Taking Verbal and Numerical Reasoning Tests Key Tips and Guidance by Denise Taylor Chartered Psychologist

Introducing Psychometric tests

What is a psychometric test and how do they work?

Psychometric tests are a scientific way of measuring performance or behaviour. For some tests there are no right or wrong answers (such as personality questionnaires, interest inventories and those that measure motivation or drive). Other tests measure performance and are tests of ability or aptitude. These generally have strict time limits and you need to work fast but also be accurate. The tests are designed so that on average people in the relevant group would get about 50% of the answers right, and are designed so that most people won’t complete the test.

Tests are designed so that the instructions are clearly written, everyone has the same amount of time (for a timed ability test) and your scores are compared to other people so you know if you are above average, average, below average etc.

The most typical ability tests used in recruitment measure numerical ability and verbal reasoning but you could face spatial reasoning tests if you are applying for a job in engineering or as an air traffic controller and very specific tests if you are applying for a job as a computer programmer or a job where you need to learn a language.

Some companies will use ability tests as an initial sift when they get a very large number of applicants. For example, if you apply for a job as a graduate entrant on the Civil Service Fast Stream programme the psychometric testing results are used, alongside other evidence to decide who goes on to the next stage of the selection process. Other companies will use ability tests as part of an assessment centre.


Tests need to be valid and reliable and fair

Validity is concerned with the extent that a test measures what it sets out to measure, so in recruitment if a test is meant to identify those with sales potential, over time the people who score highest should be those with the best sales performance.

Reliability is the extent that a test produces reliable results. A psychometric test should have a reliability of 0.8 – 0.9 where 1.0 means 100% reliability. It means that if someone took the test on several occasions the results would be similar (psychologists use statistics to take account of the effect of practice).

A test can be reliable without being valid. If every time I got on the scales I weighed 120 pounds that is a reliable measure, but if I know I actually weigh 150 pounds it is not a valid result.

The concept of fairness means that a test should not discriminate unfairly between people, due to reasons of age, sex, race etc.


Test interpretation

When you take a psychometric test your results are compared against other people who do a job similar to the role you are applying for. This is known as a ‘norm group’ which is a group of people who have previously taken the test. So for one particular test the norm groups could include graduates; bank managers or engineers. The assessment centre designer would have made sure that they not only choose the most appropriate test, but there is also a relevant norm group, we can’t get you to take a test if there is no relevant comparison group.

Once your score is compared to a relevant group the score becomes much more meaningful. For example if on a particular test you have scored 18 out of 30, the raw score alone is not that helpful. However once your score is compared to a relevant norm group it is much more helpful. For example compared to the UK general population, your score could be at the 75th percentile (your score is in the top 25 percent) or compared to top executives you are in the bottom 25th percentile). It’s far more useful to know how your score compares to others than to have a raw score.

Can I fail a test?

Tests are not thought of as pass/fail as scores are usually presented as percentiles. So a score at the 60th percentile does not mean a score of 60%, it means you scored better than 60% of a comparable group.

If the psychometric testing is a first stage of a selection process, then there will be a cut-off point and if you fall below you will not go through to the next stage.


Invite to take the tests

You will receive a letter or email explaining that you need to take psychometric tests as part of your application for a job. This letter should include details on the particular tests you will take, for example tests of numerical and verbal reasoning, why you are being asked to take them, how they will be administered and when – online from home or at a testing session which could be as part of an assessment centre.

TIP: The invite should include some practice tests. Read this information carefully so you fully understand what you need to do. When you complete the practice questions don’t just check you got the right answer but be clear why it was the right answer, as this will be very useful for when you do the test for real.

Many companies will tell you the actual name of the test, and this should be included in the practice materials. You can then do a search on the Internet to find out more details

including perhaps further practice material. Occasionally a company will not send you further details. If not ask for it, it is good practice for a company to provide details on the tests you will take.

TIP: If you are told that you will be undertaking psychometric testing make sure to find out what sort of test it is going to be.

If you are to take the test at home you will need to ensure that you have access to a computer with internet access where you can work in peace, not at a library or your place of work. If you are likely to have any problems, let the company know so that alternative arrangements can be made.

Candidates with disabilities

The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably than a non-disabled person. If you have a disability or feel that you might need special arrangements, let the company know as soon as possible so that specific arrangements can be made. For a candidate with dyslexia this may mean that the instructions are read out to you rather than you reading them to yourself. A candidate with a visual impairment could get large print materials, or more major adjustments might need to be made. The company will consult with a Chartered Occupational Psychologist for specific advice.

Test administration

Tests are generally provided under controlled or supervised administration. Controlled administration is the method used for online testing. The software will have been designed so that it covers all the questions and answers that would be asked in a supervised session. Supervised administration is the ‘traditional’ method where people take the test under the supervision of a test administrator.

For a paper and pencil test the instructions will be read out to you, this is to ensure that every group gets told what to do in exactly the same way. For online testing the instructions will be read on the screen, sometimes there are voice instructions as well. You will be reminded of the purpose of the test, and how long it will take. You almost always get some example questions to work through first of all, and you will be told the answers, but make sure you understand how the answers were arrived at.

TIP: If you attend for a supervised testing session make sure you go to the loo if needed in advance as you can’t leave the room whilst the test is underway. If taking a test at home, you still need to remain at your computer as the test comes with an inbuilt clock.

 Online testing

You will be sent details by email including your user id and password alongside the address of the relevant web site. When you log on you will be taken through a series of instructions to make sure that you are clear on what needs to be done.

