How to pass numerical reasoning tests: our tips and tricks

Last updated: 18 Jul 2023, 13:02

Find out what to expect if you are asked to take a numerical reasoning test as part of your application for a graduate role and how to prepare.

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Any graduate employer recruiting for a role that requires working with numbers in any capacity will likely use numerical reasoning tests as part of their application process. This is so they can assess how well you can interpret numerical information. In this article we break down what a numerical reasoning test is, the different types of numerical reasoning tests along with our tips and tricks on how to pass them.

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What is numerical reasoning?

Numerical reasoning is the ability to analyse, interpret and reason with numerical data. It is an aptitude (the innate ability to do something) that everyone has, though some may have a stronger numerical aptitude than others.

What is a numerical reasoning test?

A numerical reasoning test is a form of psychometric test designed to assess your aptitude for numeracy. The test involves analysing and drawing conclusions from numerical data that can be presented to you in various ways which we will explain below.

The questions in a numerical reason test are designed to be answerable based solely on the information they contain and typically follow a multiple-choice format. You will usually have a time limit within which you must answer questions: there may be a set time to answer each question or an overall time to complete the entire test. The length of a test can vary between providers, but typically it will last between 20 and 30 minutes.

The numeracy standard for numerical reasoning tests is around GCSE level and will likely include a combination of the following:

  • addition
  • subtraction
  • multiplication
  • division
  • percentages
  • ratios.

What are common numerical reasoning test questions?

Numerical reasoning tests typically include at least one of the following types of questions. Bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of every question type, just the ones you are most likely to face.

Table and graph questions

These are sometimes known as ‘data interpretation questions’. Data is presented visually via charts, tables or graphs and questions aim to assess your specific ability to draw inferences and conclusions from them.

For example, if a pie chart represents a population of 10,000 people and 58% of the pie chart represents the percentage of employed people in that population, you might be asked: ‘How many people in this population are employed?’ and then be given a list of figures to choose your answer from.

The graphs, tables and charts can take various forms – you could get a line graph, pie chart, bar chart, statistical information table or report table, for instance.

Word problem questions

These are mathematical questions presented as written sentences to assess your logical reasoning as well as your numeracy. For example, you could be asked something along the lines of:

‘Jamie arrives 12 minutes too late for the 14:12 train from Oxford to London. This train runs every hour at 12 minutes past the hour. How long must he wait for the next train?’

Sequence tests/number series questions

These questions present you with a series of numbers and ask you to work out the relationship between them to complete the rest of the sequence. For example, if you were given the sequence 16, 22, 28, 34, ?, 46 – the missing digit would be 40 as the ‘rule’ in this sequence is to add six to reach the next number.

However, keep in mind that the real sequence test/number series questions that you face in an employer’s test are not likely to be this simple.

How do you pass a numerical reasoning test?

Here are targetjobs’ key pointers on how to pass numerical reasoning tests.

Take practice tests

Completing practice tests will allow you to familiarise yourself with the format of numerical reasoning tests and sharpen your technique so that you can answer questions in less time. This is the best preparation for sitting an employer’s real test and, subsequently, it will also boost your confidence.

You can follow these links for free practice numerical reasoning tests (not hosted by targetjobs):

Brush up on your basic maths

As previously mentioned, the ability to use basic arithmetic in numerical reasoning tests is essential. Ensure that you are comfortable doing the following basic mathematical calculations on a calculator:

  • ratios
  • percentages
  • probability
  • fractions and decimals.

Also ensure that you are comfortable doing the following mental arithmetic:

  • making estimates and approximations
  • calculating time, money and measurements.

Read questions carefully

It can be easy to skim a question when you are cautious of time, but taking the time to fully understand the question will help prevent mistakes. Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked of you and never make assumptions. Some questions purposely include snippets of information to mislead you or make a question appear more difficult than it is, so make sure you’ve read the question carefully.

Know your calculator

Make sure that you know how to use your calculator to carry out the types of calculations we mentioned previously. The last thing you want is to lose crucial seconds figuring this out once the test has begun.

If you’re sitting the test at an assessment centre, it’s likely you’ll have to use a calculator provided by the employer, but take your own just in case.

What jobs use numerical reasoning?

Roles in the following professions require particularly strong numerical reasoning ability, although this is not an exhaustive list:

Bear in mind that numerical reasoning is used across many different careers – from working in admin roles to working in the military – and so you could be tested by any employer.

More online testing and careers advice

A numerical reasoning test may not be the only psychometric test you need to take when applying for graduate jobs. For more advice on psychometric testing, check out our psychometric tests article and our gamification article to clue yourself in. We’ve also put together advice on verbal reasoning tests .

Before you head off to sit practice tests, make sure to create your free targetjobs graduate profile and tell us about your career interests. You’ll get tailored content including advice, events and career opportunities.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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