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The purpose of the test construction exercise is to ensure that students are familiar with the fundamental concepts behind psychological assessment as applied to a case example. This requires critical thinking and an ability apply knowledge of psychological assessment in an applied way.



The assessment question is as follows:


You are a Clinical Psychologist working at Bradfield Doctor’s Surgery. One of the General Practitioners at the Surgery has referred a client to you. Her name is Sandra Dent. Sandra is a 43 year-old hairdresser who runs her own salon. Her business is not doing well. She has started working longer hours so she can reduce the hours of her assistant to cut costs. She reports that she is increasingly anxious about going to work and concerned her business will fail. Sandra reports that she has lost interest in his usual hobbies and simply wants her business to succeed. Sandra says she is also worried about how her husband and children are  putting up with her distress. Critically discuss how you go about formally assessing Sandra? What information would you attempt to collect? What are the advantages and limitations of your approach?


Look in Appendix One for an example of a previous question, an answer that was awarded an HD and the marker’s sheet that will be used to mark your work. The marking scheme gives you an additional idea of where you should be focusing your efforts. The most important thing to remember is that you must support your arguments with references and be critical. The end result will look like an essay question framed around a case report. Have a look at the example question and answer to have an idea of what is required. An additional hint is to display further reading on the topic, especially with regards up-to-date references and cutting-edge assessment procedures will impress the marker.


Below is how you might structure the exercise and some additional comments.


Reason for referral/background


A brief statement of why you are conducting the assessment and the background. You do not have much information. You might wish to comment on this here- or suggest additional information that you might request concerning the referral.


Psychological Assessments (discuss this with the limitations)


What assessments would you use? We’ve covered a variety of approaches to psychological assessments such as formal psychometric assessment, interviews and observation. Which of these methods would you use and why? What information would you attempt to collect from collateral sources and why?


Limitations of approach (discuss this with the psychological assessments)


What are the advantages and limitations of your approach? Think of things like reliability and validity. Face validity may also be relevant here. Can one method of assessment tell you all you need to know? Do you need to use different methodologies? You might like to mention the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. What is best practice?




What conclusions are you likely to be able to make after your assessment? Again balance is important here. There may be limitations but what can you tell? Many assessment procedures are far from perfect but are better than the alternatives!




Requests for miss the submission date must be made in writing to the Course Convenor. Where the request is made on medical grounds, an appropriate medical certificate must be submitted (see Assessment Policy  https://allaplusessays.com/order. In general, some documentary form of support for the claim for an extension must accompany the request.

The exercise should be submitted by 10am on 4 th of October 2016 and should be 3,000 words in length.








Below is a test construction question from a previous year and a student’s answer. The answer was awarded a HD and the student was kind enough to allow me to share it with you (note the word limit was different for that year and the marking scheme was slightly different).


The question was:


You are a Forensic Psychologist working at the Moreton Bay Correctional Centre. John Kirby, a 28 year old man, has been referred to you because he is applying for parole. John was convicted of a violent sexual assault against his then partner Anne Johnson. He was under the influence of alcohol, cannabis and amphetamines at the time of the assault. Critically discuss how you go about formally assessing John concerning his risk to the community? What information would you attempt to collect? What are the advantages and limitations of your approach?


The answer awarded an HD was:



Forensic Test Construction Exercise

  1. Student

Reason for referral

Mr. John Kirby aged 28 was convicted of a violent sexual assault against his partner Ms Anne Johnson and is currently serving a sentence at the Moreton Bay Correctional Centre. At the time of the offence Mr Kirby was under the influence of alcohol, cannabis and amphetamines. Mr Kirby has applied to the Queensland Parole Board to serve the rest of his sentence on parole in the community. I have been employed by the Parole Board as a psychologist to assist in their deliberation regarding the prisoner’s release. Mr Kirby is aware and indicates that he understands the non-confidential nature of the assessment and has agreed to participate. Key considerations to be addressed are Mr Kirby’s risk of recidivism both long and short term as well as his suitability for parole.

In order to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment of Mr Kirby background information is required pertaining to his age of offending onset, previous criminal history, case notes regarding his current offence, previous compliance with court orders and prison records regarding any treatment programs Mr Kirby participated in whilst incarcerated.  Additional information was collected through face to face interview with the offender and review of case notes in order to successfully map out the details and sequence of events leading up to Mr Kirby’s conviction.


Psychological Assessments

Comprehensive assessments of violence and recidivism risk frequently take part in the sentencing and rehabilitation of offenders to ensure that they receive necessary treatments and that they do not pose as a high risk to the community (Campbell, French & Gendreau, 2009). In order to determine Mr Kirby’s risk of recidivism as well as his suitability for parole a comprehensive risk assessment is required employing a variety of psychological assessments and actuarial and dynamic risk assessment procedures.

