Types of Personality Tests

Types of Personality Tests

Let’s dive into the psychology research behind personality tests and look at some examples.

Personality tests are (in the realm of science, at least) rigorously developed and reviewed psychological measures designed to give a complete picture of a person’s personality (Sartori, 2010). Some are more comprehensive than others – they can range from a very short survey of ten questions to one with over two hundred. Most personality tests are based on at least one theory of personality.

There are two types of personality assessments: projective and psychometric (Sartori, 2010). Projective measures present people with pictures or sentences whose meaning is incomplete or unclear; each person responds to these stimuli in their own unique way, and their responses are interpreted by psychologists to determine their personality. The most famous projective personality assessment is called the Rorschach. In this test, the participant is shown a series of inkblots – images of black ink, in some kind of configuration, against a white background. Participants are asked to describe what they see. The idea is that how the participant interprets these images will reflect aspects of their personality.

The other kind of personality test – a psychometric one – usually consists of a list of questions or statements that are very clear in their meaning. The person being assessed is expected to choose whether, or how much, each statement is true for them.

Projective techniques are generally considered by the scientific community to be less useful, and research bears this out (Sartori, 2010). This may be because psychometric measures require us to think about ourselves, while projective measures require us to make judgments about things outside ourselves (Meyer, 1997). We are used to thinking about ourselves in the ways that psychometric measures ask us to think, and it feels easier to have a limited range of answer options presented to us (Meyer, 1997). In other words, psychometric measures feel a lot more like a personality test to the people being assessed than projective ones do (Sartori, 2010).

“Your real personality identity is not an option, it is the foundation for your happiness and health.”
― Diana Dentinger

Benefits of Personality Tests

The primary benefit of personality tests is that they can offer insight into who we are and why we behave the way we do (McCrae & Costa, 2003). In particular, they can offer a more complete picture of our personalities than we might be able to see otherwise. Indeed, the expectation is that if people answer honestly on a personality test, the aspects of themselves that they may try to hide from others will be revealed.

Personality tests – especially psychometric ones – measure personality traits on a spectrum (McCrae & Costa, 2003). Almost all traits are normally distributed – this is a fancy psychology term that means most people are in the middle of this characteristic, and there are fewer people with extremely high or low levels of the trait.

Are Personality Tests Accurate?

The short answer to the question of whether personality tests are accurate is, yes! Prior to being published and widely used, they have been tested on thousands of people. Their scales consistently predict how people will behave, whether they will develop or already have psychiatric disorders, and how well they can regulate their emotions (Sellbom & Ben-Porath, 2005).

Personality tests are even designed to account for the likelihood that people will try to intentionally fool the tests. Whether people want to look better, look worse, or just generally make a mess of the assessment process, the tests are designed so that these kinds of intentions can be noticed and considered by the psychologists scoring the measure. For example, a person who describes themselves as incredibly nice – nicer than anybody you’ve ever met before! – on the personality test would likely be flagged as potentially answering those questions dishonestly.

The Big 5

Nearly all personality tests created by psychologists attempt to measure the Big Five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, neuroticism, and conscientiousness (Smith et al., 2021). Since there are many facets to each of these traits, the measures can often involve many questions.

Why do personality tests measure these five traits? These traits were identified through what is called inductive reasoning. After asking people many, many questions about themselves, researchers used statistical tests to see which test questions “hung together,” or tended to be answered by people in similar ways. In this way, they grouped together questions that turned out to reflect the Big Five personality traits (Smith et al., 2021).

In Sum

If you have already taken a personality test, don’t take the impression that this tells the whole story of who you are. Our personalities can and do change over time, especially if we choose to take significant action to change our lives. You should see personality tests as a potentially useful tool, but not the be-all and end-all. There is always more room to grow and change than we might initially believe or see.


● McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (2003). Personality in adulthood. A five factor theory perspective (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

● Meyer, G. J. (1997). On the integration of personality assessment methods: The Rorschach and MMPI. Journal of Personality Assessment, 68(2), 297-330.

● Sartori, R. (2010). Face validity in personality tests: psychometric instruments and projective techniques in comparison. Quality & Quantity, 44, 749-759.

● Sellbom, M., & Ben-Porath, Y. S. (2005). Mapping the MMPI–2 restructured clinical scales onto normal personality traits: Evidence of construct validity. Journal of Personality Assessment, 85(2), 179-187.

● Smith, M. L., Hamplová, D., Kelley, J., & Evans, M. D. R. (2021). Concise survey measures for the Big Five personality traits. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 73, 100595