July 26, 2020
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Executive Skills Questionnaire

Last updated on August 19, 2022

The Executive Skills Questionnaire (ESQ) is a questionnaire designed to rate your executive skills. Executive function skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, juggle multiple tasks successfully, and self-regulate.

Basic information
Statements: 36
Duration: 10–15 minutes
Type: screening tool
Authors: Peg Dawson & Richard Guare
Publishing year: 2010
Seminal paper: Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents (3rd ed. 2018) (originally published as the 2nd edition in 2010)

 

Take the test here:


Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht’s rating: 5 stars for appropriate and respectful wording, 5 stars for clarity & lack of ambiguity, and 5 stars for testing accuracy.Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht’s rating: 5 stars for appropriate and respectful wording, 5 stars for clarity & lack of ambiguity, and 5 stars for testing accuracy.


Who the test is designed for

  • Adults with an IQ in the normal range (IQ >=80).

What it tests

The ESQ was developed to help you understand your executive skills, and identify both areas of strength and areas of weakness.[1]Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention (Dawson & Guare, 2018) Keep in mind that there are no profiles of strengths or weaknesses that are better or worse than others, and we all have strengths and weaknesses. The most important thing the ESQ attempts to clarify is whether your pattern of strengths and weaknesses enable you to be (reasonably) successful in managing your responsibilities and challenges. After all, we do better with achieving our goals if we can identify ways to rely on our strengths, improve the areas that are a challenge for us, and make sure that our challenges don’t get in the way of accomplishing our goals.[2]Executive Skills Questionnaire for Adults |

Also keep in mind that the ESQ is not a norm-referenced instrument, which means that it doesn’t relate your performance to the performance of others, but rather it gives an indication of the nature of your own executive skills in relation to each other.[3]Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention (Dawson & Guare, 2018) For a norm-referenced test on executive function, see the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF), although the BRIEF doesn’t focus on strengths.

Definitions

The ESQ consists of the following 12 factors of executive function:[4]Executive Skills Questionnaire | REDF workshop

  1. Response inhibition: Thinking before you act allows us time to evaluate situations and the impact of our behaviour.
  2. Working memory: Holding information in memory while performing complex tasks—incorporated is the ability to draw on prior learning or experience and apply to either the situation at hand or one in the future.
  3. Emotional control: Managing emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behaviour.
  4. Sustained attention: Maintaining attention despite distraction, fatigue, or boredom.
  5. Task initiation: Beginning projects in an efficient or timely fashion, and without undue procrastination.
  6. Planning/prioritization: The ability to reach goals or complete tasks by discerning what’s important and what’s not.
  7. Organization: Creating and maintaining systems to track information or materials.
  8. Time management: The capacity to estimate time, allocate time and stay within its limits—also involved in the sense of time’s importance.
  9. Goal-directed persistence: How you develop goals, follow them through to completion, avoid the distraction of competing interests, and revise plans due to obstacles, new information, or mistakes.
  10. Flexibility: The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information or mistakes. It relates to an adaptability to changing conditions.
  11. Metacognition: Standing back to view oneself in a situation requires self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills, as well as the ability to observe your problem-solving methods.
  12. Stress tolerance: Thriving in stressful situations and coping with uncertainty, change, and performance demands.

Versions & translations

Below you can find the other versions available of the ESQ, including versions for teens and for children of various age ranges. There is also a version that is an adaptation of the original. I prefer this one as it has a nicer visual layout and scoring sheet. Note that although the ‘Neutral’ option is missing (see the section below on Taking the test), it does not change your hierarchy of strongest and weakest skills.


Taking the test

The ESQ consists of 36 statements, giving you 7 choices, each with a corresponding score value.

  • Strongly disagree (1)
  • Disagree (2)
  • Tend to disagree (3)
  • Neutral (4)
  • Tend to agree (5)
  • Agree (6)
  • Strongly agree (7)

The test can be taken as follows:

  1. Circle the number that corresponds to your answer.
  2. After you’ve answered all 36 items, write the scores for each item then add the scores for each section.
  3. Write the three highest scores in the box labeled Your Executive Skills Strengths.
  4. Write the three lowest scores in the box labeled Your Executive Skills Challenges.

Note: The ESQ is a self-report instrument. However, the authors mention that a clinician might help a participant interpret items they find difficult to understand.


