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

Psychometric tests are designed to assess your reasoning abilities or how you respond to different situations. The tests that employers use should have been carefully researched and trialled, to ensure that they provide valid assessments of the people who are likely to take them.

Why do recruiters use psychometric tests

Employers use a variety of methods to select the right people. The greater the variety of situations in which a selector can see you perform, and the greater the number of skills that are being tested, the more accurate and objective the assessment should be. Tests are simply one way of assessing the competencies relevant to a specific job, and should ideally be 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; this probably explains why many organisations use them to pre-select candidates on-line for (comparatively expensive) interviews.

How are psychometric tests used?

Employers 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. You are quite likely to come across psychometric tests in a recruitment context, but they can also be used as a tool to help you to understand where your strengths lie and what career areas might be most appropriate and of most interest to you.

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 the ‘pass’ point will vary, depending on where the tests are used in the selection process. Organisations which use these tests to select candidates for first interview are likely to make their decision based solely on your test score (i.e. as a pass/fail gate). Organisations which use the tests a little 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 nor wrong answers, and questionnaires are usually completed in your own time. From your responses the recruiter gains information about your style of behaviour, your preferred type of personality – of how and why you 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.

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.  You are more likely to come across them either in a careers guidance setting or in an appraisal/development context once in work. We, for example, offer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a guidance tool. For upcoming sessions, see 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 double-guess or out-think what the employer/the questionnaire is looking for is difficult, and could well be counter-productive – for tests are designed to check the consistency of your answers and under pressure you may not spot all of the underlying questions. Do consider also whether you would want to be given a job which really does not suit you.

Situational Judgement Tests & 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 from a selection of possible responses, or perhaps to rank each of the possible responses in order of effectiveness.

Typical advice is 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. Recruiters will often advise for applicants to be honest – “just tell the truth and we will pick the best candidate.” However, more and more students are coming to the Careers Service frustrated that they cannot get past the Situational Judgement Test and looking for more granular advice.

Firstly, let’s recognise that these Situational Judgement Tests (SJT) are not about right and wrong, they are about fit. A company may want to people to work for them who build and maintain relationships with colleagues over long periods of time. Someone fresh from academia with limited work place experience may have more of a tendency to build relationships in a time of need, rather than build relationships when there is no immediate need. On another vector, the company wants people to work for them who stand up for what they feel is right. The student’s responses indicate that student prefers to include other people’s opinions before making big decisions. So on the basis of these two results the recruiter deems that this student is not a good fit with company. This is pretty subtle stuff, and is more to do with emotional intelligence than critical thinking. So what can a student do?

Our advice is to look at all of the advice on the company’s website. The above example is taken from the Diageo SJT, who very kindly give a feedback report on your responses. These two items of “long term relationships” and “standing up for what you feel is right”, do not appear in the company’s five values. However, under the tab “Graduate Recruitment Process”, there is a subtitle “Who are we looking for?” and here we find the following two short paragraphs:

“We are looking for someone who is committed to the role and Diageo from day one. Full of energy, enthusiasm and optimism in everything you do. Following your instincts and standing up for what you feel is right.”

“You’re able to build strong relationships in order to learn and grow together, as well as to influence and inspire others to always do better. Many of these relationships will be core to your success now and in the future as you progress through the organisation.”

So the clue to how to pass the test was there on the website all along for those who make the effort to look. 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.

Preparing for aptitude tests

There are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself. Playing with word games, mathematical teasers and diagrammatic puzzles may help to get you into a logical and analytical frame of mind, and the following ideas may be of help to develop particular abilities.

Numerical reasoning skills

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. 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. Reading financial reports and studying data in charts (e.g. in the quality or financial press) could be useful, but see also the list of practice resources below.  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 to sit a practice aptitude test. You can take practice tests online. The Careers Service has arranged free online access to a series of complete aptitude tests typical of those used by graduate recruiters. See Our Resources below for details.

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 about the return on spending a lot of time preparing for tests – especially if you are in your final year; your degree result will be more significant in your future career than an aptitude test result.

Tips for sitting the test

You could be asked to do a test online in your own time, or in a formal test-setting as part of an assessment day. Either way, if you have a disability and you require special provision, discuss this with the employer in advance of the test session. Ensure that you know exactly what you are required to do – do not be afraid to ask questions. Follow the instructions you are given exactly. 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 – don’t spend too long on any one question, and 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. 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 always try asking, to help determine your strategy. The best approach is probably to go for your best choice but to avoid wild guessing. Don’t worry if you do not finish all the questions in the time, but if you do, go over your answers again to check them.

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. This does not reflect on your intelligence – it may mean only that you are not primarily a logical person. You may have a much more intuitive approach to solving problems, which could be equally valuable.

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 the same questions, 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 typical of those used by graduate recruiters. You can take up to three tests and receive detailed feedback on your performance by email. The tests available are:

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Abstract reasoning

These are timed tests, each lasting 20 minutes. You will need to choose a time to do them when you will not be distracted.

Many employers who use these tests also offer practice versions on their own websites, so you can use these to practise and prepare too.

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

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 11 January 2017.
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