Psychometric Tests

Expert advice on how a psychometric test works and what candidates can do to prepare for their test.

Video 1: What is a psychometric test and how do they work?

Video 2: Best practices and test standardisation

Video 3: Feedback and the future of testing

Psychometric testing essentials

Psychometric tests are an objective way for recruiters to measure the potential of candidates to perform well in a job role. Traditionally recruiters studied your CV and qualifications, and made a decision based on an interview. Extensive research has shown that actually this is a fairly poor way to pick which candidates are going to be best for the job. What's a better way? You guessed it: a psychometric test. In fact, many employers use a combination of interviews, assessments and psychometric tests. The power of psychometric testing is that there is a strong correlation between test scores and job performance, i.e. if you score higly in a psychometric test, the chances are that you are going to perform well in the job. As an employer, their predictive qualities make psychometric tests very attractive. Add the fact that they can be administered quickly and efficiently on a large scale and you can see why psychometric tests have become the norm, especially for graduate recruitment.

Understand that psychometric tests take many forms

The term 'psychometric test' is an umbrella term which covers both ability testing and personality profiling. On this page we give tips focusing on ability testing, since that is where the most advantage is gained from practice. At the bottom of this page there are links to the other types of psychometric test you are likely to encounter, including personality questionnaires.

  • Personality questionnaire
  • Aptitude (or ability) test
  • Situational judgement test
  • Diagrammatic reasoning
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Critical thinking test
  • Verbal reasoning test
  • Inductive reasoning
  • ...and many more

As a candidate, the best way to prepare for your psychometric test is to practise, and find out more about it. On this page, we present the best advice from experts on how to achieve your full potential in your assessment. Psychometric tests are often just one part of a more extensive assessment centre, where you might also be assessed in a group exercise, an in-tray exercise or a situational judgement test.

Most employers are using psychometric tests to measure the capabilities of applicants, compare the most able candidates, and find the best match between employer and employee. Employers love psychometric tests because they are a quick, effective way to sift through vast numbers of job applications. Candidates are less fond of psychometric tests, but you needn't be afraid of them. You can approach your test with confidence by reading our top tips and advice below.

Psychometric test tips: before your test

Tip 1: Study your invitation letter

Don’t trip at the first hurdle. Before you take your test you should have been given prior notice; this will take the form of either a letter or an email. Study this letter carefully and note anything it asks you to bring with you; for example, reading glasses.

If your psychometric test is online, you will be given a deadline by which you must complete the test; typically a week or so. Obviously, make sure you don’t miss the deadline. If you are away or know you won’t be able to complete the online test by the date given, this might not matter; speak to the employer asking you to take the test and explain your situation.

The invitation letter will tell you everything you need to know before you take your test; what you will be tested on, why you are being tested and what your results will be used for. Every candidate will get exactly the same letter to make sure the test experience is fair and standardised for everyone. Pay careful attention to your invitation letter and understand what it asks you to do.

This is the best stage at which to ask questions about your psychometric test; there will be plenty of time to explain and help you. This is also the best stage at which to talk to the employer about any special requirements you have, such as adjusting for a disability.

Tip 2: Take the example questions

Included with your invitation letter will often be a short series of example questions to give you an idea of what the test questions will be like. Take these example questions seriously; they are your best chance of familiarising yourself with the particular type of psychometric test you are taking. Make sure you understand these example questions before you start your full psychometric test.

If your invitation letter/email does not include any example test questions there’s no harm in asking for some. It’s in the interest of the psychometric test publisher to give candidates an idea of what to expect because that way the test will be measuring your true ability, not how well you cope with stress and confusion. Psychometric test publishers also like to give out a few example questions to help level the playing field between candidates who have seen psychometric tests before and those who have not, so take advantage of these example questions.

If, after asking, you are still not given any example questions to look at, you can at least take consolation that every other candidate will be in the same situation before their psychometric test.

Tip 3: Find the psychometric test publisher

The company you are applying to, or the recruitment agency you are working with, will outsource the design of the psychometric test to a specialist test publisher. Several psychometric test publishers exist and each has slightly different styles. The largest is SHL, but others include Saville Consulting, TalentQ, Cubiks, Criterion Partnership, and Kenexa. Pay careful attention to the online link you get to take your psychometric test and the branding of any test material you get; these will be clues as to which test publisher is behind the psychometric test you are about to sit. As soon as you find out which company has designed the psychometric test, you can go directly to their website and find out even more information about that specific test, such as the time limit, whether negative marking is being used, and whether they have example test questions.

If your invitation letter/email does not include any example test questions there’s no harm in asking for some. It’s in the interest of the psychometric test publisher to give candidates an idea of what to expect because that way the test will be measuring your true ability, not how well you cope with stress and confusion. Psychometric test publishers also like to give out a few example questions to help level the playing field between candidates who have seen psychometric tests before and those who have not, so take advantage of these example questions.

If, after asking, you are still not given any example questions to look at, you can at least take consolation that every other candidate will be in the same situation before their psychometric test.

