Psychometric Tests | The Careers Service Psychometric Tests – Oxford University Careers Service
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The basics

Psychometric tests are now a common part of the assessment of job applicants. The term covers both ability or aptitude tests and personality questionnaires.

What are psychometric tests?

Different psychometric tests are designed to assess a number of attributes. Some evaluate your reasoning abilities and skills, whereas others look at your preferences and likely responses or judgements in different situations.

The tests that employers use will have been carefully researched and trialled, to ensure that they provide valid and reliable assessment of the people who take them.

Why do recruiters use psychometric tests?

Employers frequently use a variety of methods to select the right people. The aim is to improve the quality of candidate evaluations in order to identify candidates with the greatest likelihood of success in the role and the organisation. The greater the variety of situations in which recruiters see you perform, and the more accurate and objective the assessment of your relevant skillset should be. Tests are simply one way of assessing some of the skills and facets that the organisation considers most relevant to a specific job, and should ideally have been designed with that type of work in mind.

From an employer’s point of view, tests are also a reasonably cost-efficient way of assessing a large number of applicants. For example, the biggest UK graduate recruiters will receive tens of thousands of applications and pre-screening candidates on-line provides them with both consistency and high-capacity tools ahead of inviting candidate to (comparatively expensive) interviews.

How are psychometric tests used?

You are quite likely to come across psychometric tests in a recruitment context, and employers can use psychometric tests at different stages during the recruitment process. Some (the Fast Stream Civil Service, for example) use tests to assist in the decision on whom they should invite to interview; others use them at a later stage, as part of a series of selection exercises.

The companies that develop the psychometric tests will require the recruiting firms to fully understand the limitations of each test. For example, properly developed tests will have clearly understood indicators for the accuracy and reliability of the test-taker’s score, and companies using tests for screening purposed should set their ‘pass’ mark conservatively with due consideration for the known range of uncertainty for any particular score.

Psychometric tests can also be used by you to understand where your strengths lie and what career areas might be most appropriate and of most interest to you. Further details on this are below.

Types of test

Aptitude tests – verbal, numerical & abstract

These test either your logical reasoning or thinking performance, usually in verbal, numerical or abstract reasoning; they are neither tests of general knowledge nor of intelligence.

Tests usually consist of a timed series of multiple-choice questions, and are usually computer-based. It does not matter if you do not finish the test (although you should complete as many questions as possible); it is the number of correct answers which counts. Your score is then compared with the results of a ‘norm group’ which has taken the tests in the past.  Selectors are then able to assess your reasoning skills in relation to others, and to make judgements about your ability to cope with the tasks involved in a given job.

The significance of your test score will vary depending on where in the selection process the tests are used. Organisations which use these tests to screen candidates ahead of first interview are likely to set a pass/fail score to screen out candidates perhaps in conjunction with a review of an applicaiton form or CV.  Good practice would be for any such pass/fail cut off point to be set conservatively (i.e. low) to avoid unintended biases and the inherent difficulties in developing tests that consistently and reliably measure the abilities being assessed. Organisations which use the tests later in the selection process are more likely to use your results as just one of the criteria for overall selection. A less-than-ideal performance on one of the tests, for example, may be compensated for by a good performance in other selection exercises – particularly those measuring the same competency/ability.

Personality questionnaires

Personality questionnaires explore the way you tend to react to, or prefer to deal with, different situations. They are ‘self-report’ questionnaires (meaning that a profile is drawn up from your responses to a number of questions or statements), and focus on a variety of personality factors, such as how you relate to other people, your ability to deal with your own and others’ emotions, your motivations and determination and your general outlook.

Unlike aptitude tests there are no right or wrong answers, and questionnaires are usually completed in your own time. From your responses, the recruiter gains information about your preferences and behaviour and how and why you might choose to do things in your own way; occasionally it might form the basis for discussion at a subsequent interview.

The recruiters will not be looking for a rigid, ‘typical’ personality profile.  Whilst certain characteristics may be more or less appropriate for particular jobs or organisations the fact is that a mix of types is good for any part of an organisation, and people are frequently able to apply themselves and succeed by consciously behaving outside their core personality type; for example, a large proportion of highly successful actors are natural introverts, which at first may appear counter-intuitive.

