Executive Skills Questionnaire
Last updated on February 17, 2021 by Martin Silvertant
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.
- Statements: 36
- Duration: 10–15 minutes
- Type: screening tool
- Authors: Peg Dawson & Richard Guare
- Publishing year: 2010
- Seminal book: Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents (3rd ed. 2018) (originally published as the 2nd edition in 2010)
Take the test here:
Who the test is designed for
- Adults judged to have an IQ in the normal range (IQ >=80).
What it tests
The ESQ gives an indication of the nature of your own executive skills, and identifies both areas of strength and areas of weakness.Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention (Dawson & Guare, 2018)
The ESQ is not a norm-referenced instrument, meaning 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.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.
- Response inhibition: Thinking before you act allows us time to evaluate situations and the impact of our behaviour.
- 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.
- Emotional control: Managing emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behaviour.
- Sustained attention: Maintaining attention despite distraction, fatigue, or boredom.
- Task initiation: Beginning projects in an efficient or timely fashion, and without undue procrastination.
- Planning/prioritization: The ability to reach goals or complete tasks by discerning what’s important and what’s not.
- Organization: Creating and maintaining systems to track information or materials.
- Time management: The capacity to estimate time, allocate time and stay within its limits—also involved in the sense of time’s importance.
- 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.
- Flexibility: The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information or mistakes. It relates to an adaptability to changing conditions.
- 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.
- 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:
- Circle the number that corresponds to your answer.
- After you’ve answered all 36 items, write the scores for each item then add the scores for each section.
- Write the three highest scores in the box labeled Your Executive Skills Strengths.
- 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.
Autistic adults show a decrease in flexibility and planning. Below are listed the executive skills challenges in other categories.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.Elderly with Autism: Executive Functions and Memory (Geurts & Vissers, 2016)
- Youth: decreased working memory.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.A review of executive function deficits in autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Craig et al., 2016)
- Non-autistic adults with ADHD: decreased response inhibition.A review of executive function deficits in autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Craig et al., 2016)
- 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.Elderly with Autism: Executive Functions and Memory (Geurts & Vissers, 2016)
The Executive Skills Questionnaire is an informal checklist,Refinement and Psychometric Evaluation of the Executive Skills Questionnaire-Revised (Strait et al., 2019) and its use in scientific studies is sparse,Search term: Executive Skills Questionnaire | Google Scholar so data on its reliability is not available. However, the ESQ is often used in school settings,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.
For a more scientifically rigorous version of this test, see the ESQ-R.
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 is 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 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.
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.
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?
Recommended next steps
After the ESQ, consider taking one of the tests below.
The revised version of the ESQ,
which is more scientifically rigorous
(although the ESQ shows more meaningful results)
Identifies ADHD in adults
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.
Measures camouflaging, and can account
for lower scores on other autism tests
If you are looking for an autism assessment,
have a look at the following post:
Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF), Emotional control, Executive functions, Executive skills, Executive Skills Questionnaire (ESQ), Goal-directed persistence, Inhibitory control, Mental flexibility, Metacognition, Organization, Peg Dawson, Planning/prioritization, Psychometric test, Response inhibition, Self-control, Stress tolerance, Sustained attention, Task initiation, Time management, Working memory