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The Use and Misuse of Psychological Tests

Outside of the western world, Philippines is probably one of the biggest users of psychological tests. In the Philippines, psychological tests are extensively used in educational, clinical, and industrial settings. But at the same time that tests are widely used, they are also misused or abused. Often, the ordinary lay person has unrealistic expectations of psychological tests and expects them to provide answers to all questions one might have about individuals. A few years ago the Commission on Appointments was seriously considering requiring psychological testing of presidential appointees. Fortunately, this never materialized.

There is need for a clearer understanding of what psychological tests are and what they can accomplish. There is need to comprehend the nature and uses of tests and the responsibilities related to psychological testing. Psychological tests are standardized instruments designed to measure one or more aspects of a person’s total personality by means of samples of verbal or non-verbal responses. Tests which measure the affective or non-intellectual aspects of behavior are generally called personality tests. They are designed to measure personality characteristics such as emotional adjustment, interpersonal relations, motivation, interest and attitudes.

Standardized psychological tests differ from teacher-made tests or from “tests” which we usually find in magazines. Standardization requires a long and rigorous process which includes the establishment of empirical evidence verified by statistical procedures, that in fact a test measures what it purports to measure. Only when validity and reliability are established and a set of norms and specific guidelines for administration, scoring and interpretation are set, can a test be published for use. Some tests are revised many times before they finally see the light of print. And even when they are available for use, the process of local validation and revision still continues.

Psychological tests must be administered, scored and interpreted according to standardized procedures. A departure from these will affect the validity and reliability of the test. When this happens, it will render the test useless. It is for this reason that safeguards and ethical standards have been set to ensure the proper and appropriate use of tests. Only qualified and skilled individuals must handle psychological tests. The Psychological Association of the Philippines specifies the qualifications for persons administering different types of tests.

The popularity of tests may be attributed to the fact that psychological tests have proven their usefulness in aiding people make important theoretical as well as practical decisions. In the educational setting, psychological tests especially those of general intelligence and of specific aptitudes, have had very extensive use in educational classification, selection and planning. In the same setting, tests have been used for vocational and personal guidance and counseling.

In the clinical setting, psychological tests have been primarily used for individual diagnosis of factors associated with personal problems of learning, behavior, attitudes or specific interpersonal relations. In business and industrial setting, tests have been helpful in the selection, classification and promotion of personnel. Psychological tests have also served important functions in basic research.

Indeed, psychological tests have played a significant role in varied situations and can significantly affect the lives of many persons. The use of tests by unqualified and/or unscrupulous persons is serious matter of concern. But even assuming the proper administration and interpretation of tests by qualified persons, tests could still be misused. It must be remembered that psychological tests are best used in relation to other sources of information on an individual – academic records, social interest, home and community activities. A person’s past work record and the evaluation of past employers and colleagues are also valuable. Without these data, individual scores are relatively uninformative at best and may even be harmful.

These are instances when it is unnecessary to even give tests at all such as for certain positions where past experience and the observation of superiors and peers on the job may provide better information. Also it is not unusual for tests to be used merely to justify a decision or choice that has been made on the strength of basically political factors. All these concerns call for better regulation of the testing industry and the education or consumers.

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