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The Beauty of CAT

Posted on July 14, 2014

Ellen Frank (bio) describes two advantages of computerized adaptive testing.


I've been working with colleagues at the University of Chicago and elsewhere on the development of computerized adaptive tests. This is a method by which we use the strength of the computer to make determinations about what is the next appropriate question to ask an individual based on their response to the immediately previous question. So let's say we have 100 questions that help us to rate severity of depression. And what we do in computerized adaptive testing is start the individual on the test with a mediumly severe, we talk about difficulty in testing, but in psychopathology, we're really talking about severity. So we would start with a medium-severe question. And depending on how the person answers that first question, we'd either test up or test down in terms of severity.

And generally what we see is that an instrument that might be composed of 100 questions, we could administer on the basis of five or six questions. So the capacity to speed up the assessment process is enormous. But there's another aspect of this, and that is that individuals tend to accommodate to getting the same questions again and again. If I were to use a common depression inventory that has, let's say, 15 questions, and I give an individual those same 15 questions every week, week after week after week after week, they begin to accommodate to those questions. The beauty of computerized adaptive testing is that the individual will get different questions every time the test is administered. So we don't see that practice effect.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2014 Career Development Institute for Psychiatry in Pittsburgh, PA.


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