Scoring 

Autistic adults show a decrease in flexibility and planning. Below are listed the executive skills challenges in other categories.[5]A review of executive function deficits in autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Craig et al., 2016)

  • Children: decreased planning, and decreased cognitive flexibility.[6]Elderly with Autism: Executive Functions and Memory (Geurts & Vissers, 2016)
  • Youth: decreased working memory.[7]Deficits in executive functions among youths with autism spectrum disorders: an age-stratified analysis (Chen et al., 2016)
  • Autistic adults with ADHD: decreased flexibility, decreased response inhibition, and decreased planning.
  • Non-autistic adults with ADHD: decreased response inhibition.
  • Older adults (age range 51–83 years): decreased sustained attention, decreased working memory, and decreased fluency. Aging had a smaller impact on fluency in the high functioning autism (HFA) group than in the control group, while aging had a more profound effect on visual memory performance in the HFA group.[8]Elderly with Autism: Executive Functions and Memory (Geurts & Vissers, 2016)

Validity

The Executive Skills Questionnaire is an informal checklist,[9]Refinement and Psychometric Evaluation of the Executive Skills Questionnaire-Revised (Strait et al., 2019) and its use in scientific studies is sparse,[10]Search term: Executive Skills Questionnaire | Google Scholar so data on its reliability is not available. However, the ESQ is often used in school settings,[11]Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention (Dawson & Guare, 2018) and can offer assistance in the diagnosis of autistic adults.

We personally like the ESQ more considering it offers more valuable insights. But for a more scientifically rigorous version of this test, see the ESQ-R.


Discussion

Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht pointing to the title ‘Discussion’.
Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht:

I like all the choices for answering as I needed that range of choices to qualify my answers. In my practice, I test executive skills frequently as they are highly correlated with success in life. Knowing our skills, identifying our challenges, and finding coping strategies are key. For some of us like myself, executive skills continue to be a challenge and I have found strategies to manage them. Autism and Everyday Executive Function provides suggestions specific to autism for improving executive skills.

Executive function skills depend on three types of brain function:

  • Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.
  • Cognitive flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings.
  • Self-control enables us to set priorities, and allows us to resist impulsive actions or responses.

These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.

Kendall:

The hierarchy of skills revealed in the scoring is informative as well as personally useful. For example, for me, a third-place strength in Response Inhibition is surprising considering my negative marks in elementary school for self-control. The answer list of 7 choices would usually be a problem for me, but the use of the qualifier tend, rather than somewhat, as well as the carefully worded statements, lessened my frustration. The questionnaire is quick, easy to understand, simple to score, and valuable in identifying strengths and challenges.

Martin:

I scored lowest on task initiation (8), time management (9), and metacognition (10). The latter surprises me, as I think I can assess myself reasonably well, but perhaps not so much on the spot as situations demand it. Perhaps as a result of that, my response inhibition (19) is quite excellent. Hence I do reasonably well on the CRT, which is all about response inhibition.

In terms of the core executive function skills most autistic people have challenges with, I scored relatively low on flexibility (11), and moderately on planning/prioritization (13). It would be interesting to explore what has a positive influence on these two facets of executive function. What helps autistic people compensate for their executive challenges, and what can we do to improve upon it?


Executive Skills Questionnaire

1. I don’t jump to conclusions.
2. I think before I speak.
3. I don’t take action without having all the facts.
4. I have a good memory for facts, dates, and details.
5. I am very good at remembering the things I have committed to do.
6. I seldom need reminders to complete tasks.
7. My emotions seldom get in the way when performing the job.
8. Little things do not affect me emotionally or distact me from the task at hand.
9. I can defer my personal feelings until after a task has been completed.
10. No matter what the task, I believe in getting started as soon as possible.
11. Procrastination is usually not a problem for me.
12. I seldom leave tasks to the last minute.
13. I find it easy to stay focused on my work.
14. Once I start an assignment, I work diligently until it's completed.
15. Even when interrupted, I find it easy to get back and complete the job at hand.
16. When I plan out my day, I identify priorities and stick to them.
17. When I have a lot to do, I can easily focus on the most important things.
18. I typically break big tasks down into subtasks and timelines.
19. I am an organized person.
20. It is natural for me to keep my work area neat and organized.
21. I am good at maintaining systems for organizing my work.
22. At the end of the day, I've usually finished what I set out to do.
23. I am good at estimating how long it takes to do something.
24. I am usually on time for appointments and activities.
25. I take unexpected events in stride.
26. I easily adjust to changes in plans and priorities.
27. I consider myself to be flexible and adaptive to change.
28. I routinely evaluate my performance and devise methods for personal improvement.
29. I am able to step back from a situation in order to make objective decisions.
30. I “read” situations well and and can adjust my behavior based on the reactions of others.
31. I think of myself as being driven to meet my goals.
32. I easily give up immediate pleasures to work on long-term goals.
33. I believe in setting and achieving high levels of performance.
34. I enjoy working in a highly demanding, fast-paced environment.
35. A certain amount of pressure helps me to perform at my best.
36. Jobs that include a fair degree of unpredictability appeal to me.


