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© Oxford University Careers Service, October 2010,

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Psychometric tests are now a common part of the assessment of job applicants. The term covers
both ability or aptitude tests and personality questionnaires. The first part of this sheet gives an
overview of the different types of tests you may come across, while the second part lists some of
the extensive resources available for test practice. For information about Case Studies, please see
the Information Leaflet on Case Studies.
They are exercises that are designed to assess your reasoning abilities or how you respond to
different situations. The tests that employers use should have been carefully researched and
trialled, to ensure that they provide valid assessments of the people who are likely to take them.
Employers use a variety of methods to select the right people. The greater the variety of situations
in which a selector can see you perform, and the
greater the number of skills that are being tested, the
more accurate and objective the assessment should be.
Tests are simply one way of testing the competencies
relevant to a specific job, and should ideally be designed
with that type of work in mind.

From an employer's point of view, tests are also a
reasonably cost-efficient way of assessing a large
number of applicants; this probably explains why many
organisations use them to pre-select candidates for
(comparatively expensive) interviews.
Employers use psychometric tests at different stages during the recruitment process. Some (the
Fast Stream Civil Service, for example) use tests to decide whom they should invite to interview;
others use them at a later stage, as part of a series of selection exercises. You are quite likely to
come across psychometric tests in a recruitment context, but they can also be used as a tool to
help you to understand where your strengths lie and what career areas might be most appropriate
and of most interest to you.

These test your logical reasoning or thinking performance, usually in verbal, numerical or abstract
reasoning; they are not tests of general knowledge or intelligence.

Tests will usually consist of a timed series of multiple-choice questions, and are usually computer-
based. It does not matter if you do not finish the test (although you should complete as many
questions as possible); it is the number of correct answers which counts. Your score is then
compared with the results of a ‘norm group’ which has taken the tests in the past. Selectors are


© Oxford University Careers Service, October 2010, 2
then able to assess your reasoning skills in relation to others, and to make judgements about your
ability to cope with the tasks involved in a given job.

The significance of the ‘pass’ point will vary, depending on where the tests are used in the selection
process. Organisations which use these tests to select candidates for first interview are likely to
make their decision based solely on your test score (ie as a pass/fail gate). Organisations which use
the tests a little later in the selection process are more likely to use your results as just one of the
criteria for overall selection. A less-than-ideal performance on one of the tests, for example, may
be compensated for by a good performance in other selection exercises – particularly those
measuring the same competency/ability.
Personality questionnaires explore the way you tend to react to, or deal with, different situations.
They are ‘self-report’ questionnaires (meaning that a profile is drawn up from your responses to a
number of questions or statements), and focus on a variety of personality factors, such as how you
relate to other people, your ability to deal with your own and others' emotions, your motivations
and determination and your general outlook.

Unlike aptitude tests there are no right or wrong answers, and questionnaires are usually completed
in your own time. From your responses the selector gains information about your style of behaviour
- how and why you do things in your own way; occasionally it might form the basis for discussion at
a subsequent interview. The selectors will not be looking for a rigid, ‘typical’ personality profile,
although certain characteristics may be more or less appropriate for particular jobs or organisations.

Questionnaires exploring your interests or values are much less commonly used in selection. These
are designed to clarify what fields of work interest you, or what factors make work worthwhile for
you. You are more likely to come across them in a careers guidance setting or in an appraisal/
development context once in work. We, for example, offer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
as a guidance tool. See our Information Leaflet about the MBTI.

The best way to approach all of these questionnaires is just to answer them as straightforwardly
and honestly as you can. Guessing what the employer is looking for is difficult, and could well be
counter-productive – most tests are designed to check the consistency of your answers – and you
may not spot all of the underlying questions. Do consider also whether you would want to be given
a job which really does not suit you.
There are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself. Playing with word games,
mathematical teasers and diagrammatic puzzles may help to get you into a logical and analytical
frame of mind, and the following ideas may be of help to develop particular abilities:

 Numerical reasoning skills - practise basic mental arithmetic with and without a
calculator. Addition, subtraction, division, multiplication and calculations of percentages and
ratios are commonly required, and the ability to extract information from charts and graphs
can be as important as the actual calculations in these tests. Remember that, unless a job
requires a very high level of numeracy, numerical tests are not likely to be pitched higher
than GCSE-level maths. Reading financial reports and studying data in charts (eg in the
quality or financial press) could be useful, but see also the list of practice resources below.

 Verbal reasoning skills - these are more difficult to brush up quickly than mathematical
techniques. Reading manuals, technical reports or academic and business journals may help.
Practise extracting and summarising the main points from passages of information.

© Oxford University Careers Service, October 2010, 3
The best thing that you can do is to sit a practice aptitude test. You can take practice tests online.
The Careers Service has arranged free online access to a series of complete aptitude tests typical of
those used by graduate recruiters. See Practice resources below for details.
Practice can help you to feel more confident about sitting these tests, but remember that the tests
are intended to assess your natural aptitude. Be realistic about the return on spending a lot of time
preparing for tests - especially if you are in your final year; your degree result will be more
significant in your future career than an aptitude test result.
Try to get a good night's sleep the evening before the test. Arrive in good time at the test location,
and switch off your mobile phone. Avoid alcohol, and inform the test administrator if you are on
medication which makes you feel drowsy. If you have a disability and you require special provision,
discuss this with the employer in advance of the test session. Ensure that you know exactly what
you are required to do - do not be afraid to ask questions. Follow the instructions you are given
exactly. Read through the questions and answer choices very carefully. Eliminate as many wrong
answers as possible. For example, with numerical tests a quick estimate may help you to discard
several of the options without working out every alternative. Work as quickly and accurately as you
can. Both speed and accuracy are important - don't spend too long on any one question, and keep
an eye on the clock. Do not waste time on difficult questions. If you are stuck on a question, leave it
and move on. Whether it is advisable to guess answers will depend on how the test is being marked.
Some tests simply award marks for correct answers, whilst others also penalise wrong ones. If you
are not told the marking policy during the introduction to the test, you can always try asking, to
help determine your strategy. The best approach is probably to go for your best choice but to avoid
wild guessing. Don't worry if you do not finish all the questions in the time, but if you do, go over
your answers again to check them.
If you have not done well on a test, remember that there can be a number of reasons for poor
performance. These could include feeling tired or under the weather, being unable to concentrate
due to personal problems, misunderstanding what you had to do, answering questions too slowly or
panicking. Poor test results on the day do not necessarily mean that you are lacking in ability, and
you may like to discuss your test technique with a Careers Adviser, or to sit a practice test to get
feedback on what might be going wrong.