Read the instructions carefully; sometimes you need to disable firewalls and anti-virus software to ensure the programme runs correctly, E.g.

‘Make sure all other applications and programs are closed. This does include such applications as the Weather Bug, Lotus Notes, animated screensavers, and all e-mail programs. It also includes any application in the background that may be refreshing.’

Make sure that you will not be disturbed, keep family members and pets out of the room, switch your mobile off and unplug the house phone.

Preparation for a testing session

I’ve taken many ability tests in my career history, every single time I went for a promotion when working for The Post Office I’d sit another test. What was helpful was to do some warm up exercises, I used a really old copy of Hans Eysenck’s ‘Test your own IQ’, it got me into the right frame of mind for test taking even if I was practicing intelligence tests rather than verbal and numerical reasoning tests. Just as a marathon runner goes into training, so a candidate should practice taking tests under timed conditions. Reading this section gives you a good overview, but for the best preparation you should look to take as many tests as you can. I’ve included links to practice tests. It doesn’t matter if the tests differ, it is getting you into the right mind set to take timed tests that is important.

The best thing to do in final preparation for a psychometric test is to get a good nights’ sleep the night before and try to relax. Ideally you will be in top form before you do a test and ideally if you are ill or something has happened (bereavement, accident) you may be able to reschedule, but this isn’t always possible. In this circumstance make sure to tell the test administrator about your personal circumstances.

Now for the obvious:

  • If you wear glasses, makes sure you wear them when you take the test and take them with you to the venue.
  • Make sure you know where you are going and get there in plenty of time.
  • Wear a watch to help keep track of time – write the start time down on a piece of paper and position your watch so you can easily see the clock face.
  • Take along a calculator just in case you can use one. At the venue
  • Accept you could be nervous and treat the nerves as the adrenaline that will help you to perform well.
  • Keep calm and do some deep breathing.
  •  Be comfortable, take off your jacket and slip off your shoes if that helps, but make sure you can put them back on quickly.
  • Listen carefully to the instructions and ask questions if anything isn’t clear.
  • You will get a chance to do some example questions at the beginning, if you don’t understand anything make sure you ask. You will be told the correct answer for these; if you don’t understand how the answer was arrived at, again do ask.
  •  As the test starts read each question carefully, they may not be what you think they are.
  • If you don’t know an answer you can provide your best choice but don’t wild guess. Sometimes you will be penalised for an incorrect answer, but not always. It’s best to ask if this is the case.
  • Work at a brisk pace but don’t race or you could make avoidable mistakes.
  • If there is paper available you can use it to make calculations.
  • Follow the instructions, if you happen to get a paper and pencil test do use X and not a tick if that’s what is required, or completely shade in an O and not tick if that is what is asked for.
  • With a paper and pencil test, if you make corrections, make it clear which is the correct one.
  • With some questions when you don’t know the answer you might find it easier to eliminate some and see what is left.
  • Tests often get more difficult as they progress so don’t allocate the same amount of time to each question.
  • Look away from the test occasionally, it can help your concentration.
  • Don’t be worried if other people are working faster than you, it doesn’t mean they are getting the answers right!
  • Don’t expect to complete the tests. They are designed so that the average person doesn’t finish.
  • Don’t give up if you think you are performing poorly, we’re often not good judges of our own performance.
  • If you have some free time at the end of the test, go back and review your answers.

General tips on how to improve

Over the longer term, your performance may improve by doing the following

  • Reading newspapers, reports and business journals may improve your verbal skills for verbal tests.
  • Solving crosswords may help verbal problem solving.
  • Reading financial reports in newspapers, studying tables of data, doing number calculations and puzzles without a calculator may help numerical skills.
  • Checking results in the paper could improve checking skills.
  • Looking at objects in various ways and angles could develop spatial skills.
  • Looking at flow charts and diagrams should improve diagramming skills.
  • If you are applying for a job which has its own technical terminology, be familiar with the different terms.
  • Playing chess or Tantrix will help develop diagrammatic reasoning skills.

Practice Tests

You can undertake practice tests from various web sites.

I particularly like the one from Kent University: www.kent.ac.uk/careers/psychotests.htm who provide practice aptitude tests against a number of areas: numerical reasoning, logical reasoning, spatial ability, verbal reasoning and much more.

See also

www.criterionpartnership.co.uk/test_samples for verbal and numerical sample tests

www.shldirect.com/ for further details and practice tests.


www.savilleconsulting.com/products/aptitude_preparationguides.aspx Saville consulting provide a series of guides to help you prepare.

Practice maths techniques such as subtraction, multiplication, division, rations and percentages via www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise

Practice tests – both free and paid for www.assessmentday.co.uk

Special gift for all readers from Team Focus

You can sample a range of full length tests and questionnaires for free and receive a personalised report. This includes a verbal reasoning test, the Emotional Intelligence questionnaire, Resilience scale and Values-based Indicator of Motivation.

Please go to: www.profilingforsuccess.com Click on the ‘more’ button under the ‘Taking an Assessment’ box and follow the on-line instructions. You will first be prompted to enter the following codes:

Client code: pfs Access code: develop Password: pfsdevelop

Continue through the screens, entering biographical data when prompted and the email address to which the Feedback report is to be sent. This is normally sent within minutes of completing the tests. After each test is completed, you will be given the opportunity to complete another test.

© 2015 Denise Taylor for Interview Advantage – www.interviewadvantage.co.uk