To Test or Not to Test? That is the question.

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I was recently asked by a colleague, how she could talk to her client about why she usually doesn’t use instruments in her work. I’ve heard from many practitioners who do not use instruments, especially when doing work with Interaction Styles or Temperament alone. However, organizations have come to expect instruments to be used. It is always a decision that the professional needs to make in the diagnostic and contracting phases. I think instruments are very useful when working with some populations who have little experience with self-reflection. However, as people develop, they become more capable of self-reflection. Since I am usually working with objectives that involve fostering development and developing an understanding of others as much as developing an understanding of self, I tend to not use them.

Personality is so complex, that I use a process of collecting multiple data points, such as participant responses to presentations of different patterns, feedback from others, written materials, activities, cross checking against multiple models, and sometimes including instrument results. In my experience and those of many other professionals with years of client work, an instrument usually proves to be one of the weakest data points for the following reasons:

  • There seems to be a natural human tendency to believe in ‘tests.’ When the instrument results differ from their self-discovery experiences, people often discount their own experiences with far more data points than the instrument itself. Many abandon the experiences they’ve just had and blindly accept the instrument results. Then they wind up creating a story about themselves that doesn’t match who they are and may even make life-changing decisions that are not in line with their natures.
  • All assessment methods have error and all instruments have an error rate. This error rate depends on a variety of factors including item construction, scoring, and other technical aspects of instrument development as well as how the instrument is set up in administration. It also depends on what reference points the individual takes when completing it. If at work, then the work self may be what is reported even though that may not be the individual’s natural self. Other known factors include extreme stress, group pressure, stages of development and many more.
  • Instruments often don’t get the results we want because clients try to game the questions. It seems that instruments feel like ‘tests’ that can be used to put people in a box, so the clients can become guarded in their responses. Of course this happens most often when the instrument is required for participation in a mandatory program and that’s another topic altogether.

Most importantly, in my work, I am teaching the skills of self-awareness, self-reflection, self-regulation—all important aspects of emotional intelligence and social intelligence. These skills are better taught through self-discovery than through instruments. The self-discovery process leads to more ownership of the results, therefore more self-authoring. Additionally, if people mentally “try on” all the patterns presented, they are more likely to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who are different from themselves. This leads to perspective taking, which is one of the key skills needed in today’s world.

So to ‘test or not to test’ is an important question. How do you resolve it?


  1. Johanan Rakkav


    Let me add briefly that even when I began my self-study (at The Personality Page, which certainly has complete explanations within the four-process model), I couldn't grasp the possibilities even upon comparison. A lot were obviously not right, but I couldn't figure out which was. Looking at I saw that I like Robin's clean and astronomy-based style – astronomy has always been my favorite subejct – yet not nearly as much as I expected I might. Vicky Jo's just "spoke to me" artistically and that's when I thought I might be INFJ after all. A fictional character I was developing from my unconsious seemed to be INFJ (it became clear later that he, like me, was an ENFP playing an INFJ role). So I contacted Vicky Jo… and that's when things started getting really interesting.

  2. Johanan Rakkav


    Hi Dr. Berens,
    Just today I registered for your blog and as I explain in my profile, I spent roughly three decades of my nearly 52 years thinking I was an INTJ, thanks to the MBTI used out-of-context or inappropriately or both. It is not that the MBTI is fundamentally flawed, it is that it has its limits and you have brought out brilliantly part of the reason (the three levels of "self" is what I primarily think of here, making one's "core self" all but unrecognizeable at times).
    Test? I'm parroting what I've learned from you, Vicky Jo Varner and others, but who cares? Yes, by all means – but with the understanding that it's a "first cut" and that it shouldn't be done without the feedback of someone who understands what really underlies the four-letter code. And triangulate by other means, as much as possible.
    The simple truth is that our view of ourselves is distorted by others' expectations of us and our own aspirations and both contributed VERY strongly to my not grasping what my "core type" is. At most I thought of the alternative of INFJ – as it turns out, because I'd been driven to "flip-flop" into that mold due to outside pressure for much of my life. (What I went through because of all that convinces me that what you and your peers have in your hands should be part of the basic education of everyone, on some level.)
    Your colleague and student Vicky Jo Varner saw through the INTJ misidentification in less than half an hour, and as we started with your workbooks and her feedback it became clear that I was primarily Catalyst, but with a strong Theorist backup. But it wasn't until we walked through your social styles model that I realized how right she was as to my "core type". Her first guess was spot-on: ENFP (she'd put forward ESFP as an alternative to consider). Working through other methods, all the way to archetypes, clinched it: I am an ENFP at the core, if more theoretical in bent than most ENFPs I now know.
    If I have a motto to lend to the world now, it would be "Embrace Your Inner Screwball!" If you do, you just might find a core ENFP thought pattern that you didn't know you had. 🙂

    • Linda


      Johanan, I apologize for being so slow to approve your comments. April has been crazy and your posts came in while I was conducting the Integral Type Certification, which is quite intense.
      Thank you for your comments here. I’m pleased that my work, along with Vicky Jo’s coaching skills, has been helpful for you.
      There are many reasons why people get misidentified by instruments or other assessment methods. You’ve cited a few of them. I’m working on getting my Integral Typeworks website up where I’ll explore these more in depth.

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