Situational Judgement Tests

Advice, answers and practise material to prepare you for companies' situational judgement tests

Sample situational judgement test - Free

Many companies, especially those recruiting at a grad level, use situational judgement tests in one of the early stages of the recruitment process. This page will explain the questions you will be asked in a situational judgement test, what these questions are aiming to assess and how you can prepare. In effect, SJTs evaluate your reactions, which reflect your disposition, to scenarios you can expect to face at work.

Free Situational Judgement Test

4 scenarios with 4 situations each makes for a 16 question situational judgement test. Time to complete is 1 hour.

How do situational judgement tests work?

Situational Judgement Tests ('SJT' is the acronym to refer to them) are used by organisations, such as Deloitte, PwC, Sony, Wal-Mart and many more European firms use SJTs in their recruitment process.

You are presented with a situation, described mostly in text, but some newer tests also have accompanying short video and audio clips. The situation may take place in an office, a warehouse, or at a cashier's till. Several scenarios will occur within that situation. Each scenario will be presented to you one at a time. You will have to choose an answer from those available as to how you'd respond to that scenario. You are often asked to say which response would be the worst and which the best. After a few scenarios, the situation will change to a different setting. An example situation is given below. Reading through this and trying to answer the question for yourself will give you a better understanding of these SJT questions.

Situational judgement tests present candidates with a range of different situations that they might experience in the job for which they are applying. For each situation, a number of possible actions are suggested. There are usually around 4 or 5 actions but this varies. It is the candidate’s job to choose between these possible options and judge which is the most effective course of action to take and therefore which action they would take if faced with this situation. SJTs are always multiple-choice; no answers other than the options listed are allowed.

The situations and scenarios in these questions will often be related to the role you are applying for.

A sample situational judgement test question

You have passed the first few days of training and are now operating a cash register positioned next to a friendly co-worker who has been working here two years now. It's a quiet Tuesday morning as you are scanning a customer's items through the register. The customer produces a coupon, which appears genuine and related to your store, but you have never seen this before and weren't notified of what to do with coupons during your induction. From the following options decide which would be the 'most effective' response:

  • 1) Refuse to accept the coupon stating that you haven't been trained to accept these.
  • 2) Tell the customer that this coupon isn't accepted at this store.
  • 3) Ask the customer to talk to the floor supervisor to know how to claim the coupon.
  • 4) Politely ask the customer if they could wait just a moment whilst you speak to your colleague to learn what to do. This is the most effective response. You have identified that there is no need to reach a decision rashly as the store is not particularly busy. Given your colleague's experience they have probably come across this before and will know what to do. They also have the time availabel to show this to you now as the store isn't busy. You have also recognised that they have a good disposition towards you making it very likely that they will heppy to help. This option means you will learn something new, solve the customer's query without inconveniencing them.

Employers' reasons for choosing situational judgement tests

  • Cost-effective
  • Convenient for large pools of candidates
  • Powerful predictors of performance

Adminstering tests online is an effective way to assess large numbers of people remotely, so SJTs will often be used when companies are recruiting a lot of new employees from a significantly larger group of applicants. You are unlikely to come across this type of test for a more senior role.

Many of the questions in SJTs are those you might come across in an interview or a job simulation. Companies will try to create realistic situations similar to those on the job to test how candidates respond to the demands faced at work. This helps the employer to form a picture of whether you'd be a good fit for the role. A job simulation could incorporate SJT style questions. For example, you may be asked to respond to e-mails in a simulated inbox. Halfway-through the exercise a question could appear asking you to handle a situation between two employees, or a supplier refusing to deliver. Sometimes small snippets of video are played to make the test feel more immersive and engaging.

The styles of situational judgement tests

Situational judgement tests are presented in a variety of different ways and aim for candidates to respond to the situations presented differently. Situational judgement tests can:

  • Be paper-based
  • Be computer-based; this is the most widely-used format
  • Text-based only
  • Include video or audio clips
  • Make use of digital animation, computer-generated avatars or real-life actors to act out the situation
  • Have multiple-choice text only options

It is helpful to know that you are answering an SJT style question and below we cover the different types of questions and how you can approach them.

