The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)
Updated 23 June 2021
Good news. Your application for that dream job has been successful and you have landed an interview. However, the letter also states that you will be expected to take a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test as part of the screening process.
The MMPI test is commonly used to recruit for high-risk roles, such as commercial airline pilots and police officers, where mental health plays an important role in decision-making and carrying out the job safely and efficiently.
It examines aspects of the candidate’s personality to ascertain their mental stability, whether they are suitable for the job and how they can be expected to perform in that job over time and under stress.
The test is administered and the results are interpreted by a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist who has received training in the use of the MMPI. It cannot be used without this professional guidance.
Unlike other recruitment-related tests, the MMPI does not have a pass/fail format. There are no right or wrong answers, and it is therefore unlikely that a candidate will be able to cheat the test.
What Is the MMPI?
The MMPI was first developed in the late 1930s by psychologist Starke R Hathaway and neurologist JC McKinley at the University of Minnesota as a clinical tool to assess mental health, specifically to diagnose mental disorders.
The MMPI was subsequently revised in the 1980s and 2000s to its current format and is now the most regularly used mental health clinical assessment tool.
The MMPI test uses ten clinical scales to assess the candidate’s personality and behaviors. The test contains between 338 and 567 questions depending on which version is used, can be administered individually or in groups, and may be taken in either a computerized or paper format. The length of the test varies between 35 and 90 minutes, again depending on which version is used.
The primary use of the MMPI is in a clinical setting to assess mental health, but it also proves helpful in legal disputes regarding custody and as part of the recruitment screening process.
Types of MMPI
The MMPI test is available in three different versions. Two of these are for adults, while the third was designed for use by teenagers. These three types are:
MMPI-2 – This type features 567 true/false questions and takes between 60 and 90 minutes. As part of a recruitment screening process, this is the version of the MMPI test that is most commonly used. It is also relevant in a clinical setting.
MMPI-2-RF – This type has 338 true/false questions and takes between 35 and 50 minutes to complete. MMPI-2-RF is an updated version of MMPI-2, first made available in 2008. As with MMPI-2, this test can be used in a clinical or recruitment setting.
MMPI-A – This type was developed for teenagers, specifically of 14 to 18 years of age, and is used in both a clinical setting and in custody-related legal disputes. It is unlikely that you will be asked to take this version of the MMPI test as part of a recruitment screening process.
Why Are My Employers Using This Test?
The MMPI test is used by employers who are recruiting for high-risk jobs where mental health can be imperative to the safe and effective fulfillment of the role. High-risk jobs include:
- Commercial airline pilots
- Air traffic controllers
- Nuclear power plant workers
- Members of the police force
- Members of the armed forces
The MMPI test, like other psychometric tests, provides information on whether a candidate has the correct personality and skills to carry out a role effectively. The MMPI test provides information on the candidate’s emotional and mental stability, how they cope with stress and how, therefore, they will perform in the position.
Equally, the employer seeks to discover whether the candidate is a good fit for their organization and its vision for the future.
The focus of the test may vary depending on the requirements of the specific job, for instance, seeking respect for authority in the armed forces or mental stability in the case of an air traffic controller.
Employers may also use the MMPI test as a way to check their employees’ mental wellbeing as they develop in their roles.
How Do I Get a Good Score on the Test?
Unlike an academic test, there are no right or wrong answers and therefore no ‘good score’. Instead, the MMPI seeks to identify the candidate’s personality, skills and levels of mental health. The test requires that the candidate answers honestly. To ensure this, several control questions are included in the test.
Read the questions thoroughly, try not to overthink your response and answer honestly.
Validity Scales of the MMPI-2 Test
Validity scales assess whether the candidate has answered the questions in the MMPI test honestly, whether their response is intentional and their possible motivations for answering in this way. For instance, do they rate highly in dishonest answers or questions related to defensiveness?
Many of the questions in the MMPI test will be related directly to at least one of the following validity scales:
L scale – The ‘Lie’ scale, triggered when a candidate answers in a way that is not strictly honest to present themselves in a favorable manner and in rejection of their faults or shortcomings.
F scale – This measures inconsistencies across answers. Is the candidate making random answer choices or are they attempting to give a bad or worse impression of themselves?
Fb scale – This scale measures the difference between how the candidate performed in the first half of the test with how they performed in the second half. It may, for instance, indicate whether the candidate experienced a loss of concentration as the test progressed.
K scale – This is often referred to as the ‘Defensiveness’ scale, triggered when a candidate under-reports to make themselves appear better than they are. It is a more subtle version of the L scale.
