Ability tests - verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning
Ability tests, sometime called aptitude tests, seek to assess 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 will usually consist of a timed series of multiple-choice questions. For tests of ability, candidates need to work both quickly and accurately and the tests are often designed so that few candidates will get to the end, so do not worry if you cannot complete every question.
Other types of assessments that you may face, such as Situational Judgement Tests and Critical Reasoning Tests, can also incorporate elements of numerical reasoning as scenarios may include data tables and graphs you need to interpret, and the precise and specific use of language reflected in verbal reasoning tests also applies to the formulation of content in these alternative assessments.
Numeracy reasoning skill 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. Different test will include different elements, but expect tests to include:
- addition, subtraction, division, multiplication.
- calculations using fractions, percentages and ratios.
- the ability to find and interpret information in charts, graphs and tables.
If you are unsure about your maths, or you are worried that your mental maths is a bit rusty, it will certainly also help if your start exercising your maths brain, and practise core mental arithmetic skills as well as practice using a calculator quickly and accurately. In Michaelmas Term, the Careers Service offers workshops on preparing for tests and improving your maths skills, but you can make a start, for example:
- take time to examine graphs and tables in press and magazine articles to understand what they show before reading the explanation in the article. Try the FT's weekly Chart that tells a Story (free access using your Bodleian Library membership).
- use online GCSE revision tools and maths development games to practise (see suggestions listed in External Resources: Basic Numeracy below).
- play mathematical games and set yourself challenges as you go through your day:
- how many passengers were on the train to Oxford, and what percentage of seats were unoccupied?
- how many times will your bike wheels rotate between College and the Careers Service/your department?
- estimate how many lamp-posts or man-hole covers are there in Oxford?
- add up the costs of your shopping basket as you fill it.
In the tests themselves, the data tables and graphs used tend to be relatively simple, and the test is how quickly and accurately you can extract information. For example, you may be given pricing information and sales volumes for four or five products across five or six months. The questions posed can range from simple (e.g. Which product was sold most in March?) to more complex question which and require you to make some quick calculations or estimates (e.g. Which product showed the greatest percentage increase in sales revenues between May and June?).
Verbal reasoning skills
There is quite a range of question types you can encounter for verbal reasoning skills. The most frequently used are tests of comprehension and logical reasoning which assess your reading accuracy, your ability to extract information, and capacity to accurately judge whether or not the information provided allows you to identify subsequent statements as true or false, or if you have insufficient information.
Other tests may be a test of vocabulary and verbal dexterity, or ask you to identify and correct errors, and so it is worth knowing a few definitions, (e.g. what are antonyms; synonyms; homonyms) and being clear on differences between words and phrases that are commonly confused or misspelled (their/there; whether/weather; your/you're; it's/its)
Beyond the free practice resources sign-posted below, reading unfamiliar academic and business journals, manuals and technical reports may help.
Personality questionnaires explore the way you tend to react to, or prefer to deal with, different situations. They are ‘self-report’ questionnaires and, unlike aptitude tests, there are no right or wrong answers, and tend not to be completed against a time limit. Your profile is based on your responses to questions or statements linked to personality factors, such as how you relate to other people, your ability to deal with your own and others' emotions, your motivations, determination and general outlook. They capture information about your preferences and behaviour, and can be used to clarify which fields of work and what kind of role(s) someone may find intrinsically satisfying.
Personality profiles are not generally used for selection, although occasionally they may be used as the basis for discussions in an interview to understand your motivation and work habits. This is because recruiters will not usually be looking for a rigid or ‘typical’ personality profile for a specific role.
However, companies may use a personality test to identify which of the many different roles or positions available might be the best fit for you, and you will sometimes find one offered on corporate career pages to help potential applicants understand which job role fits them best. Similarly, the Careers Service recommends using personality based tools to help explore career ideas. If you have taken a personality test and have any questions about how to use the insights offered, it can be helpful to discuss these in a one-to-one meeting with a careers adviser.
The best way to approach personality questionnaires is 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 tool, 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 and critical thinking tests
Situational judgement and critical thinking tests are used by many recruiters to assess candidates' judgement when solving work-related problems. Candidates are presented with work-related scenarios followed by a number of proposed actions or responses they can choose between. Scenarios may be presented as short written situation, but companies are now using video and occasionally VR technologies to make scenarios more accessible and engaging.
