An Introduction to Psychometric Testing

Love them or loathe them, psychometric tests are now used to assess the suitability of potential employees widely in the business world and by over 75% of the Times Top 100 companies in the UK. So if you haven't already undertaken one, the chances are high that you will at some point. Knowing how to succeed in psychometric testing is your ticket to progressing in your Data or Analytics interview process.

When it comes to psychometric tests there really is a vast array available with at least 5000 aptitude and ability tests currently on the market and every year new ones are devised and added to this. Every company needs to differentiate theirs and this has produced a bewildering range of test names and acronyms.

Tests range from the more standard Personality tests through to specific Aptitude or Ability assessments, which are designed for different skill sets, including verbal ability, numerical aptitude and abstract reasoning. Some companies use a combination but all are designed to identify an individual’s aptitude, personality or ability aligned to a particular role. These tests have been established over many years and are often used with specific groups defined by educational level or job type.

Whatever type of test you experience, the majority are taken online and are generally included during the early stages of selection, as part of either preliminary screening or at the initial interview stage of the recruitment process.


So what can you expect from the different test types?

Personality tests

The way that you are likely to perform in a job depends very much on your personality. A personality test is often used in conjunction with interviews to provide a useful insight into your personal style, personality type and how you see yourself. The results of these tests are derived from the answers to a series of multiple choice questions.

There are no right and wrong answers – this test is designed to find out how your behavior is applied to different workplace scenarios. They will ask for information about you, for example do you prefer working in a team or as an individual. You will be required to say true or false, or they may use a rating scale with 1 being what you are most like through to 5 for what you are least like. You should answer each question keeping your focus on which is most/least like you in a work context. Be prepared for anything from 50 to a much more detailed 300 questions.

The great temptation with these tests is to give the answer that you think they want, rather than the true answer, but this really does defeat the point of the test. Additionally, the more complex versions of these tests often ask similar questions in a variety of ways, looking for a trend. If you give conflicting answers to two similar questions it will look as though you have not been answering truthfully. Most people will find that their true answers will match well with what the employer is looking for, but if not then it probably means that it is not the job for you!


Aptitude or Ability Tests

In direct contrast, these tests are designed to assess your logical reasoning or cognitive ability and results provide a more objective measure of your potential. They consist of a number of multiple choice questions and can be classified as speed or power tests and will be strictly timed. Speed tests, consisting of questions which are relatively straightforward, focus on how many you can answer correctly in an allotted time. A power test will present a smaller number of more complex questions and is favored when recruiting for professional or managerial level roles.


Aptitude and ability tests can include a combination of:


  • Verbal ability
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Abstract reasoning
  • Data checking
  • Spatial reasoning
  • Subject/job-specific tests
  • Verbal Ability and Reasoning Tests

These tests usually consist of 30-40 questions which need to be completed in 15-20 minutes and involve grammar, verbal analogies and ask you to follow detailed written instructions. They can also include spelling, sentence completion and comprehension. These tests are widely used since most jobs require you to understand and make decisions based on verbal or written information, or to pass this type of information to others.

Verbal reasoning tests are designed to measure your problem solving ability. These questions may take the form of comprehension exercises, which are straightforward (as long as you remember to read the relevant part of the text carefully) or more complex statements where the best tactic is to make notes about what you can deduce from each part of the text. These tests usually consist of 10-15 questions which need to be completed in 20-30 minutes.

Questions could also focus on verbal critical reasoning, designed to assess your ability to use words in a logical way and measure your understanding of vocabulary and the relationship between words. Some questions measure your ability to perceive and understand concepts and ideas expressed verbally.


Numeric Ability and Reasoning Tests

These tests include a combination from simple addition and subtraction through to more complex data interpretation and numerical critical reasoning, where blocks of information are provided that require manipulation and interpretation. Numerical tests are strictly timed and a typical test might allow 30-40 minutes for 30-40 questions.

Numerical reasoning tests assess your ability to use numbers in a logical and rational way, rather than your educational achievement.


Abstract Reasoning

These tests involve looking at diagrams, interpreting the information and understanding underlying patterns in the information. Abstract reasoning tests are thought to give the best indication of your general intelligence and are very widely used.


Data Check Tests

In this test you are presented with tables and graphs of data, and you must check them against one another. This type of test is used to measure how quickly and accurately errors can be detected in data and is a useful test for roles that deal with large quantities of data that must be read, understood and sorted through accurately.


Results and Measurement

Depending on the test/s you undertake your results will show a whole range of your characteristics. From what motivates you, your core strengths and limitations to your mental agility and lateral thinking, as well as how well you are matched to the role in question through to how quickly you learn and your ability to hit the ground running in a new job.

Your results will then be assessed in relation to other candidates applying for the role, or candidates who have applied in the past and took the same style test/s.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Psychometric tests aren't about luck; prior preparation will improve your scores and make it easier to focus on what is being sought in the testing process. It’s an old adage that practice makes perfect – but some psychometric tests are not looking for perfect – they are looking to assess your skills, knowledge and attributes against a very specific set of criteria. So the key to giving the best possible answer / score is to be prepared.

Treat this as a positive challenge rather than a potential hurdle in your job hunting and take some practice tests. There are a myriad of practice tests available, so there is absolutely no excuse not to practice and familiarize yourself with the different formats beforehand. And if there are different test ‘levels’ available, practice using the those rated as the highest level of difficulty - that way you will be ready for any level when it comes to taking the real thing! As most of the aptitude style tests are timed, get used to answering a lot of questions within a time limit and learn to balance speed and accuracy.

There are a whole range of companies that specialize in psychometric testing. For practice tests, search for the following companies: (Note that some organizations do charge for you to take practice tests)

  • SHL - assessment advice and practice tests
  • AssessmentDay - practice aptitude tests
  • Cubiks Online Assessment - information and practice tests
  • Institute of Psychometric Coaching - professional preparation for psychometric tests
  • Morrisby - career and educational guidance

Invest time in taking the tests

For both the practice and actual tests, make sure you have sufficient time to complete them and you can do so in a quiet environment, with no chance of interruptions.

Secondly, it’s better to answer 30 questions correctly/honestly depending on the type of test, than to finish the test but rush so much that you make factual errors or make choices that do not reflect your personality within a work scenario.

And finally, while there are no wrong or right answers in personality tests, there can be indicators of areas in which you would benefit from self-improvement, such as training in ethics or assertiveness. And if a particular aptitude is not up to scratch – consider continuing with relevant practice tests to improve these areas.


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