The Complete Guide to Psychometric Tests (2018 Edition)

What are psychometric tests?

Psychometric tests are now a common part of selection and assessment processes, and a necessary part of applying for many jobs.

If you haven’t already had to complete one, the chances are that you will need to at some point in the future.

With this in mind, we have prepared for you the Ultimate Guide to Psychometric Tests to explain what they are, how they are used, and how to successfully complete them.

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Psychometric tests arose from a desire to fairly and accurately predict which applicants were likely to be successful if they were appointed to a particular job.

The tests aimed to assess the specific abilities of candidates as they related to the requirements of the role.

For example, if a job requires the ability to work with and process numerical data, it is better for employers to be able to test whether a candidate is able to do that, rather than just asking them: candidates might over-estimate their abilities or lie. There was a need for better solution.

There are many different types of psychometric tests but broadly speaking, they fall into two categories: tests of ability (what a person can do) and tests of personality (what a person is like).

Let’s take a look at some of these different tests.

Ability Tests

Ability tests are sometimes referred to as Cognitive Tests.

Let’s go into detail on some of these test types…

Numerical Reasoning Tests

These tests assess a candidate’s ability to understand and manipulate numerical data.

They typically present the candidate with numerical information, often in the form of tables, graphs or charts, and ask the candidate to manipulate the information in order to answer the question.

They tend to be used for jobs where being able to use and understand numbers is important, such as accountants or analysts.

Here is an example of a typical numerical reasoning question (correct answers highlighted in bold):

Q1: What was the most popular flavour of preserve in 2016?

a) Strawberry Jam
b) Raspberry Jam
c) Apricot Jam
d) Plum Jam
e) Marmalade

Q2: Which country had the greatest percentage increase in preserve consumption from 2015 to 2016?

a) UK
b) Ireland
c) France
d) Argentina
e) India

Q3: In 2015, people in the UK ate an average of 20% more preserve in 2014. What was the average preserve consumption per capita in 2014?

a) 7.24kg
b) 8.16 kg
c) 8.50 kg
d) 8.72 kg
e) 9.27 kg

Verbal Reasoning Tests

These tests are designed assess a candidate’s ability to understand and manipulate written material.

There are various types but the most common tend to present the candidate with a passage of information and ask them to assess whether statements are true, false or impossible to say on the basis of the information in the passage.

Other questions assess your understanding of words or grammar.

They are often used when the job requires a candidate to accurately read and interpret written information, such as roles in marketing or customer services.

Here is an example of a typical verbal reasoning question:

You will be presented with a passage to read and a statement about that passage. You must select one of the following answers:

TRUE: The statement follows logically from the information contained in the passage

FALSE: The statement is logically false from the information contained in the passage

CANNOT SAY: It is not possible to determine whether the statement is true or false without further information

“Working in a holiday resort is a popular option for graduates wishing to see the world. It gives them the opportunity to experience foreign cultures, make friends and build lifelong memories. As the skills required for securing a job tend to be low, most graduates choose not to turn their experience into a career, but enjoy the time they spend abroad. But there is a dark side to this kind of casual work: often workers’ rights are ignored and they may find themselves working long hours for very little money, as holiday resorts often do not adhere to the standards we might expect in the UK”

Statement 1: Many graduates enjoy working in holiday resorts so much they choose to develop a career in hospitality.

(The correct answer is false: the passage says that ‘most graduates choose not to turn their experience into a career).

Statement 2: All graduates who spend time working in holiday results make friends.

(The correct answer is cannot say: the passage says that it gives [graduates] the opportunity to make friends, it is impossible to say whether all graduates do so).

Statement 3: Graduates working in holiday resorts often find that the pay and working conditions are lower than they might expect in the UK.

(The correct answer is true: the passage says that graduates may find themselves working long hours for very little money, as holiday resorts often do not adhere to the standards we might expect in the UK)

This video explains true, false, cannot say type questions in more detail:

Whilst the example above is the most commonly found type of verbal reasoning question, there are other types, as follows.

Free Text Editing

Here you must correct the text shown below.

