PTSD Checklist 5 (PCL-5)

The PCL-5 is a 20 item self-report measure of the 20 DSM-5 symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Included in the scale are four domains consistent with the four criterion of PTSD in DSM-5:

  • Re-experiencing (criterion B)
  • Avoidance (criterion C)
  • Negative alterations in cognition and mood (criterion D)
  • Hyper-arousal (criterion E)

The PCL-5 can be used to monitor symptom change, to screen for PTSD, or to make a provisional PTSD diagnosis.

Validity and Reliability

PCL-5 validation studies show all four criterion scales demonstrate high internal consistency (Cohen et al., 2015). There was also a high correlation between the two scoring methodologies: symptom severity and diagnostic classification scoring methods (Cohen et al., 2015). In a student validation sample (n = 2490) PTSD prevalence was 1.4% using both methods.

Scoring and Interpretation

Scores consist of a total symptom severity score (from 0 to 80) and scores for four subscales:

  • Re-experiencing (items 1-5 – max score = 20)
  • Avoidance (items 6-7 – max score = 8)
  • Negative alterations in cognition and mood (items 8-14 – max score = 28)
  • Hyper-arousal (items 15-20 – max score = 24)

In addition to a raw score being presented, a “mean score” is also computed, which is the subscale score divided by the number of items. These scores range between 0 to 5, where higher scores represent higher severity.

Consistent with the likert scale:

0 = Not at all
1 = A little bit
2 = Moderately
3 = Quite a bit
4 = Extremely

There are two methods for determining a provisional PTSD diagnosis.

  1. A cut-off raw score is 38 for a provisional diagnosis of PTSD. This cut-off has high sensitivity (.78) and specificity (.98) (Cohen et al., 2015).
  2. Examine items rated as 2=”Moderately” or higher as an endorsed symptom, then following the DSM-5 diagnostic rule which requires at least: 1 B item (questions 1-5), 1 C item (questions 6-7), 2 D items (questions 8-14), 2 E items (questions 15-20).

If the scale is used to track symptoms over time, a minimum 10 point change represents clinically significant change (as based on the PCL for DSM-IV change scores).


Weathers, F.W., Litz, B.T., Keane, T.M., Palmieri, P.A., Marx, B.P., & Schnurr, P.P. (2013).The PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5). Scale available from the National Center for PTSD at


Cohen, J., et al. (2015). Preliminary Evaluation of the Psychometric Properties of the PTSD Checklist for DSM – 5. (Conference Presentation). doi: 10.12140/2.1.4448.5444