Personality questionnaires exploring either your interests or values should not be used for selection. These are designed to clarify what fields of work interest you, or what factors make work worthwhile for you and can, therefore, be very useful in helping you to consider what work might be a great natural fit for you. You are more likely to come across them either in a careers guidance setting or in an appraisal/development context once in work. For example, to complement the Oxford Careers Compass workbook and our one-to-one advisory interviews we offer:

  • free access to a Careers Interest Inventory through Profiling for Success to help you identify careers that might best fit your personality; and
  • an interactive, three-hour group session on understanding your personal style through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which may be most appropriate for alumni and researchers. Details can be found on the event calendar on CareerConnect .

The best way to approach all of these questionnaires is just to answer them as straightforwardly and honestly as you can. Trying to second-guess what the employer or questionnaire is looking for is difficult, and can be counter-productive because tests will also evaluate the internal consistency of your answers and anyone trying to ‘game the test’ is likely to have their results red-flagged as unreliable (and therefore, unusable). Even if you do successfully mislead the tools and the recruiters, it’s worth considering whether you actually want to take on a job which is unlikely to really suit you and your preferred style.

Situational Judgement & Critical Thinking Tests

Situational judgement or critical thinking tests are used by some recruiters to assess candidates’ judgement when solving work-related problems. Candidates are presented with work-related scenarios and asked to choose the most effective (and sometimes the least effective as well) from a selection of possible responses, or are asked to rank all the suggested responses in order of effectiveness.

Typically candidates are advised that the best way to approach these tests is to consider the detailed implications of the possible responses and then make an honest judgement, rather than trying to second guess the “best” response. For example, recruiters will recommend applicants to be honest – “just tell the truth and we will pick the best candidate”.

However, it is worth remembering that you will be taking a ‘Judgement’ test for a specific organisation and a particular role. The organisation’s values and culture therefore provide a context for the judgements you will be making, and how your answers will be evaluated. In fact, organisations tend to use ‘senior leaders or experts in the company’ when developing their SJTs to ensure that the preferred answers properly reflect what would be considered ‘most effective and least effective’ within their specific organisation.

One quirk that derives from this is that these tests are not definitively about right and wrong! Answers that will knock you ‘out’ of the recruitment process for one organisation or job function may well keep you ‘in’ for a different organisation or function. For example, what may be required of someone seeking a business development role in a highly competitive industry will be different from someone applying to a Human Resources role to improve management processes and staff  development in the same organisation.

So, what can a student do to prepare for such questionnaires? The first step would be to look at all of the advice on the company’s website.

  • Start with the recruitment pages: the ‘person specification’ and job descriptions for new graduate hires, and read other statements about ‘who they look for’.
  • Examine the competency framework to evaluate how it reflects the range and style of working behaviours and decision making in the organisation.
  • And look beyond these pages for additional clues to the organisations values and culture, from the ‘founding myths’ in their history, the awards and achievements they promote, their CSR programmes and the talking-head videos of recent hires.

Read this information to try to get under the skin of the firm – who they are, how they see themselves and what that might mean in relation to the people they choose to hire and promote. If you can, meet people at career fairs and presentations – or through your networking – ask them about the organisation’s culture. Seek examples that show:

  • “How we do things things around here”.
  • What attracts praise and promotion.
  • What kind(s) of people seem to thrive in the organisation.

Usually you will also be given the chance to take some practice questions (and examine the answers) before taking any of these tests. These are your best opportunity to get an insight into the company’s way of thinking. If you get the practice questions right, then great – but any you get wrong, it’s worth reviewing your answer and their answer against the organisation’s stated values and competencies to better understand the subtleties at work. Some organisations provide practice questions anyone can try, with the chance to review your answers, before applying (e.g., Diageo and the Civil Service Fast Stream), but remember, different firms with a different context and ethos may make different judgements and so one-size will not fit every organisation.

Our consistent advice is to make a relatively small number of well researched highly tailored applications rather than a large number of generic and relatively poorly researched applications. There are many potential organisations and roles within them – if your research suggests that you are not a good fit for the firm, move on to those that will be a better match – and if you are weeded out by personality and judgement based tests, it’s perfectly possible that too is a positive outcome for you.