For example:

“Many cat owners’ love there animals very much. It can be dificult four them to understand why other’s don’t also enjoy they’re company. Living with someone who cat’s effect differently can be hard particularly if their allergic, but with practise gets easier”

As you can see, this passage contains a number of spelling and grammatical errors. The correct answer is shown below:

“Many cat owners love their animals very much. It can be difficult for them to understand why others don’t also enjoy their company. Living with someone who cats affect differently can be hard, particularly if they’re allergic, but with practice gets easier”

Ranking

These questions require you to arrange the sentences in order, depending on an understanding of the language they use.

For example:

You have invited a number of colleagues to a meeting. Please rank their responses from the most to least positive:

1. Ok, sounds good, please can you send me the agenda?
2. I’m sorry, I can’t make it but thanks for inviting me.
3. No. That’s not convenient for me and I don’t think I need to be there anyway.
4. Great – I’ll look forward to seeing you there
5. Is it important that I’m there? Is there any chance I could grab the minutes from someone instead?

The correct order is:

1. Great – I’ll look forward to seeing you there
2. Ok, sounds good, please can you send me the agenda?
3. I’m sorry, I can’t make it but thanks for inviting me.
4. Is it important that I’m there? Is there any chance I could grab the minutes from someone instead?
5. No. That’s not convenient for me and I don’t think I need to be there anyway.

Abstract/Logical Reasoning Tests

These tests assess a candidate’s ability to understand novel information, patterns and trends.

They typically present you with a sequence of images or patterns and ask you to identify the next in the series or the odd one out.

As they require no specific learned skills to complete they are often seen as the ‘purest’ test of ability as they are less affected by education level.

Abstract reasoning tests tend to be used for jobs where the candidate will need to problem solve effectively, manage new situations and understand how different elements can interrelate, as such they are often used for leadership and managerial roles.

Here are some examples of abstract reasoning questions:

Look at the items in the top row and decide which of the items in the bottom row comes next in the sequence:

The correct answer is D. To solve this, you will need to have identified the two rules operating here:

Rule 1: Odd to even, the shapes row move one position upwards, reappearing at the bottom when they disappear off the top.


Rule 2: Even to odd, the shapes move one position to the left, reappearing on the right when they disappear off the left side.

Abstract reasoning questions often involve movement of shapes.

Look out for different rules that operate on odd or even questions as they are becoming more common.

Here is another example of a tricky abstract reasoning question:

Look at the items in the top row and decide which of the items in the bottom row comes next in the sequence:

The correct answer is A. To solve this question, you need to understand that the squares in the top half of the boxes tell you something about the shapes below them – they are a kind of code. In this case there are four rules:

Rule 1: Grey square means that the shape and colour of the shape below are correct.

Rule 2: Striped square means that the shape and colour of the shape below are incorrect.

Rule 3: Black square means that the shape of the shape below is correct but colour is wrong.

Rule 4: White square means that the colour of the shape below is correct but shape is wrong.

Mechanical Reasoning Tests

These tests evaluate competence in mechanical or technical ability.

They tend to be used for jobs where there is a need to understand how things work technically, such as engineering roles.

They often include questions on topics such as levers, gears, pulleys, springs, screws, acceleration, gravity, clamps, shafts, pressure, friction, eights, volumes, conveyor belts, kinetic and potential energy, balancing scales, simple electrical circuits, applied maths, magnetism, mirrors and reflection.

This film gives a good introduction to solving different mechanical reasoning tests.

Critical Thinking Tests

These tests aim to assess the candidates’ ability to think critically about information.

This includes analysing, conceptualising and reasoning.

To be successful candidates must be able to structure and appraise arguments, identify assumptions and inferences, and understand and synthesise information, these tests are primarily used for lawyers but they are also used by other organisations where a high level of analysis is required.

The most common critical thinking test is Watson Glaser.

You can find out more about these types of tests in this video:

Personality Tests

These tests aim to understand what a person is like and how they are likely to behave.

There are many different personality tests available, the most robust are based around the ‘Big Five’ personality traits: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, an example of this would be NEO PI-R.

There are other personality tests that are particularly relevant to the workplace, such as the OPQ (Occupational Personality Questionnaire) or that assess how an individual is likely to respond to authority (e.g. FIRO-B).