Interpreting your scores

Once you have done the test, you should have a ranked overview of your strongest and weakest executive skills. The authors of the test suggest that the lowest 2–3 skills are the ones you may want to improve on.[12]Executive Skills Questionnaire | New York State PTA Although to be fair, just because you score lower at some skills than others doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem area that ought to be improved. So I think this test better serves as a way to identify or verify potential problem areas, rather than that it is an objective measure of problem areas.

Let me clarify what I mean by using an example. Suppose you score low on planning/prioritization, which is a common complaint among autistics and those with ADHD.[13]A review of executive function deficits in autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Craig et al., 2016) This suggests you may experience difficulties with discerning what is and isn’t important, which may get you into problems with planning, because you may not prioritize the right things. However, you may just find yourself in an environment where that is not an obstacle, and possibly even a strength. Suppose that in your job, the planning and scheduling are done by someone else, and your lesser ability to prioritize the “right” things is actually being utilized as a great gift in the company, because you consider things others wouldn’t have thought of or didn’t deem important enough, but which could bring about genuine improvements and innovation in the company.[14]Executive Skills Questionnaire | REDF workshop

This is a fairly idealized but not improbable scenario. But nevertheless, what I am trying to say is that while the ESQ gives a useful measure of your executive skills, it does not take into consideration all aspects of your life. Here are two aspects I want to highlight:

  • Subjectivity — Although the ESQ attempts to give a measure of executive strengths and challenges, your subjective experience should be of consideration as well. If the test identifies a weakness that does not form an obstacle in your life, I’m not sure if there is much incentive to try to improve in that area. On the other hand, gaining skills is not a bad thing, and it may help you in ways you couldn’t have foreseen, and address problems you weren’t able to recognize before.
  • Support — If you find yourself in a supportive environment, potential problems with executive skills may not emerge until you step into a less supportive or more demanding environment. You and those around you may complement each others’ weaknesses/challenges. This is a truly wonderful environment for learning and growth, and if you find yourself in such an environment, I understand there is no incentive to improve skills you may not need. On the other hand, it may still be fruitful to try to improve, as that may give you more autonomy and independence, and prepare you for environments that are less supportive and/or more demanding.

Recommended next steps

After the ESQ, consider taking one of the tests below.

ESQ-R

The revised version of the ESQ,
which is more scientifically rigorous
(although the ESQ shows more meaningful results)

ADHD Self Report Screening Scale

Identifies ADHD in adults

CAT-Q

Measures camouflaging, and can account
for lower scores on other autism tests

Online autism tests can play an essential role in the process of self-discovery, and may inform your decision to pursue a formal diagnosis. For a formal assessment, please see a knowledgeable medical professional trained in assessing autism.


An illustration of a clipboard with a checklist or assessment.

If you are looking for an autism assessment,
Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht can offer help!
You can find more information here:

Online autism assessments

References

This article
was written by:
dr-natalie-engelbrecht
Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht ND RP is a dually licensed naturopathic doctor and registered psychotherapist, and a Canadian leader in trauma, PTSD, and integrative medicine strictly informed by scientific research. And not only do I happen to be autistic, but my autism plays a significant role in who I am as a doctor and how I interact with and care for my patients and clients.

Disclaimer

Although our content is generally well-researched
and substantiated, or based on personal experience,
note that it does not constitute medical advice.

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