You should prepare properly for any tests you are asked to complete during applications.
Psychometric tests of ability are designed to assess your 'potential' rather than being a test of your 'knowledge'. Preparation and practice should be focused to on becoming familiar with the test(s) and honing your test-taking technique as you need to work both quickly and accurately to maximise your performance. When taking a psychometric test you should be entirely focused on seeking the correct answer to each question; you do not want to use (waste) time trying to understand what you are required to do.
There are four main areas where practice can help you improve performance:
- Understand the nature of the test and the time pressures you will face. How long the test takes and how many questions there are? Do individual questions have a time limit? Will question difficulty increase as you get more questions right? Can you use a calculator?
- Know what you must do to answer the questions. Mostly questions are multiple choice, but are you selecting one answer, multiple answers or ranking options, and do questions sometimes include a 'none' or 'all' of the options offered? If there is a graph or table of data, will there be just one question or a series of questions based on this?
- Gain insight into the type of challenges posed. What common numerical calculations are required? What fine distinctions of language are being judged in verbal reasoning questions? For diagrammatic questions, are you looking for a sequences or shared patterns, and have the test designers added extra irrelevant information/noise included to obscure a pattern? Can you use a calculator or not?
- Understand how will the test be scored. Is your score simply the number of correct answers or is there negative marking where you are penalised for wrong answers?
If you are completely new to a test, you can expect your initial practice to improve your scores quite quickly. However, once you are familiar with a test your performance should quickly approach your maximum potential offering you less headroom to improve further. You can therefore expect additional practise to deliver lower or no further improvement, so monitor your performance as you practise. For example, pause every half-hour to assess whether the last 15 or 30 minutes has helped to improve your score or understanding of the test.
How much time anyone should invest in practising for a particular test is a personal decision. Some may find an hour or two is enough to master one particular test type, but the same person may also find they need much more preparation for a different test.
Finally, we recommend candidates should always complete any practice questions offered by the company before taking their tests. This is an important last check that the test you are about to take does not include a new style of question that you have not met in your practice.
Free practice tests offered by the Careers Service
Since September 2018 the Careers Service has provided free access to a very extensive range of practice material provided by JobTestPrep. This service covers the full spectrum of traditional recruitment tests and also includes practice materials specifically developed to mirror the tests used by individual named companies. Importantly, whether practising one question at a time or taking practice tests under timed conditions, you can review your answers and see full explanations of the correct answers.
Matriculated students and alumni must apply to the Careers Service for an Access Code. This will give you 12 months free access to the site from the first time that you log in with the code. You should not share your code with anyone else. To request a code, sign-in to your Oxford CareerConnect account and submit a query via the Queries tab using the title: Request for JobTestPrep Access Code.
For staff and students with an Oxford University email address (i.e. one ending .ox.ac.uk), we offer a second free practice resource. Users must register using their Oxford email on the landing page provided for us by Practice Aptitude Tests.
A number of additional free resources on the web are listed in the External Resources section.
If you prefer video to reading, there is a series of free short training videos online with 12 Minute Prep that will help you understand the variety of cognitive ability tests you are likely to encounter most frequently. The videos also provide tips on how to prepare for each test type. Whilst the videos may be helpful, we recommend you also undertake some focused practice to deepen and reinforce your learning.
The companies that develop and sell tests also often provide access to free practice tests using questions that are still in development. However, whilst you will get an overall score on your test performance you will not normally be able to review responses question-by-question against the correct answers because the companies may want to use these questions in live assessment tests at a later date.
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 with a calculator. In Michaelmas Term, the Careers Service offers workshops on preparing for tests and improving your maths skills, but you can make a start by playing mathematical games and puzzles and setting yourself challenges as you go through your day:
- estimate how many passengers were on the train to Oxford, and what percentage of seats were unoccupied (both on the way to Oxford and when the train pulled out again).
- calculate how many times will your bike wheel rotate between College and the Careers Service/your department; or to the sports ground/boathouse/your parents' home?
- how many lamp-posts are there in Oxford, or man-hole covers?
- add up the costs of your shopping basket as you fill it, or 'beat the barstaff' to calculate the cost of a round of drinks.
- take time to examine graphs and tables in press and magazine articles to understand what they show before reading the explanation in the article.
- use online GCSE revision tools and maths development games to practise (see suggestions listed in External Resources: Basic Numeracy below).
Also, seek out data tables and graphs, for example by reading financial reports and studying charts in the quality/financial press. One accessible starting point is the FT's weekly Chart that tells a Story: sign up for free access using your Bodleian Library membership. Practise understanding these data sources quickly, for example by using titles, checking the labelling on axes and the other information provided to understand the information presented through the table/graph, the units and timescales covered, and so on.
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)
Use the free resources sign-posted above to practice the range of tests to discover your strengths. Beyond this, reading unfamiliar academic and business journals, manuals and technical reports may help, and you can practise extracting and summarising the main points from passages of information.
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 which may affect your capacity to access the test fairly, you can expect the employer to make reasonable adjustments, but you will need to let them know this in advance of the session. See the section below for a fuller explanation.
Our advice to all candidates is:
- 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 - usually you will be given 'reading time' for the instructions 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.
- Both speed and accuracy are important, 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 if you do not know the right answer will depend on how the test is being marked, so always try to find out the marking scheme before you star to chose your strategy. Where your score is a simple count the correct answers, eliminating definitely wrong answers will improve the chances of guessing right, and quickly guessing answers to remaining questions right at the end of the test time can help lift your score. However, when wrong answers are scored negatively, it makes little sense to guess answers.