Gamification of psychometrics: new styles of test

Some of the traits that companies may be interested in and which can be evaluated by tests relate to other facets of performance: speed and flexibility of thought; how many different facts or ideas you can hold in your head; you capacity to concentrate, or follow a stream of increasingly complicated instructions or requirements; reaction time. You may well have encountered some of these in apps and games that you play: Metro Trains Melbourne’s “Dumb Ways to Die” app is a really good example.

Psychologists, recruiters and game developers are beginning to introduce these kinds of games into the recruitment mix. Sites or apps to try include Pymetrics and the MENSA Brain training app (free 7 day trial) – if you find other, please let us know. Play the games to get a sense of them, and the extent to which practising will enhance your performance – as with other psychometric tools, initial practice and familiarisation will help you to improve your scores quickly, but expect your performance to quite quickly get close to you natural peak and further practise is likely to provide only marginal improvement.

Preparing for aptitude tests

You can prepare for the most commonly encountered tests of ability/aptitude tests. These are designed to assess your ‘potential’ rather than your ‘knowledge’ and your preparation should therefore be focused on test-technique and knowledge so you are ready for the test you are about to take rather than trying to learn new information:

  • knowing the nature of the test – how long you will have, how many questions there are, does every question have a time limit, will question difficulty increase as you get more questions right?
  • understanding the style of questions you are likely to encounter and how to answer them – for example, are you picking a right answer in multiple choice or ranking options; will there be a series of questions based on a single graph or table?
  • being ready to work quickly and accurately during the test: secure internet access, free from interruptions and in the right frame of mind to do as well as you can.

Ability tests often evaluating aspects mental agility and intelligence, and it can be helpful to play a variety of word games, mathematical teasers and diagrammatic puzzles to switch your brain on and get you into a logical and analytical frame of mind. The following ideas may help.

It is very useful to practice a few tests beforehand to get used to the variety of questions you may come across, and the time pressures you will face. Many tests are designed so that very few people will complete all the questions, and may get harder as you go through them – computer based systems now allow for adaptive questioning so that the difficulty of the next questions increases or decreases according to whether you got the previous question correct, and this allows test designers to more accurately pinpoint each individual’s maximum level of performance.

There are a large number of ‘practice tests’ you can access free of charge, and any recruiting organisation that invites you to take a test should provide some practice materials – these are particularly important as they should match the style of questions you will encounter in the actual  tests (but students quite often claim the examples tend to be easier than the tests!).

Through Profiling for Success we offer free access to a bank of practice tests, including a Career Interests Inventory that can help you identify potential careers that match your personality and preferences. After each test you will receive a report outlining your results relative to the normative groups used to develop the test. This kind of information will mirror the report that a recruiting organisation will get back from your tests.

There is also a whole bank of tests available to anyone with an Oxford University email address (ie, one ending .ox.uk.ac.uk) offered for us by Practice Aptitude Tests.

The companies that develop and sell tests also often provide access to free practice tests. Often these will be questions in development and are most likely to mirror the tests that organisations are already using. However, usually you will only get overall-test feedback rather than being able to review your responses question-by-question against the correct answers because these questions may end up in actual assessment tests and the firms cannot provide the correct answers in case that reduces the validity of the final assessments.

Numerical reasoning skills

Remember that, unless a job requires a very high level of numeracy, numerical tests are not likely to be pitched higher than GCSE-level maths.

Practise basic mental arithmetic with and without a calculator. Addition, subtraction, division, multiplication and calculations of percentages and ratios are commonly required, and the ability to extract information from charts and graphs can be as important as the actual calculations in these tests. It can be useful to reading financial reports and studying data in charts (e.g. in the quality or financial press), but you can also play games and set yourself (and your friends) challenges, such as estimate: how many times will your bike wheel rotate between College and the Careers Service/sports ground or boathouse/(parents’) home?; how many lamp-posts are there in Oxford? How may parcels a day does the Royal Mail handle?

The Careers Service also offers sessions to refresh numeracy skills for aptitude tests.

Verbal reasoning skills

Verbal reasoning skills – these are more difficult to brush up quickly than mathematical techniques. Reading manuals, technical reports or academic and business journals may help. Practise extracting and summarising the main points from passages of information.

The best thing that you can do is take some practices tests online. The Careers Service has arranged free online access to a series of complete aptitude tests (see Our Resources below) and other sites where you can practice are listed in External Resources.

