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tips for numerical reasoning tests

Numerical reasoning tests for graduate jobs: tips and tricks

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

Many big graduate employers ask job applicants to take a numerical reasoning test as part of the recruitment process. This is to assess whether you have the skills needed for roles that involve working with numbers and numerical information and making decisions based on accurate interpretation of figures.

KEY TIP: The standard is around GCSE level. You are not expected to remember equations, and you will be able to answer all the questions on the basis of the information provided in the test.

What will the numerical reasoning test be like?

Numerical reasoning tests can vary depending on the nature of the role you’re applying for, as some employers set tests that assess whether you have the specific numerical skills they’re looking for. For example, if you’re applying to a financial services firm, you might be asked questions that will involve the kind of calculations you’d need to perform to calculate common measures of financial performance, such as profit margins.

The employer’s HR department might be willing to tell you which test provider they use, so that you can focus your practice on their tests. When it comes to taking the tests, you’ll need to make sure you follow all the instructions carefully.

Numerical reasoning tests for graduate schemes typically use a multiple choice format and have a time limit. You are usually allowed to use a calculator, though this is not the case in all tests. It’s best to use a calculator you’re familiar with, if possible.

Questions could take these forms:

  • Numerical or statistical data presented visually, such as graphs, tables or charts.
  • Word problems, where you need to translate words into a numerical problem and work out the calculation you need to perform to reach the answer.
  • Sequences. You could be given a series of numbers and asked to work out the relationship between them and complete the sequence.

You’re likely to need to show your grasp of the following:

  • ratios
  • percentages and percentage changes
  • probability
  • fractions and decimals
  • estimates and approximations
  • time, money and measurements
  • basic arithmetic – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.

How to succeed in numerical reasoning tests

Taking practice tests will help you perform at your best. Even if you’re studying for a numerate degree, it’s well worth familiarising yourself with the type of questions you’re likely to be asked. If you’re studying for a degree that doesn’t involve much numerical work and you’re worried that your maths is a bit rusty, practice tests will help you brush up your skills and increase your confidence. You might find it helpful to brush up on your GCSE maths.

For tips on what to do on the day and links to free tests, see our guidance on psychometric and aptitude tests.

We’ve also put together advice on inductive reasoning tests and verbal reasoning tests.

Everyday practice for numerical reasoning tests

Do number puzzles such as Sudoku, which are good for helping you recognise number patterns.

Add, subtract, multiply and divide in your head. When you're at the shops, try adding up a few items in your head – or at least try to get a good estimate of what your trolley-load will cost.

Make use of the Graduate Benchmark

Have you taken the Graduate Benchmark tests yet? They include a standard numerical reasoning test, with the chance to practise beforehand and see how you did afterwards. You’ll also find specific tips on how to approach the tests.

How important is numerical reasoning in different careers?

You’ll need to use numerical reasoning skills in any role that involves commercial or financial decision-making or handling a budget. Recruiters often ask applicants to take numerical reasoning tests for graduate schemes that involve management and the development of leadership skills, such as the NHS Leadership Academy’s graduate management training scheme.

Employers set and assess numerical reasoning skills in line with the skills needed for the role. You won’t be expected to have advanced mathematical skills unless that’s specified as part of the job description – for example, if it’s a role where the employer has specified that applicants need a numerate degree.

A basic level of numeracy skills is useful in most careers, but you may draw on these skills less often on a day-to-day basis in roles that are caring, creative or strongly focused on face-to-face interaction with other people. Browse our hundreds of job descriptions for ideas on jobs that might suit you.

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