Executive Function Tests

There are many executive function tests out there, but which are the best when it comes to assessing executive functioning skills? Many times, parents and educators ask about testing children for executive functioning skills. Today, we’re discussing how an executive dysfunction test can provide the mental dexterity information needed to support students. Each test covers a range of cognitive skills as part of an executive functioning assessment. Let’s get started!

Executive function tests by age

Executive Function Tests

These executive functioning assessment tools can be used as part of a formal assessment, or used in part as an informal executive function assessment of critical thinking skills. These testing tools can also be included in a full OT assessment.

Assessment tools analyze dysfunction in various EF areas:

When determining a child’s need for skilled occupational therapy services, it is important to collect data through an occupational profile, formal and informal assessment tools, observation, and client/caregiver interview. However, there are a lot of different executive functioning assessment tools available, so it can be hard to determine the best one for you!

Related, check out this blog post on executive function coaching as a way to support individuals through a coaching model.

Executive function tests for therapists, including formal and informal executive functioning assessments.

Executive Dysfunction Test

There are a multitude of different executive functioning assessment tools that vary in their applicable ages, administration type (questionnaire vs. participation-based), and standardization. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but check out a few favorites to see if one might fit your needs!

The following executive dysfunction tests cover various areas. We’re covering these assessments:

  • Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA)
  • The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT)
  • Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning- 2nd Edition (BREIF-2)
  • Informal Executive Function Tests

Other assessments for analyzing executive functioning skills (these are not covered in detail here) include:

  • Trail Making Test (TMT) Form B
  • Verbal Fluency Test (VFT) – F, A and S
  • FT Animals category
  • Clock Drawing Test (CDT)
  • Digits Forward and Backward subtests (WAIS-R or WAIS-III)
  • Stroop Test
  • Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST)
  • D-REF. There is also the D-REF, which is free if you are on the Q-Global for Pearson. The “D” is the Delis Executive Function Assessment.  It is free and they have six computerized versions. 
  • Brown Scales
  • Trail Making-  This is an app used on an iPad to screen for working memory challenges 
  • Card sorting

The Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA)

The Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA) is a fantastic non-standardized assessment of executive functioning skills.

  • The CKTA is geared toward children ages 8-12.

Let’s dissect this particular executive functioning test.

The CKTA asks children to make play dough from a recipe with both words and pictures. The CKTA itself is free, though you do need to make a kit of materials out of common household items. Children are rated based on the level of assistance they require, rather than their quality of performance.

Prior to starting the activity, the child is asked to respond to a few questions, including predicting how much help they will need to perform the activity. The child also responds to questions after participating, including their perceived level of assistance and performance, as well as how they could have done better. This is a great opportunity to develop self-reflection!

Try this executive function assessment using kitchen tasks: Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment.

The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT)

The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT) is another non-standardized assessment of executive functioning skills.

  • The EFPT does not have a specified age range, though with the nature of the tasks, it is best suited for use with ages 14 and up.

During the EFPT, participants are asked to cook stovetop oatmeal, make a phone call, take a pretend medication, and pay pretend bills. Much like the CKTA, the participant is rated on their level of assistance and the participant also completes self-reflection components. Executive functioning skills become even more critical as a child grows up—executive functioning is critical in adulthood!

Try this executive function test, the Executive Function Performance Test.

Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning- 2nd Edition (BREIF-2)

The BRIEF-2 is a standardized, questionnaire-based executive functioning assessment.

  • There are multiple options for the BRIEF-2: teacher report, parent report, and self-report (ages 11+). The general BRIEF-2 is for ages 5-18, though preschool and adult versions are available for an additional cost.

In completing the BRIEF-2, raters are asked to respond to statements relating to a wide variety of executive functioning skills. In order to increase validity, there are 3 subscales to determine any responses that would decrease validity: infrequency, inconsistency, and negativity.

To view or purchase: BRIEF-2.

Informal Executive Function Tests

There are several nontraditional and informal assessment methods for testing executive function skills.

  • An informal executive function test can be used for any age. You’ll need an age-appropriate activity that is meaningful and motivating.

Executive functioning is important for nearly every task we complete each day. As a result, it can have an enormous impact on a child’s ability to participate in age-appropriate activities. However, these skills can also be easily assessed through many everyday activities!

Daily tasks such as self-care routines, learning tasks, chores, kitchen tasks, games, or problem-solving tasks, consider these aspects of executive function listed below. These are informal executive performance tests in a very functional strategy, taking into consideration the environment in which the task actually is performed.

