Grief and Test Taking

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

My grandson took a psychological test for placement in a job (oral – he passed the written).  He failed this test.  My question is: he was grieving the loss of his grandfather just 2 months prior.  Could this have had an  impact on his test results?

We are attempting an appeal and would like to have this information.


Dear Melissa,

Although I cannot offer a definitive opinion on your grandson’s circumstances—only an interview with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in such evaluations could establish whether his grief over this sad loss had a probable impact on his performance—what I can say is that grieving does indeed disrupt social and occupational performance for many, especially in the early months of bereavement.  Common symptoms such as sleeplessness, impaired concentration, muted emotion and other responses associated with mild depression can certainly affect a person’s presentation in a job interview, as well as on psychological tests that evaluate one’s mood and readiness to succeed in many work environments.  Likewise, I can imagine that the anxiety surrounding the evaluation could lead to a certain level of social awkwardness, something that could be more pronounced for many mourners who are trying to “power through” their grief and make a good impression.  The fact that your grandson seems otherwise qualified for the job as reflected in his performance on the written exam makes this possibility all the more likely.

So what might be done about this?  My suggestion would be to arrange an appointment with a good therapist who is also able to judge the extent to which your grandson’s grief could have interfered with his oral performance, while also considering whether a few sessions of grief therapy might help him process his thoughts and feelings about his grandfather’s death, integrate this unfortunate reality into his life, and be better ready to interview for this position (if an appeal is successful) or another (if it is not).  Ultimately I suspect that doing so would have made his grandfather proud, and this in itself could add meaning to this step toward a hoped for future for your grandson and all of those who love him.

Dr. Neimeyer

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