Facing those damn numerical tests – some of the many names they have!) are a fact of life.

Love them or hate them, they‟re not going away. The only thing that you can control is what you can do. This little book is all about that – what “you can do” do help yourself and hopefully do better than what you‟ve done before. Let‟s put it this way – you kick ass, or get yours kicked, so what‟s it


gonna be?



2 3 4 5

Introduction .................................................... 1 Types of tests.................................................. 1 Playing the test game.................................. 2 Basic techniques ............................................ 3 5.1 Is there a magic trick? ........................ 3

There are many types of tests you will encounter as you look for a job, and GMAT tends to be the most popular test if you are planning to go to B-school. Let‟s look at the more popular numerical tests 1. Numerical reasoning / data interpretation tests – questions that require you to interpret numbers, understand graphs and charts, and work out solutions to specific questions 2. Problem solving – requires you to know more than basic mathematical knowledge, for e.g. trigonometry, algebra, high school level mathematics. The quantitative section in GMAT is a typical version. 3. Picture interpretation/logical sequence – look at a sequence of pictures and find the next one/pair in the sequence This book is more about the numerical reasoning and data interpretation tests though the techniques and traps outlined work equally well for other numerical tests as well


Three traps that wait for you .................... 4 6.1 6.2 6.3 I Love you and i love you not .......... 4 Notorious big ........................................ 4 Gotcha! .................................................... 5


Ten mistakes test takers make ................. 5

8 Closing arguments ...... Error! Bookmark not defined.



Assessment tests (numerical reasoning, numeracy, psychometric, data interpretation 1

Introduction | http://www.numericalguru.com

Facing those damn numerical tests



Now, let‟s get deeper on each of those skills and quickly check what we need to be good at each of these a) Demonstrating reading comprehension – comes over time and with practice. It‟s not just about reading something fast, but knowing what to absorb and what to ignore as you read b) Showing Sharp mathematical skills – unless you hate math and ignored it throughout your education, this is not actually too hard. A few solid weeks (or months) of practice and knowledge of shortcuts and tricks, and you can get pretty quick with basic mathematical operations. c) Ability to make a decision – this is one of the most common pitfalls of test takers – inability to make a call and move on. You need to make a decision quickly as you see or read a question – is it something you can solve in the time you have, or do you guess/skip and move on? d) Knowing the right approach to problem solving – you have little time, but you need to figure out quickly what approach you want to take to get to the solution. In consulting speak, it‟s also called “not boiling the ocean” e) Watching out for traps – not all questions are innocent and

Think of the test whispering in your ear – “let‟s play a game” (sort of like Jigsaw in SAW, and all you want is to get out of the test un-mutilated) and you go ahead and play the game well and win, or you lose your nerve and lose. Most numerical tests test you on two things – 1. Speed 2. Accuracy Let‟s delve deeper, how do you do well on speed? a) Strong reading comprehension – ability to read and comprehend the question quickly b) Sharp mathematical skills – can do the mathematical operations quickly c) Ability to make a decision – do you skip the question or do you plough ahead to solve it? Can you make that call quickly? And then there is accuracy a) Knowing the right approach to problem solving b) Watching out for traps c) Avoiding silly mistakes So, in effect, you need a combination of about 5 skills. In fiercely competitive tests you better be good on all of those, or a single point loss might mean a great job or back to the road hunting for one.


Playing the test game | http://www.numericalguru.com

Facing those damn numerical tests straight forward. They‟re out to get you! Watch out! Avoiding silly mistakes – I solved the answer c and marked b. What? That was 102? I thought it was 120! „nuff said. 1. Straight solving – you read the question, you solve it linearly until you hit the solution, using all the steps like a good schoolboy/girl 2. Elimination – you eliminate all answers that don‟t make sense or quickly show themselves to be unlikely candidates 3. Backsolving – plug your answers to the equation proposed by the question and see which one satisfies the equation.


Think of it this way: Let‟s say you are staring at a rather hard question - you get it right and you probably are a step ahead of your competitors. But this is what you need – you first have to read the question quite quickly, grasping the essentials. Then you need to work out the right approach to solve the problem once you decide that you want to solve the problem – you don‟t have all day. Once you figure that out, you need to be able to solve it quickly with some nimble calculations, all the while making sure you aren‟t falling into a trap or you‟re doing something silly (like adding instead of multiplying and so on). Once you‟ve solved it, you need to make sure you marked the right choice. There, you‟re done. The tests test your mettle in a pressure situation. If you do all questions but get many wrong – you lose. If you do few and get them all right – you lose again. Yes, life‟s unfair sometimes. Now with that out of the way, how about we think about what can be done to do better in these numerical and quantitative aptitude tests? What techniques might we use?