Type 1 - 2 options - Most and least effective

You are presented with four, but sometimes five, responses to choose from usually arranged in rows as shown below. To choose an answer option select the corresponding box for the column and row by clicking on the button it contains or anywhere in the box itself.

You are the supervisor of a team at a customer service call centre of a fashion retail company. Whilst making a coffee you hear one member of the team you are managing tell a customer they are on the line to that they are "over-reacting" and "should see a shrink." You missed the first half of the call but now that the customer has hung up this is your chance to speak to the employee.

Response Most Effective Least Effective
Tell the employee to hand in his letter of resignation by tomorrow morning
Encourage the employee to insult the next customer
Ignore the behaviour, he had a stressful weekend, and he is usually very good with customers
Have a quick word, calmly work out what happened and give your advice to avoid losing temper in those situations

Type 2 - 5 options - Rate the responses

Imagine the same situation as described above but you are asked to rate the effectiveness of each response.

Response Counter-productive Inefficient Slightly Effective Effective Very Effective
Tell the employee to hand in his letter of resignation by tomorrow morning
Encourage the employee to insult the next customer
Ignore the behaviour, he had a stressful weekend, and he is usually very good with customers
Have a quick word, calmly work out what happened and give your advice to avoid losing temper in those situations
Instruct the employee not to do that again

Type 3 - 5 options - Rate the responses

The headers in the table above have been replaced with numbers, where the higher the number the more effective you think that response is.

The numbers may be given explanatory labels e.g. 1 = most appropriate, 4 = least appropriate. OR 1 = most effective, 2 = next most effective, etc. Or they may be left simply as numbers for you to allocate the rank order.

Response 1 2 3 4 5
Tell the employee to hand in his letter of resignation by tomorrow morning
Encourage the employee to insult the next customer
Ignore the behaviour, he had a stressful weekend, and he is usually very good with customers
Have a quick word, calmly work out what happened and give your advice to avoid losing temper in those situations
Instruct the employee not to do that again

Type 4 - 2 options - Most and least likely course of action

This is similar to 'most effective' and 'least effective.' Of the responses given you have to decide which action you are most likely to take in response to the situation and which action you are least likely to take. The subtle difference here is in asking you not which option you think is best, but which option you believe you are most likely to act.

Response Most Likely To Do Least Like To Do
Tell the employee to hand in his letter of resignation by tomorrow morning
Encourage the employee to insult the next customer
Ignore the behaviour, he had a stressful weekend, and he is usually very good with customers
Have a quick word, calmly work out what happened and give your advice to avoid losing temper in those situations

The situational judgement test is designed to detect both your intelligence and personality. Knowing what is the best thing to do matters as does what you are inclined to do. Your ability to choose the 'most effective' answer will measure your intellect at judging the situation, whereas your 'most likely to do' answer demonstrates the type of person you are. Different types of people are required for different roles. Somebody with lots of confidence is very beneficial in a sales role, but attention to detail would be more useful in someone in a technical role.

And indeed, this is what the designers of this particular answer type are interested in. They are seeking to identify your tendencies, personality traits and past behaviour more than they want to know about your ability to evaluate the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ answer from a group of possible answers. Your ability to select the ‘most effective’ answer is probably based more on your intellect rather than on your personality.

Your productivity in a job is going to be based on your intellect and personality. Those designing the tests have this in mind and aim to bring some knowledge of your tendencies and ability to the employer through your results from a situational judgement test.

Situational judgement tests measure competency

Some suggest that to prepare for a situational judgement test you need to know which competencies the company is looking for in their new recruits. To summarise, what about you is the test trying to gauge?

