Jane Drew, associate careers consultant

If you’re in the process of searching for an internship, graduate role or your next external career move, chances are you’ll encounter a psychometric test, or series of tests, as part of the recruitment process. In this blog our associate careers consultant, Jane Drew, briefly explains the reasons why employers use testing, explores a few of the more frequently used tests you may come across and how and why you should prepare for them.

Why do employers use tests?

You won’t need me to tell you that the recruitment market is extremely competitive, and has not been helped by the ongoing and prolonged pandemic. High numbers of applicants for every role have been well documented in the press with one paralegal role last August attracting 4,228 applications. The jobs site Indeed reported a 56% drop in vacancies compared to the previous year. One recent study suggests there are on average 71 applicants for every available place on a formal graduate scheme.

For employers, psychometric or aptitude tests are therefore a useful filtering mechanism. Using psychometrics as part of the recruitment process means hiring organisations can use a standardised, fair and objective way of comparing candidates, regardless of academic achievements. As a candidate, you may be tested at the initial application stage, alongside an interview or later, for example, at a second interview or an assessment centre. Occasionally, organisations will re-test candidates to confirm the results from earlier online tests, as a control and to check there’s been no cheating!

What are psychometric tests?

The first psychometric tests for workplaces were introduced in the UK way back in the 1970s. Since then, they’ve grown in popularity with 75% of the UK Times 100 Companies now using them. There are numerous tests on the market designed to evaluate your performance, covering your skills, knowledge, abilities, personality traits, attitudes and cultural fit. The majority of psychometric testing is completed online and most tests are timed.

There’s usually a multiple choice format and you’ll be required to work quickly and accurately through the questions. You should calculate roughly how long you have for each question. If you’re not sure of an answer then move on and come back to it. If there is no negative scoring and you’re running out of time quickly ‘best guess’ any remaining unanswered questions!

Without going into too much detail, briefly your score will be calculated and then compared to a ‘norm’ group, usually provided by the test developer, or compared to past candidates who have applied for the role. You must achieve a certain score to pass.

These are some of the more commonly used tests you’re likely to encounter:

Numerical reasoning will test your use of charts, graphs, data or statistics and how quickly and accurately you can deal with numbers. They may test your knowledge of trends, ratios and percentages. Brush up on you GCSE (or equivalent) level maths.

Verbal reasoning will test your vocabulary, comprehension and ability to identify the relationships between words. You’ll typically be presented with a passage of text and then a series of short statements, relating to that text. You must say whether the statement is true, false, or you cannot say from the information given. Base your answers purely on the information provided, not your wider knowledge of the subject matter, and don’t overthink it!

Abstract/diagrammatic reasoning tests your ability to learn new things quickly; your ability to identify a set of rules and apply them to a new situation to see how well you spot the pattern or follow information. There may be a series of pictures, each slightly different, and you must choose another picture from a range of options to complete the series.

For situational judgement tests you’ll be given a hypothetical work-related scenario. These are often closely linked to real life situations you may find yourself in at the hiring organisation to help you understand what might be expected of you. You must choose a preferred course of action from a range of options. Judiciously, consider the culture of the company and read the questions carefully to ensure you fully understand the scenario.

Personality tests assess your typical behaviours and preferred ways of managing your work schedule / performing tasks. They look at how likely you will fit into the role and firm culture. You’ll usually be presented with a series of statements describing various ways of feeling or acting and asked to say how much you agree on a numerical scale. There are no right and wrong answers and there is usually no time limit. With practice you’ll be more familiar with the format and don’t try and record what you think the employer wants to see. It’s about your natural responses and consistency.

Can you prepare for tests?

Absolutely! The good news is you really can improve your performance. Research has shown that, although we don’t know to what level, practicing can increase candidate success by between 40% and 80%.

Practice should improve your speed and accuracy. In addition, studies have shown, amongst other things, reduced anxiety and enhanced test taking strategy; the tests become more familiar, you know how they work and what to expect and roughly how long you can spend on each answer. There are numerous FREE online resources to help you prepare. Below are a few but this is by no means an exhaustive list:





TalentLens (UK), Pearson