Hell, no! Don‟t look for tricks to solve every question – that‟s why it takes practice to know what approach to take. Most data interpretation tests do tend to lend themselves to straight solving and require an eye for detail and quick calculations, but many times in a combination with elimination. What that means is there‟s not a lot you can do except calculate quickly and accurately, after eliminating improbable answers. If you‟re lucky, a visual inspection of the answers and a couple of quick rough reasoning techniques can get you there too. If you see wide variations in your answers, there is a good chance that elimination will get you close to the answer. The advantage of elimination is reduces your choice list and helps you catch if you‟re going off track in your solutions. But the pre-requisite to do eliminations is a) You should have glanced at the answers once and registered the patterns or variations



You have a question, and you need to get to the answer. There are three basic ways of doing this 3

Basic techniques | http://www.numericalguru.com

Facing those damn numerical tests b) You should be pretty good with approximations and popular ratios – sort of like “192…ok, that‟s 200, 15%? That would be something like 1/7 etc.” c) You should know how to pick off outliers – so, for e.g., if a company earns 220K in the first year and grows 12.7% each year for the next 4 years, how much did it earn in total? Would you sit and calculate it? No. The first thing you could do is just a rough calculation, 220K…take it as 200, 5 years means at a minimum it should have made 1000K. That means any answer less than that must be eliminated. Next, what‟s the upper limit? 12.7% -- take that as 15% (after all you took 220 as 200), 15% of 200 is 30 – so at most in 5 years you would be around 200x5 + 100x5 = 1250 (I took 100 because growth is compounded, and compounding piles on quickly!), so that gets us to an upper limit of 1750 - and your answer has to fall between 1000 and 1750. If the choices have wide variances, you may end up with just 1 choice and that‟s the answer. Sometimes you will need an additional level of refinement. (The answer is 1417) Be prepared. While most data interpretation and numerical reasoning questions can be reasonably straight forward, there will be some that try to throw you away. They‟re also the ones that if you do well, you have an advantage.

Don‟t expect tests to increase linearly in difficulty. Don‟t expect a pattern. Don‟t assume the next question will be something you hope to get. Unless the test body says there‟s a definite pattern – make no assumptions of difficulty pattern. You could start with an easy one, and be trapped with a difficult one right after that, and then a simple one again, and then a tricky one – keep your mind (and eyes) open. Some tests have a general pattern. GMAT, the most popular test in the world for business school admissions, is an adaptive test. That means the test difficulty automatically adjusts itself based on your answers. If you answer an easy question wrong, the next one is easier (or same), if not – it gets harder. The quicker you move up the harder scale, the higher your score will be.




It would be great if you got questions that said “what‟s 3+2?” but that‟s not how the bad world awaits you. Expect to be misled. 4

Big question. Your head hurts as you read through it. The Notorious Bigs will either bury you in useless detail, or will in the end ask you something fairly simple. If you see a huge question – take a quick call, do you have the time to read it all? Glance quickly

Three traps that wait for you | http://www.numericalguru.com

Facing those damn numerical tests to the end – see what they‟re actually asking for, then work back at the question ignoring everything irrelevant. The question has a quote from a CEO about how he sucks eggs in the morning? Irrelevant – move forward and fast. Big question doesn‟t mean hard question. 1. Not preparing for the format of the test - not a surprise. Going into a test or a case interview without really knowing the format of the assessment is a basic, yet very widely committed mistake! If you just took the time out to understand the format and style of the test or an interview, prepared for it even for a few days, you've probably already got a foot ahead of more than 1/2 your competitors. 2. Advance fear of the test - for many people, the very fact that there is a "mathematics" test is enough to undermine their confidence even before the test. Shakiness with numbers, and just fear of calculations can take chunks of performance away from you. If you're prepared, this will get you ahead of another bunch of competitors. 3. Worrying about the past - many people worry about a question they could not solve, when they move on to the next question. They worry about their previous test where they may not have done well. This distracts from a singular focus of the current test, current question. In all numerical tests, focus on the TEST YOU'RE DOING NOW, and the QUESTION YOU'RE DOING NOW. Everything else is inconsequential and damaging. 4. Obsession with test score - There are two critical elements in a test. Absolute score (total correct / total possible), and Accuracy (total correct/ number attempted). Some worry about "finishing every question in time" and get many wrong, or guess them randomly. This

Give you numbers in weeks and ask for the result in a year. Show currencies in $ and ask for an answer in £. Throw you off with irrelevant detail and twist the question in the end. Show a cumulative graph instead of linear. Some questions will attempt to deceive you if you don‟t watch out. The nice thing about it is if you‟re the careful kind, you are a step ahead of the rest.



