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Assessment Instruments: Tests of Attention

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Testing someone's ability to pay attention is more complicated than it sounds. Attention is composed of four major components:
1. selective attention: the ability to attend to stimuli while ignoring distractions;
2. sustained attention: the ability to maintain attention over an extended period of time;
3. divided attention: the ability to attend to more than one task simultaneously; and,
4. alternating attention: the ability to shift attention from one task to another without losing focus.

students in classroomMeasuring each facet of attention can be extremely helpful in pinpointing relative strengths and weaknesses. Tests can also indicate methods for dealing with the identified attention problem. Links to information about these assessment tools can be found in the Resource List.

Tests of Variable Attention (TOVA)

TOVA is a computerized test that can be used to measure impulsivity, vigilance, and deterioration of attention over time. TOVA can be used to screen for ADHD, as well as predict and monitor medication effects. It takes about 20 minutes to complete and does not require the use of language, right-left discrimination, or letter or number recognition. These qualities make it useful for people of various ages and abilities.

Trail-Making Test A&B

The Trail-Making Test evaluates visual-motor speed and task-switching skills. It assesses someone's ability to follow a simple number sequence (Trails A) and a more complex sequence of alternating numbers and letters (Trails B). Scores are compared to age-, education-, and gender-based information to determine whether someone's performance is impaired.

Attentional Capacity Test (ACT)

The ACT was originally designed to evaluate attention in adults. With some minor modifications, it effectively evaluates a child's selective attention ability. The test was designed so that it can be used with speech or motor-impaired people. Test results can indicate critical areas of treatment focus. (Weber, & Segalowitz, 2009)

Continuous Performance Tests (CPTs)

Continuous Performance Tests (CPTs) are computer-based tasks (often called Target-Focused Tests). These tests are used to evaluate attention, including sustained attention over time. CPTs may be used in conjunction with clinical information to make a diagnosis. In general, CPTs provide an objective method for assessing attention deficits. This is an advantage over subjective assessment techniques, such as self-report questionnaires.

Connors CPT II Continuous Performance Test II

This is a computerized test used for people suspected of having attention problems. Results are delivered immediately by computer following the brief 14-minute administration. Subjects are instructed to press the space bar immediately following the appearance of a specific letter on screen (Connors, 2015).

Connors Kiddie CPT V.5

The K-CPT is designed for children 4 to 5 years of age. The process involves quick flashes of familiar objects to which the child must respond. This version is designed similarly to the Conners' CPT II, but modified for younger populations. For example, the test takes half the time to complete and it uses pictures, rather than letters (Connors, n.d.)

Integrated Visual and Auditory Continuous Performance Test (IVA)

This test combines visual images and sounds to assess impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. It may be used with children 5 years or older (including adults). Clients are instructed to click the mouse when they see or hear a "1", but not when they see or hear a "2". Test scores also provide information about stamina, consistency, speed, attention, focus, motivation, and problems with learning (Tinius, 2003)