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How to win at aptitude tests

ARNP10S73QZ1ZDRBTK6QPre-employment tests are used by many companies as a standard part of the recruitment process. If you’re currently applying for jobs, you’re likely to face one or more tests, measuring everything from verbal reasoning and numeracy to emotional intelligence.

‘I would say that 90 per cent of big companies use skills and/or aptitude assessments, though the kind used will depends on the role and industry you’re applying for,’ says Rob Williams, an occupational psychologist and author of Brilliant Verbal Reasoning Tests and Brilliant Numeracy Tests.

How you perform matters. ‘Even if you wow a potential employer with a great first or second interview, the results can make or break your chances of getting hired,’ says Rob.

Most common types of test

Companies use pre-employment assessments to identify which candidates are most likely to perform well on the job, potentially saving time and cost in the recruitment process and decreasing employee turnover.

Skills tests verify whether a candidate has the skills they say they have and are specific to the job – for example a design challenge using Photoshop for graphic designers or a proof reading exam for editors. Aptitude tests are more general and evaluate an applicant’s ability to learn new skills and indicate how they may react to different situations once hired. 

‘The most commonly used aptitude tests measure numerical, verbal and logical reasoning, though personality-based psychometric questionnaires are becoming increasingly popular and are used by companies you wouldn’t necessarily expect,’ says Rob.

Employers may ask you to take a test – often delivered online at home – after you’ve made an initial application or may invite you to an assessment centre after a successful interview.

Rob, who has 14 years’ experience of devising psychometric and skills assessment tests for clients including IBM and Citibank, believes that while tests differ, there are things you can do to ensure you perform at your very best.

How to do well on numerical tests

There aren’t any quick wins for being good at maths but some focussed practice will improve your score, as will following a few test-taking strategies, says Rob.

‘As a timed assessment, you need to average around one minute per question. Work briskly but accurately. Each question counts the same so pick off the easy ones first and don’t waste your test time on the most difficult questions.

‘Numerical reasoning test practice is an excellent means of brushing-up on any maths functions you haven’t used in a while. Ensure that you are comfortable using data tables, interpreting graphs and manipulating large financial figures.’

You can practise the most common numerical test types at the main test publisher websites.

‘I strongly advise practising sample questions from Kenexa-IBM, TalentQ and SHL as these sites cover most of the tests you are likely to find,’ adds Rob.

How to do well on verbal reasoning tests 

Verbal reasoning assessments come in many different types of format.

‘The traditional comprehension format is to have a short passage followed by a series of questions – asking about facts, opinions, and conclusions – based on its content, a bit like those English tests in primary school where you answered questions on a novel extract.

‘Regardless of the type of test, it’s vital to carefully read each question. Often questions hinge on one or two key words, so you must take more care to interpret these accurately. If questioned whether something “always” applies whilst the passage states that it is “sometimes” the case, then this is a false interpretation.

‘Scan the passage initially and then read it in more detail. It’s easier to answer each question if you can recall roughly where to find the answer in the text,’ says Rob.

How to do well on abstract reasoning tests

These ask you to look for the changing pattern(s) in the “pictures”.

Rob explains: ‘The easier questions typically appear at the start of the assessment and will involve one change in colour, position, size etc .of the figures shown.

‘Questions become more difficult as you progress and must spot two or three changes in any of the features shown. Once you’ve worked out at least one of the feature changes, check through the answer options to discount those that do not conform.’

How to do well on personality tests



When it comes to answering psychometric surveys that evaluate personality, Rob’s advice is to give your “first response”.

‘Visualise how you would behave at work on a typical good day. Don’t second guess what is being looked for since “faking” and lying are easily picked up.’

Practice, practice, practice

Like anything, practice makes perfect. And don’t be afraid to ask the employer which publisher’s tests they use – most will be happy to tell you.

‘Being familiar with the format, as well as the kinds of questions asked, will give you a clear advantage,’ says Rob. ‘On the day, keep calm and remember that most assessments are timed, so answer the questions as swiftly as you can. Good luck!’

Image: © contrastwerkstatt – Fotolia.com

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