There are a number of different answer styles used to assess the candidate's judgement, for example:
- select what 'you are most likely' and 'least likely' to do.
- identify the 'most effective' and 'least effective' options.
- rank all the options from most effective to least effective.
- for each action, rate how effective the action is likely to be, but note:
- you may only be allowed to use each rating once in each question; or
- it may be possible for some (or all) actions to be rated with the same level of effectiveness, and not all points on the scale need be used.
Read instructions carefully and be sure you understand how you are expected to answer each question, even if you have already completed other SJTs.
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. However, remember that the context for your 'Judgement' includes the organisation and role, and that the subject matter experts who helped develop the test will have done so in relation to the organisation's values and culture. We recommend therefore that in your research you should aim to understand the organisation, how they see themselves and what that might mean in relation to the people they choose to hire and promote. Look for information on values and culture on the company's website and if you meet meet people at career fairs or through your networking, ask them about the organisation's culture.
Before taking any of these tests you will usually be given the chance by the organisation to take some practice questions (and examine the answers). This is another opportunity to get an insight into the company's way of thinking. If you get the practice questions right, then great - but for any you get wrong, review your answer against their answer with a view to understanding the subtleties of how the organisation's stated values and competencies are reflected in that choice.
Some organisations provide practice questions anyone can try and then review your answers (e.g., Diageo and the Civil Service Fast Stream). Remember, however, that firms with a different context and ethos may make different judgements so that. For example, the judgements made by someone suitable for a service-oriented role in the healthcare sector may well be different to those of someone seeking a business development or sales role in a highly competitive industry.
Game Based Assessments
Some companies are using 'game based assessments' (GBAs) in their selection processes. These can be taken on a computer or any mobile device, although there is evidence that candidates that use a mobile phone score slightly lower. GBAs are designed to be easily accessible. The individual games will be simple to play and are not biased towards people with gaming experience. Test providers and companies believe that GBAs offer a more enjoyable candidate experience, and cite very high completion rates and positive feedback from candidates as evidence of this.
As a candidate, you will be provided with a link to the test platform to take a series of video-based exercises. Whilst they may have the look and feel of quite simple games, remember that it is still an assessment, so approach them with focused attention and a readiness to perform at your best. Also, read all instructions carefully before starting each exercise even if you have met the same or a similar test before with a different company.
We recommend that you ensure you have:
- a stable internet connection;
- sufficient time to complete the exercises undisturbed - perhaps 20-30 minutes.
Typically, there will be many short games to play, perhaps 12 or more. Because each exercise will be simple to play, companies rarely offer 'practice' resources beyond those needed to familiarise candidates with the platform. Candidates can take as much time as they need to understand the instructions (not timed), but once you hit 'play', the tool will be collecting data on your performance for that game, so make sure you are ready to 'go'.
As mentioned in the introduction, GBAs evaluate the individual against long established and well understood psychological traits. The tool will collects thousands of data points on every candidate, and data for each personality trait will be gathered from multiple games. This makes it extremely difficult for candidates to 'fake' results even if they are clear what traits are most desirable. The range of traits being assessed can be quite extensive and is likely to include some or all of the following:
- Speed and flexibility of thought.
- How you approach risk and reward.
- Your concentration.
- Your reaction time and impulse control.
- Short term memory, e.g. by following increasingly complicated instructions, or repeating number sequences or visual patterns.
- Resilience and response to difficulties or failure within a task.
Your final candidate profile will be compared against profiles created for the recruiting company, quite often based on the performance of their current employees who have taken the same bank of tests.
Although GBAs rarely offer you any 'practice' resources, you may well have encountered similar tests in games that you have played for fun, rather than in a recruitment scenario. The practice resources on JobTestPrep offered free to matriculated students at Oxford (see Our Resources section below) includes resources to prepare and practice the most commonly used GBAs. Or if you are curious and want some free and fun resources to use in order to understand the kind of games you might be asked to play, try:
- Metro Trains Melbourne's "Dumb Ways to Die" [fun but a bit gruesome!] and
- the MENSA Brain training app, which you can download as a free 7-day trial.