Psychometric tests are assessment techniques designed to measure a range of human characteristics including intellectual ability/aptitude, personality, motivation, interests and values. Of these, only tests of ability, and to a lesser extent, personality, are likely to feature in graduate selection.
Psychometric tests are structured, written or computer-based exercises. They should have been carefully designed to measure whether you have the specific abilities or personal qualities in relation to the job specification. Your score (or profile) is compared with the scores of previous, successful applicants and/or successful employees, to predict your potential for performing effectively in the job.
Psychometric tests may be used as an initial filter, to determine whether you will proceed to the next stage of selection (usually an interview). In this case, there is a fixed cut-off score (pass/fail).
Alternatively, psychometric tests may be used at the final stage of selection, as part of an assessment centre. In this case, the tests may not carry any more weight than the other elements of the selection procedure.
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These tests measure your logical reasoning ability. There are a number of different reasoning abilities, but the ones most commonly assessed in graduate selection are:
- Verbal reasoning
- Numerical reasoning
- Diagrammatic reasoning
Ability tests are strictly timed and taken under examination conditions. They are usually multiple-choice, and there is always a right answer. These tests are usually designed to be too long for most people to complete in the time allocated: don't worry if you don't answer all questions, it is the number of correct answers which counts.
The tests are meant to be challenging, but will not depend on you having prior knowledge of the job. Before each test begins, you will have the opportunity to work through some examples which will not be marked, but will help you understand the nature of the test questions.
These are self-report questionnaires which explore the way you tend to react to, or deal with, different situations.
Unlike ability tests, there are no right or wrong answers, and questionnaires are not strictly timed. A personality profile is usually compiled from your answers, but there is no one right profile: selectors will be looking for a good fit for the particular job and organisational culture.
The best way to tackle these questionnaires is to answer them as straightforwardly as you can: record your immediate response and don't agonise at length over your choice of answer. Trying to guess what a specific employer is looking for may well be counter-productive.
After all, you do not want to be recruited into a job which doesn't suit you.
How to prepare
Improve your verbal reasoning skills by regularly playing word games such as scrabble, crosswords, anagrams etc. Or read complex literature eg instruction manuals, textbooks, quality newspapers.
Brush up on your basic maths: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and percentages are commonly required. Most jobs do not require mathematical genius, but the selectors will be looking for numerical reasoning ability, ie, the ability to extract information from charts, tables and graphs. This ability is not reliant on having studied a numerate degree.
Practice makes perfect. Well, at the very least it helps! Make use of the 'My Potential' online Tests. Read books, buy practice test leaflets and access websites which offer sample tests, see useful resources and links for more details.
Discuss tactics with a careers consultant.
If English is not your first language, or you are dyslexic, or you have some disability which necessitates special provision, let the selectors know well in advance so that appropriate adjustments or adaptations can be made to suit your needs and ensure equality of opportunity.
On the day
Get a good night's sleep the evening before, leave yourself plenty of time to travel to the test location, and try to eat something before you go.
Take a calculator in case you are allowed to use them. If you usually wear glasses and/or a hearing aid take them with you.
At the start of the test
Pay careful attention to instructions, and ask for clarification if you don't understand them.