Fp scale – This scale measures over-reporting, whether intentional or not, which may be linked to mental illness or severe distress.
FBS scale – The ‘Symptom Validity’ scale, indicating whether a candidate is over-reporting symptoms. This type of behavior is more prevalent where the MMPI test is used as part of a personal injury claim.
S scale – The ‘Superlative Self-Presentation’ scale examines whether the candidate is under-reporting to present themselves favorably through a series of questions on human goodness, serenity and contentment, morality, and denying one’s own flaws.
?/CNS scale – Generally referred to as the ‘Cannot Say’ scale, this measures how many questions the candidate left unanswered.
TRIN scale – Triggered when the candidate appears to answer without reading or responding to the questions, in a fixed manner, for instance, answering three questions true followed by three questions false and so on. This may indicate that the candidate does not understand the questions or perhaps cannot read. Alternatively, it may be an act of defiance.
VRIN scale – Similar to TRIN except the answering response is inconsistent or random. This may still indicate either a lack of understanding or defiance.
The validity scales for the MMPI-2-RF test are similar with slight variances.
Clinical Scales of the MMPI-2 Test
The MMPI-2 test uses ten clinical scales to denote a series of psychological conditions and tendencies. These are:
Scale 1: Hypochondriasis (Hs) – Related to the condition of hypochondria, a neurotic response to bodily function where an individual may believe they are suffering from an undiagnosed illness. There are 32 Scale 1 questions.
Scale 2: Depression (D) – Triggered by signs of depression such as low morale or being dissatisfied with one’s life or future. There are 57 Scale 2 questions.
Scale 3: Hysteria (Hy) – Identifies candidates who may display hysteria or become unnecessarily emotional during times of heightened stress. There are 60 Scale 3 questions.
Scale 4: Psychopathic Deviate (Pd) – Related to psychopathic tendencies, this scale assesses social deviation, response to authority, rebelliousness and morality. There are 50 Scale 4 questions.
Scale 5: Masculinity/Femininity (MF) – Assesses how closely the candidate identifies with the stereotypical male or female gender roles. There are 56 Scale 5 questions.
Scale 6: Paranoia (Pa) – Related to the condition of paranoia where the candidate exhibits signs that they are overly suspicious of others, may feel persecuted, be overly sensitive and have rigid opinions on life. There are 40 Scale 6 questions.
Scale 7: Psychasthenia (Pt) – Triggered by signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), such as obsessive behaviors, anxiety, guilt and fear. There are 48 Scale 7 questions.
Scale 8: Schizophrenia (Sc) – Assesses for signs of schizophrenia by examining the candidate’s cognitive, emotional and social behaviors. This scale may also identify candidates who show certain eccentricities, are anti-social or prone to alienation and have the potential for substance abuse. With 78 Scale 8 questions, this is the longest part of the test.
Scale 9: Hypomania (Ma) – Identifies signs of hypomania, including excitability, hallucinations, heightened speech and motor activity, irritability, short periods of depression, inflated self-importance and a tendency to be impulsive. There are 46 Scale 9 questions.
Scale 10: Social Introversion (Si) – Assesses how introverted or extroverted the candidate is, with a focus on their interaction with other people and whether they withdraw from social situations. There are 69 Scale 10 questions.
It should be noted that the MMPI-2-RF test uses different clinical scales and several additional types such as cognitive and interpersonal scales.
How to Prepare
The MMPI is not a test in the traditional sense of the word, so you cannot revise for it in the way that you would for an academic exam.
However, there are still things you can do in the run-up to the test:
There is no way to predict what questions you will be asked in the MMPI test, although they will relate to the above validity and clinical scales. However, you can prepare by familiarizing yourself with the format of the test.
Familiarizing yourself with the MMPI test format beforehand will make you less likely to panic on the day and misread the questions.
Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the awareness and effective handling of your emotions in a way that lessens the stress in your life and allows you to interact with others positively.
You can improve your emotional intelligence by developing four key skills:
Self-awareness – The ability to examine your own emotions, for instance, finding the cause of your irritability in a seemingly stress-free situation
Self-management – How to handle stress, retain control and manage impulsive behaviors; for instance, staying calm when receiving bad news
Social awareness – How to recognize and decipher the clues that other people are communicating, whether verbal or non-verbal, so that you can build an understanding of others and react in a relevant manner; for instance, recognizing the differences between an individual who may become aggressive and an individual who is simply distressed
Relationship management – Using your social awareness, relationship management allows you to work well with others and develop constructive relationships across all areas of your life
Improving emotional intelligence is a lifelong endeavor but you can begin to work on it now. Ways in which you can do this include:
Make a regular appointment with yourself to reflect on the past week. How did it go? What were the highs and lows? Did you learn anything about yourself or others?
