Sentence Completion Tests: A Review of the Literature and Results of a Survey of Members of the Society for Personality Assessment Margot Holaday, Debra A. Smith, and Alissa Sherry
Department of Psychology University of Southern Mississippi
Test usage surveys consistently find that sentence completion tests (SCTs) are among the most popular personality assessment instruments used by practitioners. What is not noted is which SCTs practitioners are using, why these tests are so popular, and whether practitioners are using formal scoring. We surveyed a random selection of 100 members of the Society for Personality Assessment. With a 60% return rate on a single mailing, we found that most psychologists who use incomplete sentence tests use the Rotter (1951) Incomplete Sentences Blank with children (18%), adolescents (32%), and adults (47%). Most practitioners said they do not read stems aloud and record answers themselves, and even fewer said they use formal scoring. The most common reasons for using an SCT are (a) to use it as part of an assessment battery (41 endorsements), (b) to determine personality structure (18 endorsements), and (c) to elicit quotable quotes (17 endorsements). Implications for practitioners and training suggestions for academicians who prepare future psychologists are noted.
Test usage surveys consistently find that sentence completion tests (SCTs) are among the most commonly used personality assessment instruments. They were ranked second by Japanese clinicians (Ogawa & Piotrowski, 1992, as cited in Piotrowski, Keller, & Ogawa, 1993), third by clinical psychologists (Goh & Fuller, 1983), fifth by clinicians working with adolescents (Archer, Maruish, Imhof, & Piotrowski, 1991), fourth by school psychologists (Kennedy, Faust, Willis, & Piotrowski, 1994), fifth by representatives of mental health service providers, and third by members of the Society for Personality Assessment in response to the question: “With what 5 projective tests should the professional practitioner be competent?” (Piotrowski, 1985, p. 81). It is curious that SCTs are referred to as a generic
HOLADAY, SMITH, SHERRY
classification, yet other personality instruments are ranked in these surveys by name (e.g., Rorschach or Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory–2 [MMPI–2]), not by category (e.g., inkblot and storytelling technique). Despite the recognized popularity of SCTs, what is not known is which ones practitioners are using, whether they score these instruments according to any theory or guideline, why the tests are so popular, or why they are lumped together as if they all provide the same psychological information. This information is important to academicians who are charged with preparing future psychologists to perform appropriately on their internships and to practitioners who develop their own test batteries to provide the most patient information in the least amount of time. To become familiar with the possible pool of SCT choices, we reviewed the literature and logged the following information about each SCT: name of test; author(s); date first discussed; theory, rationale, or purpose; population for whom it was developed; number of items; subscales, if any; scoring procedures; reliability; validity; and any other relevant information. SCT LITERATURE REVIEW The Tendler Sentence Completion Test (Tendler, 1930) is based on psychodynamic theory; its primary purpose is to help psychologists gain emotional insight into patients’ problems. It has 20 stems and can be given to patients of any age if they can perform the task. The Tendler Sentence Completion Test has no subscales, and scoring procedures are based on the projective hypothesis and clinical judgment. Reliability is not reported. Content validity is claimed through qualitative analysis of patients’ biographical information. According to...