The Oxford English Dictionary (OED; Simpson & Weiner, 1989, as cited by Hogan 2003) defines test as “the process or an instance of testing the academic, mental, physiological, or other qualities and conditions of a human subject” (p. 41). This definition suggests that most definitions of tests are given within boundaries of context and do not define test at all. Indeed many psychological sources do not attempt to define test. (Hogan, 2003) This suggests that test is a common knowledge device and needs little further explanation. This author’s attempt at displaying that common knowledge is to say a test is an attempt to gain unknown information, or substantiate assumptions of information through instinct, sensory, or mental perception. Animals test their environment for danger because of instinct and through sensory perception. A bear sniffs the wind to ascertain danger or to find food. A shark in the same way tests water for blood traces or sound. Although human tests in a much more complicated fashion the reason for testing is much the same as lower animals…survival and better chances of survival. Leaving this definition of common knowledge as it is this paper addresses categories of tests, the uses and users of these tests, and finishes with the analysis of tests through reliability and validity.
Categories of Tests
According to Hogan (2003) tests are broken into five categories as follows: Mental Ability Testsis the first category with mental ability having to do with memory, spatial visualization, and creative thinking. Throughout the history of testing these kind of tests have a focus on intelligence. Mental ability tests break down these tests into categories of individual, group and many other ability tests. An example of the individual tests is Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS). These tests are given one to one from a trained psychologist. Examples of group tests are the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). Achievement Tests is the second categorytests to gauge a skill or knowledge in a particular area. Some tests cover a group of skills like math, reading and language ability while other tests focus on a specific area like a science. Three examples to test a group of skills are the Stanford Achievement Test, the Metropolitan Achievement Tests, and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. A specific example is the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) Batteries. Personality Testsis the third category which consists of tests designed to gather information about personality. These tests are broken down into sub-categories like objective personality tests and projective techniques. An example of these test is the Rorschach Inkblot Test. Vocational Interests, the fourth category, are tests to find what types of jobs interest an individual. Examples of these tests include the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) and the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey (KOIS). The final category of tests are the Neuropsychological Tests. These tests are concerned with the central nervous system and specifically the brain. Many of the other 4 categories are used to gather neuropsychological information but specific tests are used to gain information about the brain. These tests gather information on memory, psychomotor coordination, and abstract thinking.
Uses and Users
Tests are in use throughout society and a list of tests would be exhaustive and lead away from the theme of this paper. Therefore, a more appropriate explanation of the uses and users of tests is to confine their explanation in the context of psychology. Anastasi (1982, as cited by Vansickle, 2003) groups tests in categorical titles like ” individual, group aptitude, achievement, personality, intelligence and ability.” (p. 3) Concise in length these titles suffice in giving an example of kinds of tests and their uses. The users of these tests are myriad but a few are academic institutions, psychological researchers, health entities, scientists, government, armed services, social systems and business. In psychology researchers are mainly concerned with behavior and the reason for behavior.
Reliability and Validity
According to Hogan (2003) testing results are examined to see if results will be the same when time or conditions change. How stable test results are is also the level of reliability of the results. Testing of people gives results that are influenced by traits like verbal ability, memory or personality in terms of extroversion. In determining reliability, testing is judged by how reliable the stability of the trait is. If a trait is instable then the result is not reliable. When talking about validity a test is valid when it actually measures what it is supposed to measure. For example, when measuring intelligence the validity of a test is how well the test actually measures intelligence. In simple terms reliability is concerned with the results and validity is concerned with the test itself.
Hogan (2003) explains that a test may be reliable but not valid. An example of a valid test is a test that supplies measurable results that do not vary when repeatedly tested. However, if that test is to measure ability in psychology but instead dominantly measures ability to do math then the test is not valid regardless of returning the same scores consistently. In contrast, a test is dependant on reliability to be valid.
Tests are the medium of life to gain information from the simple form animals use to the intricate forms humans use. Every aspect of life has the involvement of tests. In psychology as in any empirical science tests are in use to find truths that have a high degree of reliability and validity. Psychology has always been a field of science obsessive in the search for truths that have empirical substantiation. Testing is a medium for this substantiation but the results of the tests must be analyzed following the criteria of reliability and validity. The most acknowledged method for developing a framework of reliability is the Generalizability theory (GT). Hogan (2003) hints that analyzing results of tests with the GT is not widely in use in practical applications. This means analyzing test results in psychology is still within youthful stages. Certainly tests are important and the validity and reliability are a vital part of that importance. If the sentence precluding this one is true then reliable testing is a vital area for the establishment of psychology as an empirical science and a necessary one for the advancement of humankind.
Hogan, T. P. (2003). Psychological testing: A practical introduction. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Vansickle, T. (2003). Types and uses of tests. Eric education information services, Retrieved May 5, 2009 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/