Psychometric and selection tests
This page explains what psychometric tests are, why employers use them, and how to prepare for them.
What is a psychometric test?
Psychometric literally means measurement of the mind (psycho = mind, metric = measurement).
Psychometric tests are standardised tests designed by psychologists to measure mental performance. They help to identify your potential and personality. Employers use psychometric tests as part of their recruitment process to help determine whether a candidate is suitable for a particular role.
Psychometric tests usually consist of multiple-choice questions. The tests will either be paper-based or computer-based tests.
The two main types of psychometric tests used in recruitment selection are:
- Aptitude/ability tests
- Personality questionnaires
Aptitude tests identify your potential to grasp new skills. They measure your natural ability to perform tasks where no prior specialist knowledge or skills are needed.
The most commonly used aptitude tests in the graduate recruitment process are:
- Numerical reasoning tests. These test your ability to reason with numbers, and analyse data and graphs.
- Verbal reasoning tests. These test your ability to comprehend and use words through spelling, grammar and sentence completion.
Depending on the type of job you apply for, you may also encounter:
- Abstract reasoning tests.
- Diagrammatical reasoning tests.
- Spatial reasoning tests.
The employer will set strict time limits. You’ll take the tests under exam conditions. The tests are designed so that most candidates do not complete them, so it is important that you work quickly and accurately to get as many correct as possible. There is a right and wrong answer.
Personality questionnaires explore your preferred way of behaving. They measure how you relate to other people, and your ability to deal with your own and other people's emotions and the way you handle and solve problems.
There is no right or wrong answer and usually no time restriction. Try to be as honest as possible. Don't try to second guess what employers are looking for, as tests usually have built-in mechanisms to detect inconsistencies. Be yourself, and remember that your first response is usually the most accurate.
Why do employers use psychometric tests?
Psychometric tests are objective and fair. The results are not influenced by tester bias.
Employers use psychometric tests to:
- Help predict future on the job performance. The tests provide a snapshot of a candidate's potential.
- Ensure that a suitable candidate is hired for the job role.
- Sift out unsuitable candidates at an early stage in the recruitment process. The tests can be done quickly and cheaply and helps reduce recruitment costs.
Psychometric tests are usually used as part of the selection process in conjunction with other traditional methods such as interviews.
How to prepare for psychometric tests
Find out about the tests
Find out what types of tests will be used. Check if any practice tests are available. (Employers will often send you a sample set of questions.)
Practise doing some tests
Spend some time working through these practice tests. Brush up on your basic arithmetic skills. Make sure you can work out fractions and percentages without a calculator. You can also find books on psychometric testing at Career Development and Employment Services, and there are a number of websites offering practice tests.
Prepare your physical requirements
If you have any disabilities, tell the test administrator in advance, so they can organise alternatives. For example, tests are often available in large print. If you wear glasses, remember to take these with you.
Plan your travel
Make sure you know how to get to the test venue. Allow plenty of time to get there on the day.
Get a good night's sleep. Eat and drink properly. Psychometric tests also test your endurance and can prove quite exhausting.
Try to relax and remain calm, but remember that a little bit of adrenalin can help boost your performance. Try and adopt a positive approach. View the test as a challenge and an opportunity to demonstrate your skill.
What to expect on the test day
The test is a formal event. Everyone who takes the test receives the same instructions, time limits, and questions, to keep the tests fair and objective.
- Listen carefully to all instructions given by the test administrator. If you don't understand something, ask the administrator. They will not be able to help you once the test has started.
- Use the stationery provided. The tests are usually marked using optical scanning machines, which work best with pencil.
- Read the instructions for each test carefully. Record your answers in the correct way.
- Don't spend too long on any one question. If you can't answer a question, skip to the next one. You will be working under tight time constraints, so it's important not to waste time.
- Try to work as quickly and accurately as possible. The more questions you answer, the better your chances of getting a higher score.
Websites for practice and information
Opra Consulting Group
NZ company with a range of sample aptitude and personality tests so candidates can prepare.
Practise aptitude tests from one of the largest test publishers. The tests are timed and you get feedback on your performance.
This site for potential police recruits contains a practice test and helpful tips.
Educational Testing Service
US website with practice questions for Praxis, Graduate Record Examinations, GRE and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
The UK Civil Service has an accelerated development programme called ‘Fast Stream’. Those considering applying are given the opportunity to answer a self-selection questionnaire to determine if the programme is suitable for them. Part of the selection process may include an e-tray exercise.
Graduate Management Admission Council
For graduates interested in applying for MBA courses. Occasionally strategic consultants or investment banks have been known to ask applicants to do the numerical component of a GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) level test.
Help to understand and prepare for the Graduate Management Admission Test — used mainly by business schools.
Profiling for Success
UK website with sample questions.
This US site contains help, advice and practice tests.
This site has information about tests for IT and programming aptitude.
Their preparation guides contain sample questions.
Books on psychometric testing
The following is a selection of titles available on psychometric tests.
- Bryon, M. (2001). How to pass graduate psychometric tests. (2nd ed). London : Kogan Page.
- Parkinson, Mark. (2004). How to master psychometric tests. London : Kogan Page.
- Smith, Heidi. (2003). How to pass numerical reasoning tests : a step-by step guide to learning the skills. London : Kogan Page Ltd.
- Tolley, Harry ; Thomas, Ken. (1996). How to pass verbal reasoning tests. London : Kogan Page.
- Barrett, Jim ; Williams, Geoff. (2003). Test your own aptitude. (3rd ed). London : Kogan Page.
- Barrett, Jim. (1998). Career, aptitude & selection tests : match your IQ, personality & abilities to your ideal career. London : Kogan Page Ltd.
- Carter, Phillip, Russell, Ken. (2003). Psychometric testing : 1000 new ways to assess your personality, creativity, intelligence and lateral thinking. Chichester : John Wiley.
- Cohen, David. (2001). How to succeed in psychometric tests. (2nd ed). Milton, Qld: Wrightbooks.