Nowadays, any reputable employer includes online psychometric tests as a substantial part of its’ assessment and selection process. Some of the most popular tests candidates are likely to encounter in the preliminary application process are:
Numerical reasoning: These are multiple choice tests which normally involve reading data off a graph or table. Often they revolve around calculating percentage increases or decreases, or calculating an average. Be sure to have a calculator and pen and paper on hand as you sit the test. Generally time constraints work out to around a minute per question so it’s important that if you get stuck on one question you quickly move on. Normally you can skip a stage and return when you’ve finished the rest of the questions.
Verbal reasoning: Verbal reasoning tests tend to be missed out by the majority of investment banks but they are a key component of the screening process for the Civil Service Fast Stream and many top law firms (Clifford Chance, SNR Denton, etc.). Essentially comprehension exercises, candidates are given paragraphs of information and asked questions to which they pick one multiple choice answer. In many cases this will involve stating whether a given statement is accurate or not.
Non-verbal reasoning: Non-verbal or diagrammatic tests are exercises in logical thinking. Used by banks and law firms alike, they involve a series of symbols with a broken step. The pattern might revolve around the number, ordering or positioning of shapes so think laterally. Candidates must pick that missing step from five options. As ever, time management is crucial and it’s important not to get stuck on one particularly tricky pattern.
Psychometric: Employed by the Civil Service Fast Stream and the Big Four accounting firms (PwC, Deloitte,KPMG and E&Y) psychometric tests ask candidates to register what characteristics they identify or do not identify with. These tests are not timed and often repeat questions so as to elicit a genuine response from those sitting it.
Comparison: A few companies, including Morgan Stanley, ask candidates to sit another type of test involving the comparison of data. In a short time frame (e.g. two minutes) you are asked to compare two columns of numerical information and for each row state whether the numbers are alike or not alike. Speed and accuracy are of the essence here.
Why are these tests in use?
Psychometric tests in general and online reasoning tests in particular provide employers with insights on candidates’ current skills and their potential to adapt and progress within the organisation. When it comes to reasoning tests, cognitive skills such as critical reasoning, speed, handling data, and more, can be evaluated with great accuracy.
Depending of course on the position and organisation’s profile, the most popular tests are numerical, verbal, and non-verbal reasoning tests. They usually have at least one of the following characteristics:
- Strict time frames – usually less than a minute for each question
- A wealth of information, some of which is irrelevant
- Confusing wording and answer choices
- Inability to return to unanswered questions
To answer this question we must first address what makes them so intimidating?
- First, although these tests are not aimed at evaluating pre-existing knowledge, verbal and numerical tests in particular demand some knowledge-dependent skills. Not surprisingly, these are skills most of us tend to forget – how to calculate percentages, how to extract absolute numbers when given only ratios, how to discern true from false statements, etc.
- Secondly, most of us are not used to performing under such strenuous time frames, and simply freak-out just from staring at that timer which keeps approaching 00:00.
- Thirdly, we are not accustomed to the tricks and traps assessment test developers commonly use in these tests, such as referring to details, neglecting important words, overlooking units and metrics, and the list goes on.
All of the above mentioned are things that can be improved, if not mastered, through rigorous practice. Pre-exposure to test content together with professional advice and solving strategies are sure ways of increasing your performance in employers’ selection tests.