Tip 4: Practice, practice, practice

Like most tests, practice can help. There are lots of practice psychometric tests available in books and online, so there is no excuse not to practise. Practising aptitude tests will help you become familiar with the types of questions asked and will reduce your anxiety. If you know what to expect in your test you will be better able to perform your best, instead of being fazed by something new to you. Employers want to measure your true ability and nerves only get in the way of this.

For personality questionnaires the benefit of practice doesn’t go far beyond helping you to become familiar with the style of questions, since you are who you are and the extent to which you can ‘improve’ your personality is limited. However, for aptitude tests (for example numerical, verbal, inductive tests) practice will allow you to improve your test-taking technique, and generally the score you can achieve. By practising aptitude tests you will typically become faster and more accurate at answering the questions. You will spot time-saving techniques and develop methods for ruling out incorrect answers. The more you practise these types of test the more competent you will become, especially if you haven’t taken a psychometric test before.

Tip 5: Plan your online test session

If your psychometric test is online you will be able to choose where and when you take it. So think about when you work best: is it in the morning, do you work better before or after a meal? Also choose a quiet time when you are least likely to be disturbed. If you are taking your online psychometric test in a shared house, give your housemates advance notice and put a sign on your door asking not to be disturbed. Turn off your phone and any other distractions before your test.

Choose a computer you like to work on; a PC with a large screen and a mouse is better than a small laptop with a touchpad. Another reason to practice psychometric tests beforehand is to establish how and where you personally work best.

Make sure you have everything you need before you start your test: a calculator, a couple of pens, and plenty of rough paper. Make sure you’ve been to the loo before your psychometric test starts as some psychometric tests can take up to an hour.

If, after asking, you are still not given any example questions to look at, you can at least take consolation that every other candidate will be in the same situation before their psychometric test.

Tip 6: Plan your online test session

For online numerical reasoning tests you will get to use your own calculator. Make sure you choose one with which you are familiar; perhaps that old one you’ve had since your GCSEs for example. The time pressure during psychometric tests is intense, so if you can save a few vital seconds by not having to look down at your calculator to find where the divide button is, then you are giving yourself the best possible chance to perform well.

Another important thing to bear in mind when you take your online test is whether your calculator displays your typing on the screen. For example scientific calculators will display what you’ve typed on a line above the main line of display. This is very useful when you are adding a list of numbers and you need to quickly check where you got to. Or if you miss-key a button this line will show you whether you need to go back one step. Without this feature on your calculator you will have to clear and start the calculation again – not what you need during your psychometric test.

If your test is conducted at a test centre or at the employer’s office, you will probably have to use the calculator they give you, to ensure that each candidate receives a standardised test experience. However, there’s no harm in taking your calculator with you and asking.

Psychometric test tips: during your test

Tip 7: Speak up if you're not happy

At the start of your psychometric test a test administrator will explain why the test is being used and will go through the test instructions with you. If your test is online, you will just read this information on-screen. You should use this stage to check that you have everything, you understand the test, and that you are comfortable for the test to begin.

This means:

  • check that your desk isn't wobbly
  • check if you can feel a draught or if the air conditioning is distracting
  • listen for distracting noises
  • check your calculator turns on and that your pen works

Make these checks before your psychometric test starts because once the timer has started it cannot be stopped and you don’t want to be moving desks mid-way through your test.

Tip 8: Read the instructions carefully

This is another way candidates can fail their psychometric test at the first hurdle. Does the test ask you to circle the right answer, strike it through, shade a box with your answer option, or write your answer option in a separate answer book? You should pay attention to this when you read the instructions for your test.

How long do you get to complete your test? Sometimes, there is no time limit at all. Is the time limit for the whole test or is it per question? It is a good idea to write down the start time of your test, so that even if you don’t have a stopwatch, or you forget to start it, you always have a way of knowing how much time is remaining in your test.

Is the question asking for one answer, the nearest answer, a list of answers in order, or the odd one out? The style of questions found in psychometric tests varies so make sure you read carefully the instructions each time.

Tip 9: Understand each question

Understanding the question is different from reading it. Perhaps read the question, think about your answer and then re-read the question to check you are about to attempt what is intended. During your psychometric test, it is very easy under the pressure of time to dive head-first into answering a question only to find half-way through that you’ve misunderstood the question.

Things to look out for in aptitude test questions: - Units. Does it ask for the answer in thousands, in seconds, or a different currency? - How many decimal places does the question ask for? Does the question ask for your answer to the nearest hundred, nearest kg, nearest £? - Do you definitely have all the information you need to answer the question or it is not possible to say?

Most psychometric tests include answer options called distractors. These are wrong answers which many people mistakenly thought were correct. During psychometric test trials, common mistakes might form these distractor options to disguise the correct answer. It also means that just because you see the answer you’ve arrived at, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re correct. Re-read the question and ask yourself whether you have understood it correctly.

Careful reading of each question will help you pick up as many marks as possible during your psychometric test.

