When your aptitude is tested

Asked to take an aptitude test? Don't panic

If you know you’ve got to jump over psychometric test hurdles when it comes to getting a new job, don’t panic.

While it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to cheat or even prepare for personality tests, those in the know reckon it's possible do some preparation when it comes to aptitude tests.

According to an answer to a reader’s question on the BBC website, aptitude tests measure “things like your verbal, spatial or numerical ability” and you can prepare for them.

“If you really have no natural talents in the area that's being tested you can't do much to change that. But if being nervous is likely to slow you down and cause you to make mistakes or if your skills are a bit rusty, practice will make you more confident, faster and able to work accurately.”

It says that most recruiters who use tests will send you examples ahead of the testing so you can see what you’re in for. There are various books on such tests and if you have no luck tracking down actual tests, the BBC advises trying crosswords, logic and number puzzles because they get “your brain into shape”.

Another article on the BBC site gives you an idea of what to expect: aptitude tests last 30-50 minutes and usually contain “a paragraph of text, figures or a graph about a subject. You have to choose the correct response from a number of options”. It says you need to work fast, yet be accurate.

It advises taking time with any example questions you’re given beforehand so you grasp how the questions work.

“If you don't understand, ask. You are only assessed when the clock starts ticking.”

Make sure you find out if you lose marks for wrong answers — if you don’t, it advises attempting all the questions.

An article on the University of Sussex website says the test is often just one of an arsenal of tools used when hiring, so it’s your overall performance which counts.

“As a rule of thumb, the earlier the test is used in the application process, the more important it is in assessing candidates,” the article says. “Aptitude tests are sometimes used prior to a first interview - at this stage there is often a 'pass mark' or cut off score, which you have to achieve to continue your application.”

If, however, the tests are used later, they are often just one aspect of assessing you, the article says.

Like the BBC article, the University of Sussex one also suggests practising with word games and mathematical teasers and pointing out that actual tests can be hard to find because companies don’t want to “undermine the test's effectiveness”.

It advises that you should brush up on basic mental arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and working out percentages) if you haven’t done maths for a while.

And it might sound like stating the obvious, but read the question thoroughly.

“People sometimes get the wrong answer because they have rushed at the question and not read it properly, particularly in numerical and data interpretation questions.”

Once you’re done, your score will be compared to other peoples' results, according to the University of Sussex article. “This group (the 'norm group') could be other students or graduates, current job holders or a more general group. This enables selectors to assess your reasoning skills in relation to others.”

What has been your experience of aptitude testing? Were you able to prepare in advance? Was the experience what you had anticipated? Let me know at the address below.

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz.

Other links:

University of Bath: Development – aptitude tests.

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