Actuarial scales provide clinicians a relatively simple and straightforward method of determining longer term risk,(Craig & Beech, 2010). These scales are often atheoretical in that they contain items that have a statistical relationship with recidivism as opposed to one that is conceptual (Kingston, Yates, Firestone, Babchishin & Bradford, 2008). Actuarial risk assessment draws on empirically identified static factors or items (factors that are historical and cannot change), for example age of first offence and criminal history (Ogloff & Davis, 2004) in order to determine the likelihood an individual will be reconvicted (Beech, Fisher & Thornton, 2003; Craig & Beech, 2010). Research has identified actuarial measures as being superior in predicting offender recidivism compared to clinical judgement because actuarial assessment is regarded as being an objective approach whereas clinical judgement is subjective and can be influenced by bias (Craig, Browne, Stringer & Beech, 2005; Craig & Beech, 2010).

In the case of Mr Kirby an appropriate actuarial assessment tool to use is the Risk Matrix 2000 (RM2000;Thornton et al., 2003) a widely used risk assessment procedure employed in the British Prison and Probation system and shown to have good predictive power (Craig, Brown & Beech, 2008). The RM2000 is a three dimensional statistical risk assessment tool designed for males over the age of 18 who have been convicted of a sex offence (Thornton et al., 2003). The instrument (Thornton et al., 2003) provides separate scales to predict sexual offending (RM2000/S), non-sexual violent recidivism (RM2000/V) and combined sexual and non-sexual violent recidivism (RM2000/C). Research indicates that RM2000 exhibits convergent validity correlating with the Static-99 and the Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG; Kingston, Yates, Firestone, Babchishin & Bradford, 2008). The

Since the victim of Mr Kirby’s offence was his then intimate partner Anne Johnson there is a component of the offence that should be considered as intimate partner violence. The nature of Mr Kirby’s crime places him at a higher risk of future recidivism with previous research showing that individuals who commit violent crimes against either an intimate partner or a non-family member have an increased risk of reoffending and committing violent crimes whilst on probation (Stalans, Hacker & Talbot, 2010). In addition Stalans, Hacker and Talbot (2010) found that violent offenders who reported using substances prior to committing their offence have a higher risk of sexual recidivism.

The Level of Service Inventory – Revised (LSI-R; Andrews & Bonta, 1995) is an actuarial risk/needs assessment tool covering 10 different criminogenic domains for example criminal history and education/employment history (Flores, Lowenkamp, Holsinger & Latessa, 2006). The LSI-R is shown to have both predictive reliability and validity, which makes it a valuable tool for clinicians to employ in order to make accurate decisions such as offender rehabilitation, and level of supervision (Flores, Lowenkamp, Holsinger & Latessa, 2006). The relationship between non-sexual criminogenic risk/needs addressed in the LSI-R as well as static and dynamic factors allows for increase predictive accuracy. In addition to paving a way for informed intervention strategies and follow up procedures to be devised (Simourd & Malcolm, 1998).

The LSI-R would be a useful risk assessment tool to explore Mr Kirby’s intimate partner violence as well as the amount of supervision required to ensure he did not contact Ms Johnson in the future (Flores, Lowenkamp, Holsinger & Latenssa, 2006). Furthermore other post release issues such as accommodation, support and coping mechanisms can be identified through the LSI-R (Simourd & Malcolm, 1998).

While static risk factors are important for assessing long term risk of recidivism, they are unable to specifically determine an individual’s short term level of risk (Craig et al, 2005). Issues related to changeable risk factors are referred to as dynamic risk factors or criminogenic needs (Hanson, 2002). They are factors which are potentially changeable over time for example employment (Ogloff & Davis, 2004), additionally dynamic lifestyle factors have been found to correlate with general offending (Beech, Fisher & Thornton, 2003; Harris & Hanson, 2010). Furthermore dynamic risk factors may be able to be addressed through interventions such as treatment programs or counselling which can influence an individual’s likelihood of reoffending (Harris & Hanson, 2010; Ogloff & Davis, 2004). It is important to note however that both static and dynamic risk factors have been found to hold predictive validity (Ogloff & Davis, 2004). Dynamic risk factors fall into two categories, stable and acute factors (Craig et al., 2005). Stable dynamic risk factors are those factors that tend to be stable over time and which are often major targets of clinical interventions (Craig et al., 2005). Whereas acute risk factors tend to change and vary such as mood and substance abuse, which can often influence the onset of offending (Beech, Fisher & Thornton, 2003).

