What is the Beck Anxiety Inventory&Reg;?

wiseGEEK Writer

The Beck Anxiety Inventory® is a short test that a person can take individually or administered by a mental health professional, which measures level of anxiety through a simple scale. This test is the invention of Dr. Aaron Beck, who is well known for his contributions to cognitive psychology and his development of several well-respected tests for different disorders. In particular, the inventory or scale can be used to gauge a person’s level of anxiety in the last week or month, and it is also sometimes employed to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some clinicians find it useful when trying to differentiate between symptoms of anxiety and depression, though people may have both simultaneously, which means the test would not be the only diagnostic tool used.

A score of 26-63 signifies severe anxiety on the Beck Anxiety Inventory.
A score of 26-63 signifies severe anxiety on the Beck Anxiety Inventory.

Simplicity and ease of use characterizes the Beck Anxiety Inventory®. The test is short: a mere 21 questions. Each question has four potential scaled answers, which are given successively higher ratings from zero to three. An answer of three on any question indicates more anxiety. If, for instance, a person has been experiencing cold sweats continuously for the last week, they would answer three when asked about this, which could be defined as “it bothered me a lot” or “severely.” Symptoms expressed less often, might earn a two or one, and absence of symptoms would be rated zero.

Anxiety is characterized by heart palpitations and intense feelings of worry.
Anxiety is characterized by heart palpitations and intense feelings of worry.

After a client completes the Beck Anxiety Inventory® test, the results are scaled, with minimal points corresponding to lower levels of anxiety. People with higher points may be exhibiting anxiety disorders or some of the other conditions listed above. Though there are clearly defined groups of numbers corresponding to potential anxiety issues, there can be some gray areas in reading the scale, especially since individuals don’t always accurately report on their symptoms. People taking versions of the test available online would also be advised to seek mental health guidance instead of relying on self-interpretation, even if they don’t yield exceptionally high scores.

For the sake of general knowledge, it may still help to know how Beck Anxiety Inventory® scores are typically interpreted. Severe anxiety is usually diagnosed with scores of 26-63. Moderate anxiety is considered anything between scores of 16-25. People may have mild anxiety if they yield a score of 8-15, or absence of anxiety if they score between 0-7.

Presently, if clinicians want to use the Beck Anxiety Inventory®, they purchase copies of the copyrighted test from companies like Pearson®, where it is available with additional materials that may help in interpreting the test. There are numerous copies of the test available on the Internet, but technically Pearson® holds the copyright. Some clinicians will simply use these freely available copies because scores are relatively easy to interpret, even though this may violate copyright.

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Discussion Comments


The Beck is not used to "diagnose" anything. The clinician uses such data to do do together with a measure that allows for diagnosis. The Beck only measures the level of symptoms associated with anxiety.


I think testing by itself can be an issue. A diagnosis often needs to be made right away but it should be considered flexible, always changeable as more is known about the problem. It also helps to have multiple ways of measuring something because you're right, a single test doesn't provide enough. Redundancy is key to making a more certain diagnosis, and the clinician's flexibility is important too. Also, clients need to contribute by arguing about or disputing a diagnosis if they think it is wrong.


@Sequoia: It's true that over-prescribing is an issue, but you must understand that your local doctor or general practitioner isn't really licensed to give you any diagnosis for something they don't specialize in, for example mental illness. This is why you were referred to a therapist.

The effectiveness of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications is always being questioned, but I think a lot of this has to do with finding the right one for you. Everyone's going to react differently to these types of medications. Some people have been taking the same medication for years and found it very helpful for them.


I've always thought that there might be an issue with the kind of rigid simplicity of using a test like this to diagnose someone. I remember going to see a doctor when I was about 17 and being given a similar test which said I had severe depression. I was recommended to a therapist and prescribed medication (which had terrible side effects) but the whole thing felt so impersonal and almost knee-jerk that I was put off by it. Even at the time I felt like "shouldn't this test take into account the fact that I could just be a moody teenager like a lot of other teenagers?"

Isn't it possible that this could lead to over-diagnosis of mental disorders and by association, over-prescription of drugs?

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