Finn and Tonsager (1995, 1997) have developed a model of collaborative assessment. As part of their model, the test-taker and test-giver work together to design an assessment experience from which the test-taker will benefit. Many of the assessment questions emerge from a discussion between the test-taker and the test-giver, and reflect the concerns of the test-taker. Together, the test-taker and test-giver work as a team to identify issues of interest that the test can help answer. When test results are provided, it is in the form a back-and-forth discussion, that is guided in part by the test-taker's interests and concerns.
When is Feedback Given?
Providing feedback regarding MSCEIT scores to test-takers is often expected and of value to the test-taker. Certainly, those administering the test to indiividuals in applied settings generally give the test with the intention of providing feedback to the test-taker. In research settings, investigators may elect not to provide individual feedback on the MSCEIT in some instances, consistent with the American Psychological Association ethical guidelines, and with their local human review board for ethics in research. Assuming you are providing feedback concerning the MSCEIT, it should be done with considerable care. Here, I outline some general issues regarding providing feedback.
Level of Detail Necessary
Part of providing test feedback may involve understanding how much detail a test-taker needs to have in order to benefit from the test. For example, an individual who scores below average on the MSCEIT may feel it is enough to know that he or she is a bit below the average on the test, and that further information is unnecessary.
It may therefore be best to describe general levels for some test-takers rather than the exact percentile in which the person has scored. David Caruso spearheaded a "Development Report" for the MSCEIT (available as a scoring option for the MSCEIT) that provides enough information so that an individual understands if they scored low (or very low), but doesn't go into too much detail. The report, in other words, shifts the focus to what a person can expect given a particular score, and how to work around that particular level of performance, rather than emphasizing specific percentiles. According to Dr. Caruso, such a general approach, coupled with explanations as to what the score means, and discussions of possible areas of improvement, is "much less threatening and clients are less defensive during feedback." At the same time, he suggests, the standard test report, with its more detailed reporting can be helpful for someone who needs a more direct approach to the feedback, as well as for some people who are more technically oriented and appreciate the details. In still some other instances, an experienced clinician might, for example, judge that a test-taker might benefit from a bit of surprise (Caruso, personal communication, 9/30/04).
What Scores Are There?
The MSCEIT test yields an overall Emotional Intelligence Quotient, as well as subsidiary scores representing the branches of the four-branch model (see Mayer & Salovey, 1997, and the test manual). Detailed descriptions of the branch scores and what they mean can be found in the test manual. On the web, one can check the site www.eiskills.com. The purpose of this page is to speak more generally to giving test feedback to people taking this (and other) tests.
Type of Information
Although there are no studies directly on the matter (that I know of), it seems likely that certain tests are more likely than others to provide information that is surprising to the people who take them. Consider the diverse kinds of data produced from psychological testing. These vary according to the mental processes people draw on to produce the data (Mayer, 2004).
For example, below are three types of test data that a person can produce about him or herself:
Note that some forms of data, such as self-judgment data, basically ask the participant to tell the test-taker what the individual already, in some sense, knows. If a person takes a self-esteem scale, for example, and consistently reports low self-esteem, then that same individual is unlikely to be surprised if he or she receives a lower-than-average self esteem score. In a sense, the test's main function, in this case, is to organize what the individual already often knows.
By contrast, criterion-report scales (such as the MSCEIT and other intelligence scales), thematic-report scales (such as the Rorschach and TAT), and empirically-keyed tests (such as the MMPI), may tell the individual something quite different from what he or she expected. Some people may be quite surprised to hear their results -- pleasantly surprised, and sometimes, unfortunately, unpleasantly surprised if their score is lower than hoped for or expected.
For that and other reasons, it is very worthwhile to give some thought to how to provide feedback in a given circumstance. Test feedback can be a positive, even therapeutic, experience for many people, if done properly (e.g., Newman & Greenway, 1997).
Keeping a Clear Perspective about Emotional Intelligence
One way to help test takers is by helping them keep a clear perspective about emotional intelligence: What it is, and what it isn't. According to the ability model, EI is a fairly specific ability that connects a person's knowledge processes to his or her emotional processes. As such, EI is different from emotions, emotional styles, emotional traits, and is different from other intelligences as well.
Moreover, although EI is a personality variable of interest and apparently of some importance, it also just one of among about 70 or so commonly studied traits in personality psychology (including various intelligences). Some of these are depicted in the diagram below, according to the area of personality they affect (Mayer, 2003, Figure 2, p. 394).
[To see a larger version of the diagram, find the figure in the reference above.]
The idea that EI is one variable among many important variables means that participants can and should be told something like this:
"Personality can be characterized by many abilities, skills, motives, feelings, and characteristic tendencies. Emotional intelligence is one variable among many. On the one hand, it describes a critical set of connections between intellect and emotion. On the other hand, peoples' personalities -- including their abilities -- have many different parts, and emotional intelligence is just one such part. Everyone is high in some characteristics and low in others. No one (or at least very few people) are exceptions to this rule."
Summary and Conclusions
In many situations, an important aspect of test administration is providing feedback to the test-taker. Some tests basically organize what a test-taker has said and provide feedback to the individual that the individual, in some sense, "already knows." Other kinds of tests measure qualities that are likely to be unknown (as to their level) to the person before he or she receives feedback. The MSCEIT test, like most ability tests, is an example of the latter. Sometimes people will be pleasantly surprised by their scores. At other times, they may be initially disappointed, although they may recognize the advantage of having further information about themselves. In either case, one approach to testing and providing feedback is a collaborative approach in which the test-taker and feedback-provider work out the questions they wish to address by the testing, and the kind of feedback that the individual most wants to receive.
Finn, S. E. & Tonsager, M. E. (1997). Information-gathering and therapeutic models of assessment: Complementary paradigms. Psychological Assessment, 9, 374-385.
Finn, S. E., & Tonsager, M. E. (1995). Therapeutic assessment: Using psychological testing to help clients change. Unpublished manuscript. Austin, TX: Center for Therapeutic Assessment. [cited in Newman & Greenway (1997).
Mayer, J. D. (2003). Structural divisions of personality and the classification of traits. Review of General Psychology, 7, 381-401.
Mayer, J. D. (2004). A classification system for the data of personality psychology and adjoining fields. Review of General Psychology, 8, 208-219.
Newman, M. L., & Greenway, P. (1997). Therapeutic effects of providing MMPI-2 test feedback to clients at a university counseling service: A collaborative approach.