Tip 10: You probably don't have time to double-check answers

During exams you may be used to double-checking your answers. Whilst this is admirable in some test scenarios, in a psychometric test the time limits are so tight that the time you spend checking an answer is probably better spent answering another next question. Most people don’t get to the end of their psychometric test within the time limit.

There is obviously a balance to be struck with checking answers during your test, and your personal test-taking style will emerge through repeated practice. Rushing through your test to the end is too fast, and double-checking every question is too slow. A good balance might be to pause at the end of each question and look back at the question; does it look right? Have you got the units correct and have you answered the whole question? Then move on. Some tests don’t allow you to go back to previous questions anyway.

In your psychometric test, it’s better to answer lots of questions correctly than to quickly get lots wrong.

Tip 11: The speed vs. accuracy debate

Your psychometric test score is not all about how many questions you get right. The results of your aptitude test will include accuracy and speed ratings showing how many of the attempted questions you got right and how quickly you answered those questions.

If you rush through your test you might score highly for speed but low on accuracy. Would a nuclear power company want to hire someone who prioritises speed over accuracy? Different companies place different weighting on the importance of speed and accuracy, so have a think about the type of company you are applying to and what sort of person they are looking for. In most tests, the company will be looking for both speed and accuracy.

Tip 12: Learn the art of best-guess estimates

Most psychometric tests are multiple choice. However, this doesn’t mean you should wildly guess answers you’re not sure of. Will you get negatively marked for wrong answers? Probably not, however, if you guess this will bring down your accuracy score and may cause the psychometric test administrator to think negatively of your risky test-taking approach.

Instead of guessing outright, it is sometimes possible to eliminate some of the multiple choice options using your understanding of what the answer should be. This is a useful technique if you’re short of time during your psychometric test. For example if you can see that the answer will need to be within a ball-park range, or will need to have certain units, you may be able to discount three of the five options and you are on for a 50:50 chance of getting the question right. This is different to guessing.

Tip 13: Don't get your friends to help

With online tests you are free to take the test from home. You might be tempted to think: "will anyone find out if I get someone to help with my test?" Psychometric test publishers are wise to this and put in place measures to detect collaboration and cheating.

If you pass your online (unsupervised) psychometric test, you are likely to be re-tested under supervised conditions at the employer’s offices to check that your test score really was achieved by you. Test publishers use tracking software to detect variation between your responses to the online test and your responses to a follow-up supervised test, often conducted at the employer’s office. If your test responses are too dissimilar they will ask some probing questions.

And bear in mind that employers use psychometric testing to establish your fit for a role. If you start a job as a result of a doctored test result, you are probably not right for the role and are likely to become unhappy or stressed, which is in nobody’s interest.

Tip 14: Ignore other people

If your test is conducted at a test centre or at the employer’s office, you will share the room with other candidates. Try not to let them distract from your test performance. You may notice that someone has turned the page before you or that they have picked up their calculator when you think you don’t need yours. If you let yourself be distracted by others you will be losing time and you will not perform your best in your psychometric test.

However, if someone is tapping their pen on the table, or sniffing loudly, or putting you off, the test administrator is there to help. Put up your hand and ask the test administrator to have a quiet word with the other candidate. Most of the time the other candidate doesn't realise they're doing it.

Tip 15: Learn the best use of rough paper

During your test you will be able to use rough paper for your workings. Writing down parts of your working is helpful, but writing down every step will use up precious time. The trick is to find a balance which works best for you; this will develop from repeated practice sessions.

From sitting lots of numerical tests you will get a feel for which are the key stages of a calculation which would be useful to write down, and which numbers you can just leave in your calculator. Also, if your workings are scribbled in so much of a rush that they are meaningless, you will have to spend more time re-doing the calculation, so write down the question number next to your workings.

Psychometric test tips: after your test

Tip 16: Ask for feedback

If the company is following industry-standard best practises, they will provide all candidates with feedback after their test, even to candidates who are unsuccessful. These best practises are guided by the British Psychological Society and all psychometric test administrators should adhere to them (although they are not legally bound to).

Feedback is useful for finding out how to improve your test performance next time. Whilst you will not receive details on each question in your test, you will be given general feedback on your test performance such as:

  • how many questions you attempted and how many you got right
  • where your score sits relative to a group of other people, expressed as a percentile score
  • whether your test-taking style was fast or cautious
  • in what types of role or work situation you are likely to work best
  • suggestions for how to improve your ability to work with numerical and verbal information
  • areas of strength and weakness

It is best to ask before taking your psychometric test whether feedback will be provided, so that you know up-front and that the company can be ready to provide you with feedback. Some companies have large volumes of applicants and they decide that they can’t provide individual feedback to everyone, but it is always worth asking.

Tip 17: Move on to the next test

If your psychometric test forms part of a series of assessments, for example at an assessment day, don’t dwell on how well you think you did on just one test. Employers will look at your scores from all psychometric tests, interviews and assessments in order to arrive at an overall picture of your relative merits. So, if you think you didn’t perform as well as you’d have liked in one assessment, don’t let this affect your performance in other tests; give each test your best effort.

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