Others assess how individuals are likely to behave under pressure (such as Hogan Dark Side).

A more recent trend has emerged in which one test can provide a wealth of different psychometric data in one go, such as Talent Q Dimensions.

Motivation Tests

These tests aim to understand what is likely to drive or motivate an individual.

There are many different things that might motivate someone, things like the need for sustainability (e.g. money and security), relatedness needs (e.g. recognition, affiliation and competition) or growth needs (e.g. power, advancement and achievement).

Understanding what motivates someone is particularly useful for understanding whether they are going to find the culture and expectations of the organisation agreeable, and in establishing whether they are likely to focus effectively on the priorities of the role.

Situational Judgement Tests

These tests are designed to understand how a candidate might actually behave in the workplace.

For example, are they likely to be a good team player?

Are they likely to show high levels of perseverance?

Or are they likely to focus mainly on themselves and give up at the first hurdle?

This is assessed by presenting candidates with a hypothetical scenario, relevant to their desired job, and asking them to select the option which they see as the best response.

These tend to be useful to assess attitude, motivation or organisational fit.

This film introduces situational judgement test in a little more detail:

In reality it is not unusual to be asked to complete several psychometric tests for the same role: numerical, verbal and abstract reasoning is a particularly common combination, particularly for leadership roles.

What makes a good psychometric test?

With psychometric tests feeling so impersonal and playing such an important part in securing your desired job, it’s reasonable to have questions.

For example:

‘What makes a psychometric test any good?’

‘Why is so much weight placed on psychometrics?’

‘How can I be sure that the test I’m taking is a good test?’

Good psychometric tests have good validity, reliability and use norm groups to interpret the results.

They should also be fair and unbiased against any particular group, and they should be administered and interpreted by someone qualified to do so.

Let’s explore what this means…

Validity

Validity means that the test does what it says it does.

So if a test says that it assesses numerical ability, does it actually do so.

There are a number of different types of validity:

Construct validity

This is used to explore whether the test actually measures what it is intended to measure, and not something else.

For example, if a numerical reasoning test were only available in English, then for international candidates it would not only be measuring numerical skills, but also their ability to read and understand English.

Criterion validity

This is used to explore whether performance on the test is correlated to other variables.

For example, does a candidate’s performance on a verbal reasoning test correlate with their real work verbal reasoning skills.

Predictive validity is one particularly important kind of criterion validity; this explores the ability of the test to predict future performance.

Face validity

This describes whether the test ‘looks like’ it is assessing what it says it is assessing.

For example, if an applicant to a job were told that their logical reasoning skills would be tested by measuring their baking skills, it would be hard for candidates to feel that the test was accurate or worth using.

Reliability

Reliability means that the test consistently or reliably measures the same thing.

It’s no use if a test of numerical ability only sometimes measures numerical ability!

It needs to always measure the same thing to be of any use.

These are a number of different ways of assessing reliability.

Here are some of the most common:

Test-retest reliability

If a person takes the same test (and they hadn’t done anything to improve their performance) you would expect them to have a similar score, and this is what test-retest reliability evaluates.

A group of individuals are given the same test over a period of time to evaluate whether their performance changes.

A good test will have a high degree of stability over time.

Internal consistency reliability

This assesses how consistently a person performs over the different test questions.

One might expect that a person might answer similar questions in a similar way – if they don’t, then there might be a problem with the questions.

This is typically measured by split-half (or parallel form) reliability, which involves splitting all of the questions into two groups and examining the correlation between performance on both question groups.

The higher the consistency, the greater the reliability.

Inter-rater reliability

This examines the extent to which different people would draw the same conclusions from the results of the test.

In a test with good inter-related reliability, different people would tend to give the same rating.

Norm Referenced

Norm referencing is a way of interpreting an individual’s performance on a test.

Norm referencing involves comparing an individual’s performance on a test, to the performance of the norm group (a norm group is a group of other people that have also competed the test).

I.e. it shows how well you have done, compared to other people that have taken the test.

This is useful because it tells us how well someone has actually done on the test.