In relation to Mr. Kirby since he was under the influence of substances at the time of his offence his participation in alcohol and drug rehabilitation treatment programs whilst incarcerated will be of particular interest. The findings from a study by Abracen, Looman, Di Fazio, Kelly and Stripe (2006) indicate that that sex offenders who completed substance abuse treatment programs were less likely to reoffend suggesting that substance abuse is an important contributor to recidivism. This further supports the notion that dynamic risk factors are able to be influenced through interventions and subsequently reduce recidivism (Ogloff & Davis, 2004). Moreover sexual recidivism has been identified in the literature to be influenced by antisocial orientation and lifestyle instability (Hanson & Moton-Bourgon, 2005). In a meta-analysis of 82 recidivism studies Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2005) found that antisocial orientation was a moderate to large indicator of non-violent recidivism, violent and general recidivism.

Given that psychopathy is a key risk factor for violence (Hare, 1998) it is important that the Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 1991) is administered to Mr Kirby in order to determine whether he meets the criteria for psychopathy.  The PCL-R is an individually administered instrument completed using file information as well as a semi structured interview that collects information to determine the presence of psychopathy (Hare, 1998). While the PCL-R can be scored based on file information alone it is not possible to score the measure on the sole basis of an interview (Hare, 1998). If Mr Kirby scores high on the PCL-R his eligibility for parole will need to be carefully considered since adult and child sex offenders who score high on the PCL-R have an above average likelihood of violent recidivism (Hare, 1998). Empirical research has demonstrated the PCL-R to be a valid and reliable measure in male criminal populations, high in construct and predictive validity (Hare et al., 1990).


Limitations of approach

When performing a risk assessment it is important to take into consideration the limitations of the measures that are going to be employed. Although actuarial measures hold a great deal of statistical power the majority of these measures are based on static risk factors and neglect to take into account dynamic risk factors and have limited use in informing interventions (Craig et al, 2005). In addition because actuarial risk measures are derived from base rates which are officially recorded as reconvictions, by nature base rates are not reliable or stable measures which differ according to variables such as age and gender (Craig & Beech, 2010). Furthermore base rates reportedly change over time and thus negatively impact on the validity of a measure (Beech & Craig, 2010).

Risk prediction by nature is an onerous task, particularly with sexual offenders due to the multifaceted nature of this crime (Craig & Beech, 2010). With a key objective of risk assessment lying in the power to predict the likelihood recidivism, another equally important goal is to ensure that individuals estimate of dangerousness do not over or under estimate risk which would result in type 1 or type 2 errors (Craig & Beech, 2010). The consequence of incorrectly classifying an individual as low or high risk can lead to low risk offenders being placed in costly long term treatment programs or on the other hand high risk offenders failing to receive necessary treatment interventions and subsequently placing individuals at high risk of reoffending on release (Craig & Beech, 2010). As previously mentioned actuarial scales provide practitioners a straight forward approach to determine offender’s risk of recidivism. While this is cited as a strength of the measure it is also a limitation as the apparent simplicity can lead to misuse and misinterpretation of the data and subsequently lead to incorrect decisions being made (Craig & Beech, 2010).

Another limitation that practitioners need to be aware of when scoring self-report assessments of sexual offenders is the individual’s motivation for providing socially desirable responses (Mathie & Wakeling, 2011). Risk assessments usually take place in order to determine for example an offender’s suitability for parole, level of treatment required and risk to the community (Campbell, French & Gendreau, 2009). With this in mind sexual offenders may be motivated to present themselves in a socially desirable way in order to secure an early release for example (Mathie & Wakeling, 2011). However interestingly research investigating sexual offenders reporting bias to self-report items found that socially desirable responding was low (Mathie & Wakeling, 2011).

While the PCL-R (Hare, 1991) has demonstrated reliability and validity there are limitations to this measure (Ogloff, 2006). Firstly, because the PCL-R cannot be scored based on an interview alone, there is a great emphasis placed on the accuracy and reliability of file and collateral information (Ogloff, 2006). However given file information is usually provided by prison or probation officers whose primary training is in law and order as opposed to psychology it is difficult to ensure that the case notes are entirely accurate (Ogloff, 2006).



As a result of a comprehensive risk assessment, a recommendation from the psychologist to the parole board can be made regarding Mr. Kirby’s suitability of parole as well as the level of reoffending risk he poses to the community can be made using validated risk assessment measures. In addition recommendations can be made regarding possible requirements to be placed on Mr Kirby whilst on parole, for example weekly drug and alcohol screening and counselling. The assessments employed will provide the Parole board with a good indication of the level of risk that persons with characteristics similar to Mr Kirby pose.

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