Psychometric Aptitude Test Advice
Psychometric tests in job recruitment
In job recruitment however, the form of ability testing you will have to face are those associated with brain power, or potential to learn new tasks. These psychometric tests are associated with cognitive abilities, as opposed to say, physical strength or stamina.
As noted in the overview of psychometric tests, most recruiters tend to focus on tests that assess verbal abilities, numerical abilities and inductive reasoning abilities of various kinds. Of course the tests you’ll face will depend on several factors – most importantly, on what job you’re applying for, what aptitudes and abilities it requires, and what the recruiter you’re applying to or through wants from an employee.
For all types of ability tests, practice is essential to success, and will dramatically improve your performance – whatever tests you end up actually being required to take.
Before having a look at some of the most common types of psychometric tests you’re likely to face, it’s worth considering what abilities are – that is, what the word means. (This is the sort of thing you need to pay attention to, too, if you want to perform well in verbal ability tests!) In his book, A Psychometrics Primer (Free Association Press, 2000), Paul Kline defines abilities as “the cognitive traits implicated in solving problems” (p. 69). Since the word cognitive refers to processing information, Kline’s definition and ensuing discussion are useful in understanding what ability tests are most interested in measuring: they want to know about how well you understand and process information. This is not important to recruiters and employers only in a direct sense, either – it also has some bearing on assessing what kind of person you are since, inherently, solving problems also draws upon other personal character traits such as determination and persistence.
Numerical ability and numerical reasoning ability tests
These psychometric tests measure your ability to use numbers and how they work. In addition to testing your grasp of the four basic arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, numerical reasoning tests will also measure your abilities in respect of number sequences, basic mathematics, and solving problems involving numbers.
Numerical reasoning tests that present you with problems to solve are assessing your aptitude for critical reasoning. Typically, tests like this will involve your having to make sense of and interpret data set out in graphs, charts, or tables. It’s also typical that the calculations required to reach the correct answer are not complex: this is because these tests are more interested in measuring your problem-solving aptitudes than in your mathematical skills!
Often, recruiters measuring the abilities of candidates for clerical and administrative jobs will be more concerned to test their basic numerical abilities, numeracy and ability to understand data. The more challenging numerical reasoning tests go a little beyond this, and in their focus on problem-solving rather than basic numeracy, tend to be given to graduate job applicants.
Verbal reasoning ability tests
Psychometric tests of this kind assess many aspects of verbal aptitude – from your ability to understand in precise terms the meaning of individual words, to your ability to comprehend written information.
In essence, these tests measure your ability to understand and use words. Verbal reasoning tests measure your abilities in spelling, grammar, structuring writing, grasping analogies, and understanding and carrying out written instructions. As with numerical reasoning tests, the more complex tests focus on problem-solving, typically measuring how effectively you comprehend written verbal information and can solve problems with the information provided. Those who do well in verbal reasoning tests have a good understanding of what words mean, and of the structure and logic of language.
Simple verbal tests might provide you with a list of four words and ask you which are spelt correctly. Others might ask you which of several options provided best completes a sentence, while others require you to understand relationships between words and answer questions about them.
Verbal reasoning tests are widely used among recruiters for all types of jobs, not just those obviously associated with language such as law. Every job requires employees to read, comprehend, and form a logical argument or conclusion based on information they are presented with.
Inductive reasoning ability tests
Inductive reasoning tests measure your abilities in solving problems of various types. They are often called abstract reasoning tests, diagrammatic or mechanical reasoning tests. (As such, some verbal and numerical reasoning tests can also be considered tests of inductive reasoning – although their focus is slightly different.) Whatever name they go by, though, their focus is on measuring your abilities in logic and problem solving.
While these tests are most typically used to measure candidates applying for jobs in the engineering and technical sectors, they are widely used by recruiters in other sectors, too.
Typically, inductive reasoning tests will present you with graphs and charts and test your ability to spot patterns in data – and to predict, on that basis, how the pattern will progress. This type of question frequently involves showing you four pictures, words or sets of numerical data and asking you to either pick out which one does not belong to the set, or, alternatively, to pick which option is the next in the sequence. This type of question gets to the nub of what inductive reasoning is – that is, reasoning that works from particular facts to more general conclusions.
An increasingly popular way to test job candidates’ abilities across multiple areas is to present them with what is generally known as an “in-tray exercise” as part of the recruitment process. This is a type of psychometric test modelled on what are often now termed business learning experiences – which are, in effect, exercises in which you simulate working as an employee for a particular organisation, thereby learning how to complete pertinent tasks and apply your knowledge in a hands-on situation.
An in-tray exercise typically requires you to take on the role of an employee in a fictional organisation, and to consider and work through a batch of documents (nominally those in your fictional in-tray). Of course the documents in your in-tray will be designed to assess a variety of specific and general aptitudes and abilities – including but certainly not limited to your general verbal and numerical abilities, your ability to prioritize, your aptitude for analysis, and your abilities to communicate.
The topic of the documents is irrelevant; they often choose situations where lots of different sources of information can apply, for example a construction project. In-tray exercises are a good way of measuring candidate’s ability to deal with lots of different information from multiple sources, prioritise, draw conclusions quickly and effectively justify their findings. Irrespective of the particular documents in your fictional in-tray, and whether or not they seem related to the job for which you’re applying, you can rest assured that the sorts of issues you’ll be required to address will be related to the abilities and aptitudes the recruiter requires for the job. For this reason above all else, be sure to focus on displaying your abilities in this sort of measurement – and don’t get sidetracked by wondering why you’re being asked to do it!
Although there are a number of ways in which in-tray exercises are presented, the two most typical formats are being given a number of in-tray documents (usually between 10 and 25) and (i) having to prioritize and action them by answering a series of multiple choice questions, or (ii) having to prioritize and action them and then discuss them with an assessor in an interview.
In most tests of this type, you will have sufficient information in the in-tray documents to carry out the test requirements; often, though, you’re given fairly limited time in which to comprehend the documents and make your decisions – and this is where your abilities are really tested! With this in mind, take care to get used to scanning documents for the most important information – without either getting bogged down on side issues or missing crucial points.
It’s likely that more and more computer-based tests using Virtual Reality and other multi-media technology will be used in the near future, enabling recruiters to test job candidates in increasingly realistic yet controlled conditions. However these types of Virtual Reality tests are some way off.