For example, knowing that someone had scored 13 out of 20 on a test doesn’t tell us that much.

It could be a good score if everyone else scored 10 out of 10 or poor if everyone else scored 20 out of 20.

However, knowing that someone scored better than 79% of the norm group tells us far more about how good actual performance was.

It is important that the test administrator selects an appropriate norm group to compare your performance to.

Some typical norm group characteristics are age, educational achievement level, or job level.

Fair and Unbiased

For a test to be fair and unbiased, no individuals from any particular group should be disadvantaged when completing the test.

For example, if women or black people consistently performed worse on a test than other groups, this would not be a fair test.

Psychologists are aware of the and the test development process should have identified and corrected any adverse impact of a psychometric test.

Other ways of making the test fair, relate to reasonable adjustments for people who need them, for example individuals with dyslexia might need longer to complete the test.

If you have any additional needs, it is important that you mention these to the test administrator so that they can put any necessary adjustments in place.

Administered and interpreted by a someone qualified to do so

The British Psychological Society requires individuals to complete a qualification before they are allowed to administer or interpret psychometric test results.

This ensures that the tests are used appropriately and fairly. There are several different levels of qualification:

Assistant Test User: Occupational Test Administrator

This qualification allows an individual to administer a test under the supervision of an Occupational Psychologist who is registered in their use.

Test User: Occupational, Ability

This qualification allows an individual to administer and interpret psychometric tests of ability such as numerical or verbal reasoning tests from any test publisher.

Test User: Occupational, Personality

This qualification allows an individual to administer and interpret psychometric tests of personality. Typically, a user will have to complete an ‘additional instrument’ qualification for each test they use.

Specialist in Test Use

This is a qualification for individuals who want to be able to use a wide range of personality assessments.

You can check whether someone is qualified to administer psychometric tests by looking at the Register of Qualifications in Test Use (RQTU): https://ptc.bps.org.uk/find-professional/bps-qualified-test-users-offering-testing-services.

How can you check if the test you are being asked to complete is a good test?

The best way to check whether the test you are being asked to complete is a good test is to look at the reviews on the British Psychological Society test register.

This can be found at https://ptc.bps.org.uk/tests-and-testing/psychological-tests/test-publishers-list.

Some test publishers also include their ‘test manual’ on their website where you can read about their development process and norm groups.

An example of this is the ‘Technical Manual’ on the Jung Type Indicator Website: http://www.jungtype.com/Downloads.htm

Using a reputable test publishes is also helpful for indicating that the test is likely to be of a good standard. Some of the leading publishers are: SHL, Talent Q, Kenexa, CEB, Capp and Saville.

Why are psychometric tests used?

Psychometric tests are widely used because they are a cheap and effective way of distinguishing between candidates and accurately identifying who is likely to be successful in the job role.

They can be administered to candidates early on in the process and don’t require a face to face meeting, thereby reducing the time and costs associated with selection.

They are also the best predictors of job performance: research has shown them to be 14 times more predictive of job performance than the average interview (Hunter and Hunter, 1984 1)Hunter, J.E. & Hunter, R.F. (1984) Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors of Job Performance, Psychological Bulletin, 96 (1), 72-98 ).

Psychometric testing is particularly useful for ‘volume recruitment’, this is when a job attracts a large number of applicants.

In this instance the psychometric tests are often used to sift out candidates who don’t achieve a specified level on the test.

Other organisations prefer to use psychometrics to support a wider selection process; the tests might form part of an assessment centre for example and the candidate’s performance on the tests will be considered amongst a range of other evidence in considering the candidate’s suitability.

Who uses psychometric tests?

Psychometric tests are becoming incredibly common – around 80% of the US Fortune 500 and 75% of the UK Times 100 companies use them 2)https://www.graduatemonkey.com/blog/entry/top-30-companies-that-use-psychometric-tests.html , and the rate of test use is growing by 10 – 15% per year in the US 3)https://blog.mettl.com/talent-hub/10-companies-using-psychometric-testing .