A word of warning…

Practice can help you to feel more confident about sitting these tests, but remember that the tests are intended to assess your natural aptitude. Be realistic, and note that once you have practised a little, the additional ‘return’ on spending a lot of time preparing for tests will rapidly diminish. In particular, if you are in your final year, keep in mind that your degree result will be more significant in your future career than an aptitude test result.

Tips for sitting the test

You can be asked to do a test online in your own time, or in a formal test-setting as part of an assessment day, and don’t be surprised if you are re-tested at an assessment centre as this is quite common. If you have a disability and think you may require special provision, discuss this with the employer in advance of the test session, and they will be able to make additional provision for you, as you can expect to in your University examinations. See the section below for a fuller explanation.

  • Before starting, ensure that you know exactly what you are required to do – do not be afraid to ask questions if there is a member of the recruitment team present.
  • Follow the instructions you are given exactly – and usually you will have ‘reading time’ for instruction before starting any test.
  • Read through the questions and answer choices very carefully.
  • Eliminate as many wrong answers as possible. For example, with numerical tests a quick estimate may help you to discard several of the options without working out every alternative.
  • Work as quickly and accurately as you can: both speed and accuracy are important, and be careful not to spend too long on any one question, so keep an eye on the clock.
  • Do not waste time on difficult questions. If you are stuck on a question, leave it and move on.
  • Don’t worry if you do not finish all the questions in the time – often tests are designed to stretch even the most able candidates.
  • If you do finish early on a paper and pencil test it can be useful to quickly check over over your answers again – but with an online test, the system may record how quickly you took the test as well and finishing early (without losing accuracy) tells the assessors something extra about your core ability.

Whether it is advisable to guess answers will depend on how the test is being marked. Some tests simply award marks for correct answers, whilst others also penalise wrong ones. If you are not told the marking policy during the introduction to the test, you can try asking to help determine your strategy. The best approach is probably to go for your best choice but to avoid wild guessing.

Not passing the tests?

If you have not done well on a test, remember that there can be a number of reasons for poor performance. These could include feeling tired or under the weather, being unable to concentrate due to personal problems, misunderstanding what you had to do, answering questions too slowly or panicking. Poor test results on the day do not necessarily mean that you lack ability, so you may like to discuss your test technique with a Careers Adviser, or to sit a practice test to get feedback on what might be going wrong.

Whilst everyone has certain innate abilities, it is possible (given time) to further develop particular abilities using some of the practice resources suggested on this sheet. It is, however, a fact that some people will not reach the required standard, and inevitably some of these will fall short bey only a very narrow margin. Also, some organisations do set the bar high, quite often after testing recent hires and staff to calibrate an appropriate ‘score’ for the organisation.

Information for disabled & international students

Disabled students

Psychometric tests can often be useful in creating a level-playing field for those with a disability, as it is a form of selection that is less open to the biases emanating from other systems, such as interviews. Everyone who takes a psychometric test is given an equivalent assessment, and takes them under the same conditions.

However, most companies will ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to ensure a level playing-field. These might include setting a lower pass mark, providing a personal reader/writer or signer, allowing extra time to do the test or providing specialised equipment (e.g. loop systems/Braille keyboards).

Non-native English speakers

If English is not your first language, you may be anxious about the effect this might have on your performance in psychometric tests, in particular in verbal reasoning tests. While recruiters may take your concerns about your level of English into account, different companies will be more or less flexible about this. Test providers sometimes give employers an idea of the extent to which language ability may affect scores. Remember though that good English language ability will be important to them for working in the UK, and so compensation for lack of ability in this area is likely to be minimal.

Our resources

Practice tests

The Careers Service offers free online tests through Profiling for Success typical of those used by graduate recruiters. You will receive detailed feedback on your performance by email. The tests available are:

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Abstract reasoning
  • Career Interests Inventory – useful for helping you identify which careers might best fit your personal style and preferred ways of working

The first three are timed tests, each lasting 20 minutes, so choose a time for each one when you will not be distracted. You do not need to sit them all in one sitting however.

There is also a whole bank of tests available to anyone with an Oxford University email address (ie, one ending .ox.uk.ac.uk) offered for us by Practice Aptitude Tests.

Many employers who use these tests also offer practice versions on their own websites, and we recommend you use these to practise and prepare too if applying to that particular employer.