While everyone has certain innate abilities, it is possible (given time) to further develop particular
abilities using some of the practice resources suggested on this sheet. It is, however, a fact that
some people will not reach the required standard. This does not reflect on your intelligence - it may
mean only that you are not primarily a logical person. You may have a much more intuitive approach
to solving problems, which could be equally valuable.
Psychometric tests are an important tool for selecting people with special needs (such as those
with a disability), as they are less open to the biases emanating from other systems, such as
interviews. Everyone who takes a psychometric test is given the same questions, and takes them
under the same conditions. By discussing beforehand what your needs might be, you will ensure
that reasonable adjustments can be made to ensure a level playing-field. These might include
setting a lower pass mark, providing a personal reader/writer or signer, allowing extra time to do
the test or providing specialised equipment (e.g. loop systems/Braille keyboards).

© Oxford University Careers Service, October 2010, 4
If English is not your first language, you may be anxious about the effect this might have on your
performance in psychometric tests, in particular in verbal reasoning tests. While recruiters may take
your concerns about your level of English into account, different companies will be more or less
flexible about this. Test providers sometimes give employers an idea of the extent to which
language ability may affect scores. Remember though that good English language ability will be
important to them for working in the UK, and so compensation for lack of ability in this area is likely
to be minimal.
The Careers Service offers free online tests typical of those used by graduate recruiters. You can
take up to three tests and receive detailed feedback on your performance by email. The tests
available are:

 Verbal reasoning
 Numerical reasoning
 Abstract reasoning

These are timed tests, each lasting 20 minutes. You will need to choose a time to do them when
you will not be distracted. Access them via the Careers Service website. Log in to CareerConnect,
the password-protected area of the website (via and look in
Electronic Resources.
 Leaflets to buy at the Careers Service:
Aptitude tests from SHL, a major test publisher
GAP 3 Practice Leaflet 60p
Advanced Management Tests Sheet 60p
Information Technology Tests Sheet 60p
 - provides a range of aptitude tests and personality and career
development assessment examples (go to: Jobs & Work – Applications & Interviews – Test
 - examples of verbal, numerical and diagrammatic tests plus practice
tests and feedback from one of the largest UK test publishers.
 - take five-minute verbal and numerical reasoning tests
(answers given, no feedback). Click on Cubiks online > Ability tests to access them.
 - contains advice and sample abstract, verbal, numerical, perceptual,
shape and mechanical test questions.
 - information from the British Psychological Society on tests and
test usage.

The Careers Service has almost 20 books on psychometric tests, including:
 How to pass … series (published by Kogan Page) covering tips, preparation and example
tests on all the main test types.
 Doctor Job’s Top Tips: Psychometric Tests (Oxford Psychologists Press, GTI) provides a
useful and concise introduction to use of tests in selection.
 Practice Psychometric Tests (Andrea Shavick, How to Books) contains 52 genuine SHL
 How to succeed in Psychometric Tests (David Cohen, Sheldon Press).

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 Refresher in Basic Mathematics (R N Rowe, DP Publications).
 Improve Your Numeracy and A Numeracy Refresher (University of Bristol and University of
Birmingham) – also online at
 - offers quick guides, practice and revision materials on many
branches of maths.
 Watson Glaser Critical Reasoning Appraisal - practice booklet available at the Careers
Service. Designed to find out how well people can reason analytically and logically; used to
test staff who will be involved in complex decision-making. Similar to GMAT.
 Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) -
 separate Information Leaflet available.
 From time to time we also run interactive, two- to three-hour group sessions on applying
the MBTI. See the What’s On section of our website for further information by logging in to
the password-protected area of the site.
 - useful introduction to personality
questionnaires with links to several examples.
 The Careers Service has a wide selection of GRE, GMAT and LSAT workbooks (standardised
tests used by American universities for entry on to their graduate programmes).
 - for a comprehensive set of GRE materials.
 See also the files on Postgraduate Study in the USA in the Resource Centre.
 How to pass the Civil Service Qualifying Tests (Mike Byron, Kogan Page) – based on the old
test but still very useful.
 Teaching Skills tests - - examples and registration for literacy,
numeracy and ICT tests required prior to gaining Qualified Teacher Status in England.
 - Berger Aptitude for Programming Test (B-APT) -
three sample questions from this test, which assesses your aptitude for learning computer
programming languages.
 - contains a Guide to testing people with disabilities (use the
search facility) with links to other organisations which can provide advice in this area.

Several of our careers advisers are trained to administer and give feedback on psychometric tests.
Please telephone 01865 274646 to establish availability.

© Oxford University Careers Service, October 2010, 6

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