Psychometric tests are increasingly used by employers to find the right person for the job. As a job applicant you should know what to expect and how best to approach a psychometric test.
What is a psychometric test and what are the different types?
There are two distinct types of psychometric test which you are likely to face: aptitude tests and personality questionnaires. Aptitude tests measure abilities such as numerical reasoning and verbal comprehension, whereas personality questionnaires rank your character traits and look at your typical behaviour. For personality questionnaires it’s simply a case of answering questions honestly according to your personal preferences. But aptitude tests are strictly timed and can cause anxiety for candidates worried that their mental agility will not accurately be reflected in their psychometric test score.
Thankfully there are certain tips for taking an aptitude test, and here we explain the best ways of performing your best.
1. Find out who publishes the test you will sit
The company to whom you are applying for a job will use a test publishing company to supply and often administer tests on their behalf. Only very large employers develop their own tests because designing a robust and valid psychometric test takes years of specialist research. Several test publishing companies exist and the biggest is SHL, claiming around two thirds of the test market. Other publishers include: Kenexa, Talent Q, Saville Consulting, Cubiks and Criterion Partnership. As soon as you know who has published the test you are going to take you can go to that publisher’s website and find out more about the test. Sometimes the test publisher even has example questions on their website.
Note that while publishers might refer to “a test” the content of each aptitude test will almost certainly be different for each candidate. Certainly for computer-based tests, each candidate will see questions randomly pooled from a bank of questions so as to avoid the risk of someone leaking the test questions.
2. Ask for information about your test
It is typical to be given just one or two weeks’ notice for completing an online psychometric test. Whenever a company asks a candidate to sit a psychometric test it is good practice at this stage to explain to the candidate what the test is measuring, why it’s being used and who will see the scores. Some companies give out example questions with the test invitation to help candidates understand what will be asked of them. The better informed the candidate the less anxious they will be and the more accurate their test result will be. So it’s in everyone’s interest for the recruiting company to be open about the test and answers candidates’ questions.
3. Don’t guess answers
Most psychometric tests are multiple choice, so it can be tempting for candidates to just click options randomly if they are running short of time. Whilst negative scoring is rarely used, random guessing will show up in your results by way of an accuracy scale. Is an employer likely to hire someone who takes a ‘click and hope’ approach to their work?
Whilst you shouldn’t guess, there are times however when you can make best use of the multiple choice aspect of psychometric tests. Halfway through a question you might be able to rule out some of the options based on your working, so if you are short of time you could select one of the likely answers to at least give yourself a 50-50 chance of getting it right.
A word of warning about the multiple choice options given in psychometric tests: they will look similar to each another and will likely include answers based on common mistakes. So if you see your answer as an option don’t prematurely select it without doing a quick sense-check.
4. Check the units
As well as numerical ability, numerical tests are also testing your ability to interpret and work with data presented in tabular and graphical form (after all, this is a skill useful in the workplace). One of the most frequent mistakes made is to overlook the units. Graphs and tables will often give numbers in thousands, millions or some other base unit so check the axes and table headers before deciding on your final answer.
With aptitude tests, unlike personality questionnaires, practice has been shown to improve candidates’ scores. Candidates who have taken an aptitude test more than once are less anxious, more familiar with the test layout and style, and more confident when approaching psychometric tests. There are several websites which offer practice aptitude tests, so search around and try some practice tests before your real test.
6. Ask for feedback
Psychometric tests reveal a lot about you. The best way to learn from the experience and develop your performance is to speak to the test administrator after your tests and ask for feedback. Whilst they will not reveal the correct answers, you will be able to receive your percentile score and probably a break-down of your sub-scores in different types of questions. Not all recruiters give this information unprompted and some candidates assume it is confidential. In fact any recruiter using a mainstream psychometric test agrees to abide by the British Psychological Society’s testing guidelines which include giving feedback to candidates, so you should ask for it. This information might reveal what areas you need to develop, or what roles you will find too challenging.
So in conclusion, there should be nothing to worry about if you are asked to take a psychometric test. Treat is seriously like the rest of the interview and selection process. Do your research, get some practice and try to rest well the night before your test. Psychometric tests are becoming very common and the more of them you encounter the more comfortable with them you will become.