Maybe you thought your days of examinations were long behind you, but more and more employers are now using tests to differentiate between candidates who look broadly similar on paper.
We deal with personality tests in another blog - "Psychometric secrets - How to succeed in psychometric tests". In this article we’re focusing particularly on the tests that bring many people out in a sweat - the numerical reasoning test (or numeracy test) and the verbal reasoning test.
Both are aptitude tests; that is they test skills and ability rather than behaviour.
And they are normally completed against the clock.
Verbal reasoning tests give the recruiter a better idea of your ability to understand the meaning of written information. In your school days maybe they called them comprehension tests. The exercise usually consists of a passage of text and you are asked to interpret the information, normally by identifying whether a series of statements are true, false or cannot be concluded from the given information.
It’s about more than just understanding words. You need to apply logic too. In the marketing and events industries, verbal reasoning tests may be used to identify the your ability to understand a client’s brief and reach valid conclusions, or to interpret and apply reports.
Numerical reasoning tests, unsurprisingly, test your ability to draw conclusions from a set of figures, from financial data and statistical breakdowns, to ratios and currency rates. They are as much about your ability to understand the language of numbers as they are about mathematical ability.
In roles such as event management and marketing, your ability to manage budgets effectively, measure ROMI, interpret data such as Google Analytics and work within cost constraints are vital and this is why these tests are commonly used.
Preparing for verbal reasoning and numeracy tests
A lot of employers now use online tests, which you complete from home as a way of helping them to create a shortlist for interview, while others include on paper or computer-based tests as part of an interview day.
Either way, they can be the deciding factor in whether or not you get the job or even get the opportunity of an interview, so it’s important to maximise your chance of success.
The prospect of undertaking a verbal reasoning or numeracy test may set your nerves on edge, but with thorough preparation, it can be a lot less stressful. It is just as important to prepare for your aptitude tests as it is for your interview and this blog aims to help.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Recruiters will normally give you notice about your aptitude tests when they send you confirmation of the interview. If you are unsure about anything related to the tests, ask questions. Obviously, they can’t give you exact information of what the tests will contain, but they might be able to indicate how long it will last, how many of the tests to expect and whether a calculator may be used.
If you are able to find out which test the recruiter is using you will be able to practise for the test much more effectively. Which brings us to our next tip.
Practice makes perfect
Regardless of your experience in the marketing and events sector, it is important to practice as much as possible for the tests. You can’t be sure of exactly what will be in them, but there are plenty of free online tests which will help give you a good indication of what to expect. The more you practise, the more prepared you will feel and the greater your confidence will be. You may find certain are weaker than others once you start practising, so you can sharpen your skills in these subjects, to give you a better chance of success.
The following are just examples of the free online practice tests available:
It’s good to remember though that although practice makes perfect - always expect the unexpected! So if the style/format of the test you actually do is very different from the ones you’ve practised on, don’t panic when you see it - everyone will be in the same boat, and the tests you’ve already tried can only have helped put you in the best place to do this new one!
The right equipment
Whether you are taking the test at home or at the interview location, make sure you are prepared with the right equipment. The assessor may provide you with these, but there is no harm in taking a pen, paper and calculator along – just to be on the safe side. Although you should make sure you are allowed to use these before you get started.
If you are doing the test at home make sure your browser is up to date and compatible with the test and ensure your broadband speed is adequate. If you work on a Mac or intend to use a tablet or touch screen system check that these are compatible - some tests can be temperamental on such devices!
If you have any special requirements in order to complete the tests (e.g. screen reader, large or high contrast text, specialist data entry device) make sure this can be provided by giving as much advanced warning as possible.
Get - and stay - focused
Whether you are completing the tests at home or in the interview environment get reasonably comfortable without losing that important state of alertness. Keep essential items - pen, paper, calculator if allowed and a watch or timer - close to hand but otherwise avoid distracting clutter. Reference materials are unlikely to be of much help at this stage.
Make sure you won’t be disturbed during your test. Turn off the phone, send the kids to their friends, lock the doors if necessary. These tests are normally time limited without the option of pausing the clock.
Read the instructions
It is vital that you spend a bit of time reading the test instructions. There may be some guidance on how long to spend on each question, but you will definitely have information on the duration of the tests, so you can work this out if necessary. If there are any aspects of the instructions you are unsure about, this is the time to ask your assessor, so you don’t end up in a panic.
One notorious test instructed applicants to read all 20 questions and instructions - many of which were very odd - before starting. Only those who did so to the letter saw the hidden message at point 17 - “Once you have read this paper only complete questions one and two”!
Some tests will have a few traps for the unwary. Don’t get tripped up.
Read each question carefully
Verbal reasoning and numeracy tests are based on your ability to interpret information, so it is vital that you take your time when reading the questions. You will need to be aware of how long you have on the clock, but not so much that you are just skimming the questions and taking wild guesses to get onto the next one.
Candidates often make mistakes with these tests because they have not taken the time to read the questions carefully. Remember it is better to complete 75% of the questions correctly than complete all of them but only get 50% right. Relax, breathe and take time to understand what is being asked.
Watch your time
At least one test publisher argues that if candidates were given as much time as they needed to complete the tests it’s likely the large majority would achieve full marks. It’s the time limit that makes the tests particularly tough and as a result it’s those people who make the most effective use of their time who do best.
So keep an eye on time. Have an idea of how long you should spend on each question. If you get stuck on one question, and if the system you are using allows it - move on to the next and re-visit the tricky question at the end. There is no point spending 20 minutes trying to work something out when you still have more (easier) questions to answer. Answer the questions you are sure of and leave the more difficult ones until last.
If all else fails, most tests do not include penalty marks for incorrect answers so it’s probably spending the last 30 seconds or so making a best guess of remaining answers.
It is a good idea to keep a watch next to you, so you can make sure you are on schedule.
Learn some hacks
It’s worth reminding yourself of some of those maths hacks you may have picked up from school. Maybe you have a trick to help you work out percentage increases and decreases, or a quick way to convert currencies. Now’s the time to bring them back to the front of mind - they could save vital seconds.
The main points about these types of aptitude tests are that you need to make sure you know what to expect and that you take the necessary time to understand what is being asked. As you practise, take a note of any types of questions you are struggling with and practise these some more. Aptitude tests are not designed to be easy, as they need to differentiate between the good and the great, but with preparation and practice you can improve your performance.
Further help and reading
Some test providers and career coaches offer help in preparing for aptitude tests for a price. Alternatively, if your budget or needs are more modest you might want to consider some further reading. The following get four to five star reviews on Amazon.
Your recruitment consultant will also provide you with as much help as possible, to help you prepare for the test. Another reason to choose Regan & Dean.