  • Forming ideas to do an action (planning)
  • Starting an action (task initiation)
  • Using organization of tools and materials
  • Maintaining an action until the step is finished and knowing when a step is done (task completion, processing speed, impulse control, attention)
  • Switching behaviors or strategies to do the next step needed (prioritization, foresight)
  • Regulating, controlling, and adjusting body actions to deal with changes and new information along the way (working memory, strategizing)
  • Planning a tactic down the road to deal with a new issue or new direction (planning, cognitive flexibility)
  • Holding details in the working memory (working memory)
  • Controlling emotions (self-monitoring, emotional control, emotional regulation)
  • Thinking abstractly (problem solving, persistence, shift)
  • Knowing when the whole task is finished, stopping that task, and moving onto a different task or activity (hindsight)

Some simple tasks to assess these skills can be cooking a simple recipe, completing a chore, making a daily “to-do” list, preparing for a party or event, or other tasks that require several steps and a process of planning out tasks.

Executive Dysfunction Tests in Everyday Tasks

The thing about using a non-standardized assessment of executive functioning abilities is that this is where you may see some of the functional performance factors. These are the aspects of daily tasks that look like “struggle”. Some of these skills are very obvious and others are more inconspicuous.

These areas of executive dysfunction are tested and observed in everyday tasks:

  • Distraction levels
  • Keeping track of materials
  • Emotional control
  • Response inhibition
  • Sustained attention
  • Task initiation
  • Flexibility in task
  • Rational thinking
  • Future considerations (Use this letter to future self as an activity idea)
  • Flexibility
  • Mindfulness– Ability to manage and be aware of internal thoughts, feelings, emotions
  • Interoception – including ability to manage mood (to reduce intrusive thoughts), ability to manage fatigue (knowing how to pace oneself and take regular breaks), and ability to manage physical comfort and needs (pain, hunger, thirst)

When in doubt, select an activity and see if you can assess multiple executive functioning skills within the activity! Whether an obstacle course, board game, or a craft, there are so many options to gather “real-time” data on how these skills are impacting a child!  

Informal executive dysfunction tests can be anything that is multi-step and a functional, meaningful part of one’s day. Some ideas include:

  • Cooking a recipe
  • Folding clothes/towels
  • Sorting objects
  • Starting homework (including getting materials from the backpack and returning them when complete)
  • Making plans in a planner
  • Making an appointment (doctors visit, dentist, etc.)
  • Watering plants
  • Dusting
  • Shopping
  • Managing bills

Things to look at include ability to stay on task, managing all of the needed materials, planning out and following through with a task to completion. Take note of things such as:

  • How much help or assistance is needed?
  • Do visual prompts help?
  • Do verbal cues help?
  • Are one-step directions needed or can you move to two-step directions?
  • Can several steps be accomplished while thinking of other information?
  • How long can information be held (working memory)?

Executive Function Tests in the School Setting

Some of these tests that we described above will be used in school based occupational therapy and others will not. For therapists working in school settings, testing for executive functioning skills isn’t always necessary.

Instead, skilled observation or teacher referral (checklists and screening tools) can provide the input needed for the part that executive functioning skills play in completing school tasks.

I know that I have had many consults with educators as part of a collaborative model with executive functioning needs are mentioned. Sometimes simply having the discussion and then trying a few accommodations can support the needs of the student.

Supporting EF needs that impact learning might start with requesting a school based OT evaluation because, while the OT won’t specifically address only executive functioning skills, they will target the functional areas that the student struggles in:

  • Managing papers
  • Keeping track of assignments
  • Organizing a locker or desk
  • Managing materials and belongings
  • So many other areas of learning throughout the school day!

It’s really important to remember, and this is something that I find myself reminding parents all the time…that kids are very much in the developmental phase of executive functioning skills during their school years. They are at the toddler or baby phase of working memory, planning, prioritization, organization, and the main thing about this stage is repetition!

Following up the Executive Function Assessment with strategies

Looking for applicable resources to informally test executive functioning skills as well as incorporate executive function activities into daily tasks? The Impulse Control Journal is your printable guide to working through tasks, multi-step activities, and daily issues that impact executive function. Not only does it address impulse control, the journal is a resource in organization, establishing habits and mindset, working through goals, and getting things accomplished.

Click here to access the Impulse Control Journal.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

Executive Function tests