Whilst psychometric use is well established in most European countries, it is growing in other countries around the world, with over 56% of India’s top 100 organisations now using psychometrics 4)https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwjkoofW3qrcAhXhC8AKHWWvB1IQFgg3MAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.willistowerswatson.com%2F-%2Fmedia%2FWTW%2FPDF%2FInsights%2F2016%2F10%2Fstate-of-psychometric-assessments-survey-result.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1qiVoGD7_Se4QbLfJoYAbi .

It would be impossible to list all of the organisations that use psychometric tests but here are a few examples: Bank of England, Ford, Deloitte, Procter and Gamble, Hewlett Packard, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Microsoft, McDonald’s, 3M, Barclays, E.ON, Ernst and Young, RBS, Pizza Hut and KPMG.

What to expect from a psychometric test

Psychometric tests are typically short, intense and challenging!

The often last less than 30 minutes and require candidates to complete a number of different questions.

Broadly speaking psychometric ability tests measure either speed (how many questions a candidate can complete in the given timeframe) or power (the most difficult question a candidate can correctly answer) or some combination of both.

Some newer psychometrics are ‘responsive’ which means that they can react to a candidate’s performance on previous questions and present different questions depending on their performance so far.

This allows for an even greater level of discrimination between candidates.

Personality tests are rarely subject to a time limit, but tend to ask candidates to respond to a range of questions, often asking candidates to rate how closely a statement reflects them.

Psychometrics are now primarily delivered online. You will be sent an email including a link which will enable you to access the test.

You should research the test published before clicking on this link so that you know what the test will look and feel like.

You should also expect to be retested.

Where psychometrics are used as a screening tool and completed online, organisations tend to retest candidates at the interview so that they can be sure that the candidate did indeed complete the test.

It really is not worth cheating by trying to get someone else to help you with tests as you will probably get caught out later.

How to prepare for psychometric tests

Psychometric reasoning tests measure your ability, and to some extent this is fixed and your ability to dramatically alter your results is limited by your actual ability level.

What you want to do is ensure that you are performing at your maximum level.

The best way to do this is to practice.

Familiarise yourself with the different types of questions that psychometric tests present.

Completing lots of practice questions will allow you to identify areas where you need to revise or learn new techniques, and equip you with strategies you can use to solve the questions.

For example, the more you practice abstract reasoning tests, the more familiar you become with some of the different ways in which questions are constructed, this will enable you to decode them more effectively.

It is also worth revising for numerical and mechanical reasoning tests to ensure that the tools and techniques you need to use are at the forefront of your mind and you don’t have to waste time trying to remember them.

Setting yourself up for success on the day

To give yourself the best chance of success, you need to prepare yourself.

This means sorting out your IT and making sure you understand how to access the test.

Ensure that you have the things around you that you might need: as a rule of thumb, make sure you have a pencil, some scrap pencil and a calculator with you, and that you can see a clock.

You might also find it useful to have checklists of how to complete common mathematical tasks, for example.

Make sure that you will not be distracted in the middle of the test – speak to the people you live with and ask them not to disturb you.

Place a sign on the door if you need to, and turn off notifications on your phone and/or computer.

Boost your chances of success by making sure you are on top form for the test.

Do it at a time of day when you feel most alert.

Make sure you are well rested, not hungry and thirsty, and that you don’t have a hangover! Keep calm, even if you feel anxious about the test.

Some people find that spending a few moments practicing mindfulness before starting the test gets them into the right frame of mind.

What to do if you don’t hit the grade?

Don’t worry if you don’t get the results you were hoping for in your psychometric tests; it is often only one part of an organisation’s selection process and you may be able to impress assessors in other exercises.

Often assessors consider a candidate’s performance holistically using psychometrics to support their observations from different exercises.

Remember, psychometric tests are supposed to be hard. If they were easy then there wouldn’t be any point in using them.

Keep practicing and make sure that you are doing the best that YOU can do.

If you’ve not been successful, try not to worry about it too much.

Tests are used because they indicate who is likely to be able to successfully complete a job – if you didn’t pass the test then there’s a strong chance that you wouldn’t enjoy the job anyway.

You might be better off looking for a job that is a better fit with your aptitudes and preferences where you will be able to flourish.

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