Psychometric tests: what they are and why graduates need to know
Psychometric tests: when they are used | ability tests | aptitude tests | critical thinking tests, situational judgement tests and job simulation exercises | personality tests | 3D simulations | free practice tests | exercise your mind | tips for test days
If you apply for a place on a graduate scheme with a big graduate employer, chances are you’ll be asked to take psychometric tests. They are often used as a filtering mechanism at an early stage in the recruitment process.
As with any kind of test, you can improve your performance by knowing what to expect and by practising. As long as you’ve done some preparation beforehand, you can approach psychometric tests confident in the knowledge that you’re as well placed to succeed as anyone else.
Pychometric tests are impersonal, standardised and objective, and practice tests are readily available. The psychometric test is a level playing field: employers value them because they are a fair way of comparing different candidates’ strengths regardless of educational background.
This article will explain what to expect from the different kinds of tests. We’ll also give you links to free psychometric tests from some of the key organisations that devise these assessments for graduate recruiters, plus tips for preparation and for doing your best on the day.
Psychometric tests may be used at different stages of the graduate selection process:
- After you submit your online application form.
- Alongside a first interview.
- At a later stage, possibly with a second interview or as part of an assessment centre. You may be re-tested at this point to confirm the results of earlier tests.
Types of test; ability, aptitude and personality
- numerical reasoning tests: assess how well you interpret data, graphs, charts or statistics. Can test basic arithmetic.
- verbal reasoning tests: assess how you well you understand written information and evaluate arguments and statements.
- diagrammatic reasoning tests: assess how well you follow diagrammatic information or spot patterns. Can check spatial awareness.
- logical reasoning tests: assess how well you follow through to a conclusion given basic information, or using your current knowledge or experience.
- deductive reasoning tests: similar to logical reasoning tests. You are typically given information or rules to apply in order to arrive at an answer.
- inductive reasoning tests: these are similar to diagrammatic or abstract reasoning tests, and often involve spotting patterns.
You are particularly likely to come up against inductive reasoning tests when applying for engineering, science and IT roles, including software development jobs and positions that involve technical design. They tend to consist of multiple choice questions that you have to complete against the clock. Each question might consist of a series of simple pictures, each one of which is slightly different. You might then be asked to choose another picture from a number of options to complete the series. Try to find out in advance if you are likely to be set an inductive reasoning test as part of an assessment centre, as this will give you the chance to seek out examples and practise. Don't panic if you can't complete all the questions on the day; the test may have been devised so that it is almost impossible to finish before time is up.
Deductive reasoning tests assess a different type of logical problem solving. Broadly speaking, inductive reasoning moves from observation of specific instances to forming a theory that can be used to make predictions. Deductive reasoning starts with a number of rules and applies them in order to work out what happens in specific cases. Inductive reasoning can arrive at new solutions rather than using what is already known to solve a problem, so you can see why employers who focus on technological innovation are interested in it.
Employers may also run tests to assess your problem-solving skills or ability to identify mistakes accurately: eg proof-reading or basic spelling and grammar tests.
Aptitude tests examine your potential to learn a new skill that is needed to do the job you have applied for. If you are considering careers in IT you may be asked to complete a programming aptitude test (this could take the form of a diagrammatic, abstract reasoning or inductive reasoning test). For other career areas, such as finance, you may find that numerical and verbal reasoning tests are focused on the kind of information you would come across in your daily work.
Ability and aptitude tests are usually conducted under timed, exam conditions. Most involve multiple-choice or true/false answers. They can be done on paper but increasingly employers use computer-based programs.
The results compare your ability levels to a ‘normal’ expectation for a demographic group chosen by the employer or test provider (this could be the results of a group of previously successful applicants, people typical of your level of education, or the general public).
Critical thinking tests, situational judgement tests and job simulation exercises assess candidates’ natural responses to given situations. Usually these are scenarios that you’d be likely to face when in the job and at least one of them might be similar to what you’d be given in an in-tray exercise.
