessments can seem intimidating just from the sheer volume of questions being asked, but if you take an open and honest approach, they can provide invaluable information about your mental health and what supports will help you live your best life.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on PS: Happy new year!

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. She completed her internship at the National Psychology Training Consortium with specializations in assessment and rural mental health. Currently, she specializes in trauma-informed and neurodiversity-affirming care, and she is certified in telemental health. Dr. Marschall runs a private practice, RMH Therapy, where she provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological assessments across the lifespan. Dr. Amy Marschall is an author and professional speaker.

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