Competencies are bundles of skills, abilities and personality traits which contribute to good job performance. The relevant competencies will vary according to the job or job-type being considered. Therefore graduate training schemes, managerial roles, customer service jobs and sales positions may all have slightly different sets of competencies. First, let's look at competencies expected from managerial, graduate and individual levels.

1. Graduate level competencies

Graduate, or college level educated competencies are reflective of the skills and abilities expected for entry-level roles in an organisation. These competencies are unlikely to be anything related to managing other people, just oneself. These are often:

  • Communicating, Influencing and Negotiating – The use of written and spoken communication to present ideas in a clear manner or to persuade others to a conclusion.
  • Motivation and Drive – Aiming to achieve good results by a deadline.
  • Organisation and Planning – How you manage time and workload to meet deadlines and targets.
  • Analysis and Decision-making – What information you use to reach a conclusion and how confident you are in that decision.
  • Interpersonal skills – How quickly and well you are able to build professional relationships with co-workers, management, customers and clients.

2. Managerial level competencies

This level of competencies will include all of the ones listed above for graduate level competencies but adds a few others. Management competencies can be grouped into the following areas:

  • Analytical thinking and Decision making – builds upon what was discussed at graduate level but also requires more long-term and strategic insight.
  • Motivation and Drive – looking for motivation and drive to achieve high standards and deliver results on time
  • Managing Tasks and Objectives – This competency is required to complete tasks and projects to specifications under a given timeline, particularly as someone is required to coordinate other people's work and piece it all together.
  • Leadership – When managing people this is important to motivate others, to keep people on track and to ensure that others have the right attitude to complete the task at hand.
  • Interpersonal skills – Just as important as above but being able to act from a more senior position with more authority.

3. Personal beneficial competencies

SJTs are used when a company is looking to employ someone for an administrative or customer service position. In these cases, these sorts of competencies are what is needed:

  • Planning & Organising – looking for the tendency to approach tasks in a systematic and organised fashion, to prioritise activities, follow guidelines and manage own time effectively.
  • Attitude – your attitude to coworkers, customers and clients is important in order to motivate others, to provide a positive service and to encourage high standards of work.
  • Stress management – Resilient and emotionally stable candidates won't buckle under the pressure of stressful situations and are less likely to have outbursts.
  • Communication – an ability to speak with someone in a way that they will understand what you are saying is important when working as part of a team
  • Achieving Results - looking for drive to deliver tasks on time and to agreed standards.
  • Teamwork – looking for the understanding that the team’s goals are as important as the individual’s. Willingness to support others and share resources.
  • Understanding Customers – looking for a willingness to listen to customers and to provide a service that suits their requirements as far as possible.
  • Influencing Others – looking for an ability to be persuasive with customers and colleagues where appropriate.

A large part of the SJTs being used is to assess the compentencies listed and described here. Each question will assess one or more of these competencies. It may help to keep in mind these competencies when you approach a question so you can see which one it is trying to measure.

The results the employer sees

After completing the test your answers are marked, automatically, as these tests are almost always computer-based. The answers you've submitted are compared with the correct answers defined by the experts who designed the test. Your score is compared with the scores from a previous group of candidates, or a 'norm' group as it is known as. This shows how well you ranked when comapred with the group as a whole.

As mentioned above, the scoring is done by comparing your answers with the ‘best fit’ answers suggested by the job experts during the design of the test. Once the test has been automatically marked, the number of answers that you rate or rank ‘correctly’ in the test can be compared to the results of a group of previous test-takers. This is called a ‘norm’ group.

Employers will see the following 3 things from the results of your test:

  • First Your raw score, this is the number of marks you were awarded for all of the questions that you answered correctly.
  • Second This raw score is broken down into scores for each of the different competencies outlined earlier. This shows which areas you are strong in and which you are weaker in.
  • Last how your score compares with the average for the norm group. If there were 500 scores in the norm group and your score was greater than 300 of these, then you would be in the 60th percentile for the test or that particular competency.