We‟ve covered this in our blog – but it‟s still worth reproducing. Top 10 mistakes of numerical reasoning test takers during tests or assessment days Many students sweat at the prospect of writing another numerical reasoning test (or a purely data interpretation test) or face a quantitative - numbers laden case interview as part of job interviews, assessment days or school admissions, Let's look at the top 10 mistakes committed by most numerical reasoning and quantitative aptitude test preparers (let's keep the mathematically gifted out of this equation)


Ten mistakes test takers make | http://www.numericalguru.com

Facing those damn numerical tests reduces accuracy. Some others focus so much on accuracy that they miss out many questions and have a low score. Both will weaken your chances! The best strategists know how to do as much as possible, efficiently, and accurately. There will be hard tests where very gifted few can actually finish all questions in the allotted time - the smart test takers know how to play the game. They know when to skip a question and when to guess. 5. Obsession with accuracy - this is one of the most common reasons for poor test performance. Many numerical reasoning or data interpretation tests have questions that simply cannot be solved in the given time. A lot of test takers just don't realize that they spent way too much time on some of them. If a test has 20 questions and 25 minutes, and you spend 3 minutes on a question you're digging your own grave. It's critical to learn the skill of "when do I skip a question?" 6. Using poor question solving strategy there are usually three ways of solving quantitative questions (a) compute the answer (b) eliminate answers that don't make sense. (c) Use the answers and see which answer fits the question (backsolving) Smart test takers use all of the techniques when taking a test. Some questions may seem long, but all it needs is quick elimination of nonsensical choices. Some seem really hard to create an equation for, but all it needs it to plug the answer into the question. You should be comfortable with each strategy and not rely on any one. Keep this in mind: Solving a 6 question in a time-bound numerical test to derive the answer is neither the only, nor the best way to get an answer! 7. Forgetting the calculator! - Oh yeah. Happens. All the time. Many companies (say SHL) administer tests on behalf of recruiters. More often than not, you are allowed to use calculators to do these tests, so don't forget to use one when needed! You're usually never allowed to use calculators in case interviews though. The complexity of the questions in tests that allow use of calculators will often be higher than those without. 8. Not reading the entire question - Many test takers will jump to solving the first part of the question before even reading the entire question. Read the entire question first! Many a time there will be a question where part of the data is completely irrelevant to the solution. It's there just to waste your time. Only a piece of the data in the question is relevant, and you won't know that if you don't read the question in its entirety. (Yes, our tests have some of these types of questions) 9. Marking the wrong answer - solving for (b) and marking (c). Yes, many do that, and in fiercely competitive tests a single wrong question can mean not progressing to the next round. Take just 2 seconds (literally) to cross-check that you marked the choice you really intended to. 10. Insufficient preparation - the biggest mistake of them all. Not taking the time and effort to do many practice tests, analyze

Ten mistakes test takers make | http://www.numericalguru.com

Facing those damn numerical tests weakness, and improve upon them. Assuming that just doing a 'bunch of tests' will improve numerical skills. If you're weak at these tests, the only way to get better is to practice, learn techniques to do better, analyze your weaknesses and strengths and do more tests by addressing them. Now that you know it, pay attention to them and good luck with your preparation! Remember - systematic preparation, practice and improvisation are key to success.



Success comes with preparation, practice, analysis and then confidence. Just as its stupid to be confident without preparation (unless you are mathematically gifted), it is equally damaging if you are prepared but not confident. Top performance requires skill and nerve, not one or the other. There‟s more content you can find when you start at http://www.numericalguru.com Our tests will test you on the many techniques mentioned in this book. We also have a special test just to help you flex those tips muscles. If you want to contribute an original, interesting thought, experience or strategy, just e-mail the article to partner@numericalguru.com and we‟ll tell you if we plan to publish it!


RESOURCES | http://www.numericalguru.com