Preference Assessment ABA -Types and How to Use Preference Assessment ABA

Photo Credit: iStock

Preference Assessment is one of the most critical factors in increasing student engagement and learning. Knowing the behavioral pattern of children is very important to their stability and total well-being.

However, many autistic children have restricted play abilities and established interests, making it difficult for teachers and families to identify preferred toys and activities that may be used as reinforcers or rewards to boost motivation and teach new skills.

In this article, we will be looking at the types of Preference assessments and how to use Preference Assessment.

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What is Preference Assessment?

Preference assessments are observations or trial-and-error evaluations that enable practitioners to establish a preference hierarchy. A preference structure shows which objects are highly favored, moderately preferred, and low-preferred by a child.

Can use the child’s favorite objects to promote (but not always) proper conduct.

We can use Preference assessment to identify rankings for toys, food items, social interactions, activities, caregivers, places, and other things.

Related CANS Assessment: Overview of Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths

Types of Preference Assessment

There are four main Types of Preference Assessments which include; 

  • Single Stimulus,
  • Paired Stimulus (Forced-Choice),
  • Multiple-Stimulus with Replacement (MSW), and
  • Multiple-Stimulus without Replacement (MSWO)

#1. Single Stimulus

Single Stimulus Preference Assessments, also known as “successful choice” assessments, involve giving a child a single object and documenting his behavioral response to each item, as well as the duration of his involvement with each item.

Although Single Stimulus Preference Assessments are not as accurate as MSWOs, MSWs, and Paired Stimulus Preference Assessments in assessing preferences, they are ideal for children who are unable to choose between highly desired and low-liked objects.

The disadvantage of single stimulus preference assessments is that they are less reliable than those that compare items to each other in determining preferences.

This is an excellent choice, however, for students who are unable to scan fields of objects or pick amongst things.

Related: RBT Competency Assessment: Requirement and Free Practice

#2. Paired Stimulus (Forced-Choice)

Istock- Paired Stimulus
Photo Credit: Istock

A Paired Stimulus Preference Assessment enables teachers to develop a structure of their students’ preferences.

The teacher gives two items every trial in a Paired Stimulus Preference Assessment and asks the child to choose one of them.

Paired Stimulus Preference Assessments are highly detailed as MSWOs and MSWs, but they take longer to complete because more trials are needed.

As a result, these are ideal for children who can select desirable objects over less desired ones but cannot scan more than two items on a surface.

In Paired Stimulus Preference Assessment, the teacher presents two things (either toys or food) to the child and allows him or her to choose just one.

After the child has played with or consumed the item, the teacher then gives another trial of two objects. One trial occurs each time the teacher gives two things.

Generally, the items by the child during the most trials are the child’s most liked items from the array, while the items chosen during the fewest trials are the child’s least preferred items.

However, the most preferred items are more likely to act as reinforcers or objects that reinforce specific behaviors. Although, not all selected items act as reinforcers.

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#3. Multiple-Stimulus With Replacement (MSW)

Multiple Stimulus Preference Assessments are more organized. However, in Multiple Stimulus Preference Assessments, you can present a variety of items to the pupil.

The pupil chooses one of the objects. You can change the items in the array with others after they use or play with the object, bringing the first trial to a close.

A preference structure is then established when you’ve carried out this process multiple times until each item is presented at least once

The items that the pupil always picks the most are regarded as the most desired items, while the ones picked the fewest times or not at all are considered the pupil’s lowest preferred items.

One crucial consideration before using this kind of assessment is that your pupil should be able to scan and select from a variety of items. If your pupil is not able to do so, it is best to choose another assessment.

Related: Executive Assessment Test: Questions, Answers, and How to Use It?

#4. Multiple-Stimulus Without Replacement (MSWO)

An MSWO Preference Assessment enables a teacher to quickly establish a hierarchy of the child’s preferences. This is a suitable assessment for children who can choose favored items from a large selection.

However, if a child displays problem behavior when you remove his/her favorite toy, you can use an MSW Preference Assessment for tangible objects (i.e., toys).

Also, if a child can pick highly preferred objects over low-liked ones but is unable to scan more than two items on a surface, then you can use a Paired Stimulus Preference Assessment.

Free Operant Preference Assessment

Free Operant Observations are suitable for all children and easy to do on a regular basis in a school setting if an observation can be planned during a time when a child has the choice to choose from a range of potentially reinforcing things or activities (e.g., free play).

Because items are never withdrawn after selection or interaction, these are good assessments for children who engage in problematic behavior when preferred toys are removed.

Also, during a Free Operant Preference Assessment, the observer may identify highly valued actions or activities that are not generally considered when brainstorming reinforcers.

Although Free Operant may not be as accurate as MSWOs, MSWs, and Paired Stimulus Preference Assessments (i.e., trial-based assessments) in assessing preferences, it is useful for children who are unable to choose between highly desired and low-preferred items.

Related: Lehigh County Assessment: All You Need to Know

Why is it Important to Conduct Preference Assessments?

It’s important because the capacity to perform Preference Assessments is a requirement to maximize skill acquisition programs by having the most favored objects available to serve as possible reinforcers for new skills.

Preference Assessment Data Sheet

Below are the different types of Preference Assessment data sheets.

Assessment Data Sheet
teacherpayteacher – Single Stimulus Preference Assessment
ebip - Assessment Data Sheet
ebip – Multiple Stimulus without Replacement (MSWO)

Preference Assessment Data Sheet
CEUey – Paired Stimulus Preference Assessment
Preference Assessment Data Sheet
ebip – Multiple Stimulus with Replacement


How can a preference assessment be done?

This method can be done by asking open-ended questions, choice format, or rank-ordering. Another method is to offer a pre-task choice. Ask the person before they work on a task what they would like to “earn” for completing the task. The participant can pick from 2 to 3 items presented.

What is the purpose of a preference assessment?

Preference assessments are methods used to determine which foods or items are preferred by the learner in order to know which are likely to work as positive reinforcers.

What is the difference between preference and reinforcer assessments?

Reinforcer and preference assessments differ in what they measure. Preference assessments test the learner’s interest in objects or activities to define potential reinforcers, and reinforcer assessments measure the effects of using those items or activities as reinforcers.

How many preference assessments are there?

The Three Types Of Stimulus Preference Assessments:

For all types of Stimulus Preference Assessments, be sure to present stimuli from various sensory systems (tactile, visual, auditory, etc.), and present them in randomized order.

When conducting a reinforcer assessment you:

  1. Compare two or more reinforcement conditions to compare the rates of responding.
  2. Use concurrent, multiple, or progressive-ratio schedule of reinforcer assessment.


When selecting a preference assessment, consider the child’s capacity to scan and choose among various things, attention span, involvement in problem behaviors, and ability to adapt and accept changes in the environment.

Also, the task for which the item must act as a reinforcer, the effects of setting processes and discriminative stimulus on the assessment process, and the ability to generalize the findings are all environmental factors to consider.



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