How companies use this information is entriely up to them. Some decide to set a basic pass mark and anyone who scores this or higher will progress to the next stage of the application process. Others might look for high scores in a particular competency and disregard others as it is not their priority for the role they are recruiting for. Soem might combine the scores of the SJT with the scores from other tests or with performance in an interview, anything to try to get a more accurate picture of the candidate and therefore make a better-informed decision whether or not to hire.

Legally, the tests employers use have to be free from discrimination. The SJT must not test for specific knowledge or technical skills which are not relevant to the the job they are recruiting for. Nor must it disadvantage a group of people who are less likely to know abstract pieces of specialized information. So, if a question in the test required knowledge which a group of people, say older people, were more likely to have, then this would be considered an unfair advantage over younger people.

What time limit can I expect on an SJT?

How much time are you given to complete your situational judgement test. Nearly every SJT does not have a time limit. This is also often done with personality questionnaires. The instructions will ask for you to answer the questions honestly. The answer you first pick, after having read all of the options, is often the best reflection of your true response. As there is no time limit, feel free to take as much time as you need to answer the questions truthfully.

Despite not having a time limit, the test will not go on forever, and the instructions will state the time that most people take to comfortably answer all the questions in the test. Here are the time limits and number of questions in the SJTs made by a few companies:

  • Talentlens The TalentLens IRIS SJT has a time limit of 30 minutes.
  • a&dc a&dc's SJT is also 30 minutes long and they have different tests for Graduates, Administrative, Customer Service, Call Centre and Management staff. These all fall under the Dilemmas Series™.
  • SHL SHL's (formerly CEB SHL) SJT consists of 24 questions and does not have a time limit, but they advise that it takes about 20 minutes to complete.
  • Saville Assessment This test developed for Jaguar Land Rover has no time limit and you can expect to complete this in 40 minutes.
  • Criterion They have 2 SJTs aimed at Graduate or Managerial level, which has 15 scenarios, and a 12-scenario Leadership Judgement Test.

More and more SJTs are now tailor-made and developed specifically for the organisation that's recruiting and tailored to their needs. Any standard SJTs will be considered if they are suitable for the company's needs before being used in any recruitment process. Different SJTs will assess different competencies and the company will need to consider whether a standard package is suitable enough to identify in candidates the competencies that are needed for the role and if the questions in the test are relevant to the role the company is recruiting for. Saville Assessment, Kenexa, Criterion Partnership, TalentLens, a&dc and SHL all offer to tailor-make SJTs to a company's specific requirements.

How can I do well in a situational judgement test?

There isn't any particular courses you can take to prepare for this, nor is there any specialized knowledge which will provide a great advantage over what has been mentioned on this page. Most companies will provide you with a chance to take a few sample questions, which will not count towards your mark, before you start your test. Other companies, such as ourselves, provide you with the opportunity to practise these tests and see similar questions. Becoming familiar with the test format, the layout on the web page, the time limit goes a long way to keeping your stress levels down when taking the real situational judgement test. You'll have a better idea of what to expect and can use your brainpower to focus on the questions and choices infront of you instead of scrambling for the next button or struggling to find all the information on the page to make the correct choice.

When the time arrives to sit the test, pay attention to the intricacies of the situation, the available choices, whether you are being asked for what you think is the best option, or the decision you are most likely to make. As always, make sure that you read the description of the scenario and all the options before selecting an answer. Rereading might also help you to pick up on important details you missed on the first read through. This could be the difference that makes you change your choice of answer.

When it comes to ranking the options, just remember that you are looking to assess them from 'best' to 'worst' and nothing else.

Use only the information you are given to make your choices. You aren't expected to have specialist or background knowledge when it comes to answering situational judgement test questions.

Last, keep in mind the information about the competencies that are being assessed. Make your best guess as to which of these the question is trying to assess. This might help when it comes to making a choice as you can see which answers display which competencies.