Many employers use psychometric testing because it provides an objective way of measuring key abilities that are necessary to perform successfully in the workplace. 

This helps the employer to ensure that they find the best person for a position. It also ensures that you – the candidate – are judged fairly and that if recruited or promoted into a new position will be more likely to succeed and be happy in that role.

Psychometric testing for candidates

If you are currently in the process of applying for job positions, it is likely that you will encounter psychometric assessments: approximately 70% of large organisations use testing in their management of people and the trend for smaller organisations to use testing is growing. Psychometric assessments could be used as part of an initial sift, at the first round of a selection process or at the assessment centre stage. The most common types of psychometric assessment that you will be asked to complete are:

  • Ability tests – these are designed to assess your ability to understand and use information presented in various forms; for example, passages of text, tables of data, graphs, figures or diagrams
  • Personality questionnaires – these are used to investigate your preferred ways of behaving in a work environment; there are no right or wrong answers

You could be asked to complete the assessments on-line, or under supervised testing conditions either using a computer or using paper-and-pencil materials.

You might feel very comfortable about doing tests and assessments, or you might feel a little bit nervous. You might have had a considerable amount of experience of such assessments already, or you might be new to psychometric testing.

Whichever is the case, here are a few tips that should be able to help you feel prepared and to maximise your performance on the day.

In advance of the assessment

  1. Find out exactly what assessments you will be doing – you could be asked to complete tests to assess different aspects of your ability or you could be asked to complete a personality or motivation questionnaire. Also, find out what format these assessments will be presented to you in; for example, in a paper-and-pencil booklet or on computer. This will reduce any element of surprise on the day.
  2. Inform the organisation of any disabilities that you have that might affect your performance on the assessment; for example, dyslexia, a hearing difficulty or a visual impairment. Try to do this well in advance so that they can try and make special arrangements for you if appropriate.
  3. Practice exercising the skills that the tests will be trying to assess.
    1. If you have been asked to complete a numerical test, practice the basic numerical functions (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and familiarise yourself with common numerical calculations such as fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, angles, currency conversions, area and volume calculations etc. Make sure that you feel comfortable interpreting data presented in different formats; for example, in graphs, bar charts, tables and pie charts.
    2. If you have been asked to complete a verbal test, pay close attention to the spelling and grammar of any text that you read. Take time to think about the arguments presented in newspapers and books. Look up any words that you come across that you are not familiar with. Also look up words in a thesaurus – this will give you a supply of words that have similar meanings and will help increase your vocabulary.
  4. Get hold of example questions. Some companies will provide you with a practice leaflet to look at in advance – read this carefully. If this is not sent to you automatically, ask if such a leaflet exists. Alternatively, many test publishers and job boards have websites with practice questions that you can try. A number of books containing practice questions have also been published. Your careers service or library will probably have some of these books available or will be able to recommend a particular book for you to purchase.
  5. Practice answering the questions in timed testing conditions. Being able to pace yourself is crucial in timed tests and is something that can be improved upon with practice.
  6. If you have been asked to complete a personality or motivation questionnaire, prepare yourself by thinking about the way you like to behave in a work environment. Do you like to work in teams or are you happier working independently? Do you like to be given the opportunity to be creative? Do you enjoy working with numbers? Do you like variety? Do you thrive on competition? Are you motivated by the opportunity for personal development? Is the status of a role important to you? The better you know yourself the more easily you will be able to create an accurate impression of the way you like to behave. Try to answer as honestly as possible. Remember, it is very difficult to predict what the employer is looking for, and many questionnaires have built-in ways of checking whether you are trying to present yourself in a positive light. The more honest you are, the more useful the results will be for self-development purposes and in considering your career options. Answering honestly and going with your first response will also help to make the assessment less stressful.
  7. Make sure you have all of the materials you need. Usually, these will be provided, but it is best to take your own just in case. Take a pencil, pen, eraser, calculator (if you are doing a numerical test) and anything else you might need such as reading glasses or a hearing aid. Also, don’t forget to take a watch; there might not be a clock in the room to help you keep track of time.
  8. Make sure you are as alert as possible on the day of the assessment. Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before. Both tiredness and alcohol will adversely affect your performance.
  9. If you need to travel to a testing centre or the company site to complete the assessments, plan extra time into your journey to allow for unforeseen circumstances (such as transport delays) so that you minimise the chance that you will arrive late and anxious.
  10. If you will be taking the assessment on-line, plan to use a computer somewhere where you won’t be disturbed – choose the university library rather than an internet café.

