Attention tests can help people to learn more about their ability to pay attention and what the limitations of human attention are. Most attention tests are used by psychologists or psychiatrists to aid in a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other tests may be used as experiments that can demonstrate how attention works and how well most people are able to pay attention to a variety of different things. some tests may also help people in examining their own attention span or tendency to become distracted.
Some of the most common types of attention tests are those used to determine whether a person has ADD or ADHD. People with these disorders will often benefit from simple accommodations such as more time to complete tasks or a work environment that is free from distraction while others may benefit from the use of medication. Being formally diagnosed with ADD or ADHD can help people get the medication or accommodation they need in order to succeed at work or school. Attention tests are instrumental in helping people to receive a diagnosis.
Many ADD and ADHD diagnostic tests are in the form of self-reporting. Patients, their family members, and their teachers may be given multiple choice tests that ask these people to rate the various symptoms associated with these attention disorders. For example, a question may ask how often a person stops working on a task before it is complete or how frequently a person does not follow directions properly. Other diagnostic attention tests may objectively rate a person's performance while being distracted and then compare this person's results against the results attained by people who do not have either ADD or ADHD.
Psychologists may also use attention tests to demonstrate how attention works. These tests often seem simple on the surface but are difficult to do because of the selective nature of attention. In one of these simple attention tests, test subjects are asked to identify the color that a word is printed in when the word itself spells out a different color. In another, people are asked to count the number of times a basketball is passed around, often focusing so intently on this task that they do not pay any attention to odd occurrences that happen during the test.
There are also non-formal attention tests that rate a person's attention span, distractibility, or ability to observe and remember details. Many of these are self-reported, asking people how frequently they have difficulty staying on task or how likely they are to remember something like a phone number. Others may have people perform tasks, measuring their results against those of other test takers.