Situational judgement tests and critical thinking tests are likely to be in the format of a multiple choice online quiz; job simulation exercises are likely to be given in a video format. They are used in two ways:
- To give graduates the chance to evaluate themselves before they apply. Several employers host tests in a game format on their websites to enable graduates to see if they would be a good fit. These tests are usually designed to be fun and appealing, but can be a wake-up call if you are less well suited to working for that particular organisation than you think.
- As part of the recruitment process, to gauge how a candidate might operate in the role. The test results may also help the recruiter decide which area of the business the candidate would suit best.
The best approach is to answer as honestly and calmly as possible. Candidates should make sure they understand the scenario properly and avoid making assumptions. Situational judgement, job simulation exercises and critical thinking assessments measure suitability rather than ability, so applicants who don't get through to the next stage of the recruitment process have not failed; rather, they have succeeded in avoiding a job and employer that would not have been a good match.
Personality tests assess your typical behaviour when presented with different situations and your preferred way of going about things. They examine how likely you are to fit into the role and company culture. Assessors may match your responses with those of a sample of successful managers or graduate recruits. Employers look for people with certain characteristics for particular jobs. For a sales role they may want someone who is very forward, sociable, and persuasive.
Don't try to second guess what you think the employer wants to see – personality questionnaires assess consistency in responses. If you’re right for the job and the employer is right for you, you’ll do fine. If the job and employer isn’t looking for people with your personality, you’ll make a lucky escape.
Our employer hubs include in-depth reports on individual graduate employers that provide information about how to get hired and give insights about what to expect from the recruitment process.
The best way to approach graduate psychometric tests is to practise so that you become familiar with the typical formats they take and the way questions are asked. It will also help you to improve on speed and accuracy and identify areas in your ability tests that need work. Just make sure you don’t get over-confident. Doing practice tests can improve your performance to some degree, but each employer’s tests will be slightly different.
Follow these links for free practice psychometric tests (not hosted by targetjobs.co.uk):
- psychometric tests from AssessmentDay
- personality report from Peoplemaps
- practice tests and questionnaires from Mark Parkinson, author of How to Master Psychometric Tests
- preparation guides for aptitude tests from Saville Assessment. Various guides including verbal and numerical reasoning and comprehension, and diagrammatic and spatial reasoning
- trial numerical and critical thinking tests from TalentLens (UK), Pearson
If you have verbal and numerical reasoning tests coming up it’s good to increase your mental agility and get yourself into the habit of recognising word and number patterns through some simple activities.
- Get back to the basics of maths: Numerical tests don't require advanced algebra: revising some GCSE-level maths should provide what you need. Revise how to read information presented graphically and brush up on percentages, ratios and probability.
- Do number puzzles: Number puzzles like Sudoku 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.
- Think about meaning: When you read news stories, think about what statements really mean, and how they could be interpreted.
- Do word puzzles: Never has there been a better excuse for frittering away time on the Saturday morning crossword.
- Be aware of commonly misspelt words: Most English grammar books and websites have lists of commonly misspelt or 'confusable' words, eg 'its' and 'it's', or 'complement' and 'compliment'. Check you are also aware of the English spellings of words such as liaise, favourite and organise.
Pack everything you might need: glasses or contacts, a hearing aid or an inhaler. You may be given a calculator and writing tools to complete the test but it doesn't hurt to take your own kit.
Get a good night’s sleep and leave plenty of time to get to the test centre.
Wear a watch so you can keep track of the time if there is no clock in the room.
If you have a disability that may affect your performance, contact the recruitment team before the test day. Giving the recruiters sufficient notice will enable them to make appropriate arrangements for you.
Listen to instructions and follow them carefully.
If you are given practice examples, make the most of them. You may be given a couple of practice questions to complete before the test starts. If you don't understand how the test works, or anything still doesn't make sense, this is your last chance to ask.
Make sure you know the number of questions and how much time is allowed.
Time left at the end? Use any remaining time to check your answers, but don't be surprised or downhearted if you don't finish everything. Psychometric tests are meant to be challenging.
Don’t let the test throw you, and try not to take any notice of what other candidates say about it. Stay focused, upbeat and ready for the rest of the day.