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Psychometric tests: what they are and why graduates need to know

Psychometric tests: what they are and why graduates need to know

Many graduate employers use psychometric tests as part of the selection process for their graduate schemes. Use our guide to find out what to expect, and have a go at some practice tests.

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 | 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.

Psychometric 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. Some aspects of the graduate recruitment process focus on experience and qualifications, but psychometric tests can be seen as a way of gauging your future potential rather than assessing what you have done in the past.

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.

KEY TIP: Taking practice tests and familiarising yourself with the format of standard tests can make a big difference to your confidence and help you perform your best. If you are unhappy with how you are performing in standard aptitude tests, your careers service may be able to help. Make sure you check out the support on offer, which could include drop-in workshops and sessions with mentors to help you brush up on your skills in readiness for some kinds of test.

When you could be tested in the recruitment process

Psychometric tests may be used at different stages of the graduate selection process:

  • After you submit your online application form. You are typically sent links to tests to take online.
  • 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

Ability tests measure either general or particular skills, capability and acumen. This category of test can include:

  • 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.

Here's some advice on what to expect from the most common types of ability test, along with tips for everyday ways you can prepare: 

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.

Here's what to expect from ability and aptitude tests:

  • They are usually conducted under timed, exam conditions. However, some are not timed. Some are designed to be difficult to complete in the allocated time, in which case you may not be expected to complete them. Check the information you're given about the tests carefully.
  • Most involve multiple-choice or true/false answers. Some of the answers to multiple choice questions may be very close to the right answer and may be designed to check that you’re paying attention and reading the question properly.
  • Some online tests use adaptive questioning, in which the difficulty of the questions may increase depending on whether you got the previous question right.
  • Some employers may use negative marking for some tests (in which you lose marks for wrong answers), so it's wise not to rush and to work as accurately as possible.
  • Some types of test can be done on paper, but increasingly employers use online tests.
  • The results compare your ability levels to a ‘normal’ expectation for a demographic group, or 'norm 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).
  • It's useful to be as clear as possible about what a particular test involves before you take it. Some employers may be willing to tell you which test provider they use, which could help you to find practice tests that will be similar to the test you are going to take.

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.

Free practice tests online

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):

Tips for psychometric tests

If you have a disability that may affect your performance, let the recruitment team know before you take the test. Giving them sufficient notice will enable them to make appropriate arrangements for you.

Don't panic! If you take a calm, methodical approach to the test, you're much more likely to perform your best.

Get a good night’s sleep beforehand.

Check your set-up. If you are taking online tests in your own time, make sure you have a reliable internet connection and are using a suitable device. Take the tests somewhere calm and quiet where you won't be disturbed or interrupted for the duration of the test.

Aim to be as clear as possible about what the test involves before you take it. If necesssary, get in touch with the recruitment team to clarify anything you don't understand.

Make sure you have everything you need to hand before you start the test. If you are allowed to use a calculator, make sure it's one you're familiar with. You may also want to have a pen and paper close by. If you are taking tests at an assessment centre, you may be given a calculator and writing tools to complete the test, but it doesn't hurt to take your own kit. Don't forget glasses or contacts if you're likely to need them.

If possible, check the number of questions and how much time is allowed. However, bear in mind that not all tests are time-limited and in some tests, you are not expected to answer all the questions.

Keep track of time. You may find it helpful to have a watch, countdown timer or clock nearby.

If you are given practice examples, make the most of them.

Be sure to follow any instructions you have been given.

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 others say about it. For example, if you take tests at an assessment centre, don't worry about what the other candidates might say about the tests. Stay focused, upbeat and ready for the rest of the day.

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