Taking the assessment

  1. If you are taking the assessment on-line, ensure that you have enough free time before you start. Don’t forget to allow extra time for reading the instructions and answering the practice questions; for example, if you have been asked to complete two 20-minute tests in succession, ensure that you have well over an hour of time available.
  2. Listen to and read the instructions very carefully, re-reading where necessary to ensure you understand what is required of you. Mistakes are often made as a result of misunderstanding what is required not because of a lack of ability. If you are unclear about anything, ask the test administrator.
  3. Take your time answering the practice questions. If you are completing the test on-line you are sometimes able to take the practice questions more than once – make use of this opportunity. If you are completing the test under supervised testing conditions, don’t be put off by others around you. Take as much time as you require and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to. You won’t be able to ask questions when the actual assessment has begun. Don’t worry if you get some of the practice questions wrong. These are often designed to catch you out to help you focus on mistakes to try and avoid before you start the actual test.
  4. The test session should be a comfortable experience, and both the instructions and the test administrator should put you at ease. If the effort has not been made to ensure that the test experience is a positive one, this could be evidence of a poor attitude towards human resources and people management. Attending a test session helps you gain a first-hand impression of the company’s values.
  5. Make sure you know how many questions you have to answer in the time available. Make a note of the time that the assessment starts so that you can monitor your progress. Try to answer as many questions as you can in the time.
  6. Try to keep calm; a little bit of adrenaline will probably help your performance, but it is important not to panic. If you get stuck on a question, don’t waste too much time on it. If you have enough time at the end, you can go back to it. Where necessary, make an educated guess but avoid wild guessing. If you do begin to feel anxious, take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself that it is unlikely that the selection decision will be made purely on the basis of a single assessment.
  7. When completing personality or motivation questionnaires, try to go with your first response and be as honest as possible.
  8. If you are completing an assessment using paper-and-pencil materials, ensure that your answers are clearly legible and are marked against the right question number. If you need to change an answer, make sure that you erase or cross out your first answer fully and mark your new answer clearly.
  9. If you encounter any problems during the test session (for example, if you think you are missing any materials that you need) notify the test administrator straight away. Also check that you are not filling in a photocopied version of the assessment – a poor quality copy is not only likely to be illegal, it could adversely affect your performance. Similarly, if you have any problems completing an on-line assessment, report the problem you encountered as soon as possible. Try and report the problem in as much detail as possible. At what stage in the process did the problem occur? Did an error message appear? What did it say? The more information you can provide the more easily the issue is likely to be resolved. Be aware that some on-line tests utilise secure pop-up windows to present the test in so you might be required to turn off any pop-up blocker software that you have installed before you start the test.
  10. Finally, if you do manage to finish the test within the time allowance, use any remaining time to go back and check your answers.

After the assessment

Once you have completed the tests, try not to worry about your performance – it can be hard to predict how well you have done. Some tests are designed to be very time-pressured and so you will probably not be expected to complete all of the questions. You might only need to get half the questions correct to achieve a good score. Also, remember that psychometric testing is usually only part of the process – your performance on the other assessments will also be taken into consideration.

If you do find out that you have been unsuccessful, try to use the experience as a learning opportunity. Make sure that you ask for feedback on your performance if it is not provided automatically. Having a better idea about your strengths and the areas you need to work on will help you with future applications. Don’t forget that if your skills and work style preferences are very different to those required by the organisation, it is unlikely that you would have been really happy and productive in the role anyway.

Find out more in our Candidates section.

The Author: Ian Florance is Managing Director of OnlyConnect Ltd and has worked in psychometric testing for 30 years.