Keep a journal. Often, you will not become aware of how you felt about something, or why you felt that way until you have written it down.
Make meditation a regular practice. Often the quieting of the mind can lead to inspiration and answers that have evaded you.
Practice awareness of your internal reactions, before you react externally. For instance, when a colleague triggers a derisive response from you, ask yourself why you feel that way before you respond.
Become aware of your breathing and how your body feels. Stress will often make itself apparent physically, for instance, a tense jaw or a racing heartbeat, long before we realize that we are stressed.
Think of how your early childhood may have created the role you play in life; for instance, were you taught to be the responsible one who looked after everyone else to the point of self-sacrifice?
Prepare to Be Honest
It may seem obvious that you will answer the test questions honestly but doing so may not be as simple or straightforward as it might seem.
Putting aside intended dishonesty, you may think that you have answered honestly when you have given the answer that you think is the acceptable response. It is the answer you think you should give rather than the truth. For instance, a man may feel he should adhere more closely to the male stereotype, so he answers in a way that feels more masculine to him.
Alternatively, you may give an answer that unintentionally reflects you in a better or worse way than is true. For instance, you play down your talents through a lack of confidence or you exaggerate your skills because you have an inflated opinion of yourself.
Before you answer any question, think about what the real truth is.
Key Points to Bear in Mind
The MMPI is difficult to prepare for in the same way as you would prepare for an academic exam because it does not result in a pass/fail outcome. The test is designed to recognize dishonest, exaggerated or self-deprecating answers, so it is impossible to cheat. The best way to approach the MMPI is as an opportunity to discover more about yourself under the guidance of a qualified psychologist.
Take advantage of the practice test papers from JobTestPrep and JobAssessmentHelp to familiarize yourself with the test format. Work at improving your emotional intelligence through developing your self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management skills. Think about how you will answer the questions honestly, without exaggerating or under-selling yourself.
In the run-up to your MMPI test, practice self-care to ensure that your brain and body are fully prepared. Make sure you are well-rested and have had a few good nights’ sleep. Try to remove as much stress from your life as possible. Ensure you eat healthy, nutritious meals and are well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
On the day of the MMPI test, keep these key points forefront in your mind to achieve the best possible result:
Be honest – The MMPI test is designed to identify dishonest answers, whether intentional or not, so cannot be cheated. If you are dishonest in any answer you give, this will be noticed.
Be completely honest – Tell the truth, without criticizing or flattering yourself. Again, this will be noticed by the psychologist when they interpret your answers.
Do not overthink the question – First, this will eat into your time limit and may mean that you run out of time to finish the test, resulting in a higher ?/CNS score. Second, overthinking can lead to unintentionally dishonest answers where you respond in a way that you think is expected or you show yourself in a better or worse light than is actually true. Use practice papers to work on your response time and reduce overthinking.
Do not rush the questions – Read each question thoroughly to ensure you fully understand what it is asking and to reduce the chance of making silly mistakes.
Learn how to recognize control questions – Practice papers will help you with this. Generally, a control question will be worded in a way that suggests your answers are not honest. Be especially careful that your response is truthful when answering control questions.
Be consistent – The MMPI assesses how consistently you answer the test questions. You may encounter numerous questions that ask the same thing but in different ways. Read each question carefully so that you fully understand what it means.
Answer all of the questions – To build a complete picture of who you are, you must answer every test question. Do not avoid questions because you do not understand them, you feel you have provided that information in a previous question, or to avoid revealing an aspect of your personality. The MMPI test is designed to interpret your response as a whole, including why you did not answer certain questions.
Be reassured a trained psychologist will assess the answers – Your answers will be assessed and interpreted by a professionally qualified psychologist who has been trained in using the MMPI.
Remember why you are doing this – Taking the MMPI test is a step towards landing the job you have applied for. You have passed the first hurdle of sufficiently standing out from other applicants to be invited to interview. The test is just one more method used by the employer to ensure that you are the best person for the job.
As employers look for better ways to find the best candidates for the job, personality tests are likely to be used more extensively. The MMPI, with its interpretation by a qualified psychologist, offers added guidance for high-risk roles where mental stability and emotional intelligence are key.
The MMPI may be difficult to prepare for, but it can be best handled by using practice papers to become familiar with the format, developing your emotional intelligence and answering all of the questions with complete honesty.