Books

General psychometric tests

  • Brilliant Psychometric and Other Selection Tests, Susan Hodgson
  • Brilliant Psychometric Tests, Robert Edenborough
  • Brilliant Tactics to Pass Aptitude Tests, Susan Hodgson
  • How to Master Psychometric Tests, Mark Parkinson
  • How to Pass Advanced Aptitude Tests, Jim Barrett
  • How to Pass Advanced Verbal Reasoning Tests, Mike Byron
  • How to Pass Graduate Psychometric Tests, Mike Bryon
  • How to Pass Data Interpretation Tests, Mike Bryon
  • How to Pass Numerical Reasoning Tests, Heidi Smith
  • How to Pass Professional Level Psychometric Tests, Sam Al-Jajjoka
  • How to Pass Psychometric Tests, Andrea Shavick
  • How to Pass Selection Tests, Mike Bryon And Sanjay Modha
  • How to Pass the QTS Numeracy and Literacy Skills Test, Chris Tyreman
  • IQ And Aptitude Tests, Philip Carter
  • The Complete Personality Assessment, Jim Barrett And Hugh Green
  • The Graduate Psychometric Test Workbook, Mike Bryon
  • The Numeracy Test Workbook, Mike Bryon
  • The Verbal Reasoning Test Workbook, Mike Bryon
  • You’re Hired! Assessment Centres, Ceri Roderick
  • You’re Hired! Psychometric Tests: Proven Tactics to Help You Pass, Ceri Roderick And James Meachin
  • Tips for Passing Psychometric Tests, Bernice Walmsley
  • Psychometric Tests for Graduates, Andrea Shavick
  • The Testing Series: Psychometric Tests, Richard McMunn
  • The Advanced Numeracy Test Workbook, Mike Byron

Postgraduate study in the USA

  • The Careers Service has a wide selection of GRE, GMAT and LSAT workbooks (standardised tests used by American universities for entry on to their graduate programmes).

Civil service tests

  • How to Pass the Civil Service Qualifying Tests, Mike Byron (Kogan Page) – based on the old test but still very useful.

Personality questionnaires

  • From time to time we run interactive, three-hour group sessions on understanding your personal style with the MBTI. See the event calendar on CareerConnect for further information.
External resources

Numerical, verbal & abstract reasoning

  • TargetJobs: Psychometric Tests – a useful overview and links to free practice tests
  • Prospects: Psychometric Tests – provides a range of aptitude tests and personality and career development assessment examples
  • SHL Direct – examples of verbal, numerical and diagrammatic tests plus practice tests and feedback from one of the largest UK test publishers
  • Test Partnership – examples of numeric, verbal, inductive reasoning and critical thinking tests and some personality/style questionnaires. Use the “Candidate Preparation” button to launch a practise test.
  • TryTalentQ – click the Try Elements Ability Test to register for their free tests
  • Cubiks: Practice Tests – take free five-minute verbal and numerical reasoning tests (answers given, no feedback). Click on Cubiks online – Ability tests to access them
  • Morrisby – contains advice and sample abstract, verbal, numerical, perceptual, shape and mechanical test questions
  • Practice Aptitude Tests offer a range of free tests for Oxford students. Register with your Oxford email address ending There is also a whole bank of tests available to anyone with an Oxford University email address .ox.uk.ac.uk
  • Psychometric Success.com – free practice tests in a range of reasoning skills
  • Psych Testing – information from the British Psychological Society on tests and test usage
  • TalentLens: Practice Tests – numerical reasoning and critical thinking tests
  • Mensa – not aptitude tests as such, but the pages might get you used to thinking quickly in test situations. Also, try down the free 7-day trial of the Mensa Brain Training App for short games to test your Memory, Concentration, Agility, Perception and Reasoning.
  • Assessment Day Practice Aptitude Tests – includes numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, inductive reasoning, psychometric tests and assessment centres
  • Numerical Reasoning Tests app – practice questions on your mobile

Basic numeracy

Personality questionnaires

Situational judgement & critical thinking tests

Sector-specific tests

Equal opportunities

  • Psych Testing – contains a Guide to testing people with disabilities (use the search facility) with links to other organisations which can provide advice in this area
This information was last updated on 10 November 2017.
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