The use of psychometric testing as part of the job interview process has exploded in the last few years. Find out what these seemingly enigmatic tests are about so that you can be better prepared. Fancy having your brain measured?
When applying for a new job, you may be informed that you will have to sit for a psychometric test. The first hurdle is not to panic. This kind of testing claims to be able to assess the character strengths and weaknesses of interview candidates, thereby providing an accurate profile of their suitability for a position. Psychometric tests are typically used before the interview process as a way of screening out unsuitable candidates, or when trying to decide between the final few applicants. Some companies will employ similar methods on their existing employees for internal recruitment, training and development.
You will be assessed on how you differ to other people: in your personal characteristics underlying actions, possible future behaviour and how good you are at something.
How do psychometric tests work?
There are two main types of psychometric tests: aptitude tests and personality questionnaires. Tests are carefully designed so that each person who completes a particular test has the same test experience i.e. they are presented with the same questions and have the same amount of time in which to answer them. The score, which is usually the number of correct answers, is then converted to a standard score by comparison with a representative sample of people who have completed the test in the past. It is then possible to say whether a person has scored above or below average and how much above or below.
What sort of things can be tested?
Around 50 human abilities can be tested, such as general intelligence, verbal, numerical and diagrammatic reasoning, spatial and mechanical aptitude, speed and accuracy of information processing. Over 30 aspects of personality are tested, ranging from sociability, tough-mindedness and anxiety, to flexibility, personal organisation and creativity. Tests can also be used to measure memory, reaction time and colour vision.
Putting the pieces together
Sometimes a true psychometric test looks like a quiz. Some use simple right/wrong questions, while others ask you to choose the one out of three or four responses which best reflect your views. Others will show you shapes, numbers and pictures. For many there is no right or wrong, just answers that reflect your individuality. Whatever the format, a good psychometric test is based on over 100 years of theory, data gathered on other people, complex statistical techniques and the precise way the items are worded and drawn, or ordered.
What do they measure?
When tests are used in selection procedures, they are used to measure attributes which are important in the performance of a particular job. These are typically abilities or aspects of personality which have been found to distinguish between those who do the job well and those who perform less well. Results can then be used to match applicants to the ‘ideal’ profile for a job or to discover if certain minimum requirements are met.
A testy personality
Personality questionnaires are often referred to as tests, but this is deceptive since they do not have pass or fail scores. They are designed to measure attitudes, habits and values and are usually not timed. Sometimes this type of questionnaire is incorporated into the application form; sometimes they are used during the second stage selection procedure.
If you are faced with a personality questionnaire, then simply answer the questions correctly. Attempts to guess the ‘correct’ answers can often be spotted when your answers are being analysed, or may result in your being offered a post in an area of a company that you are unsuited to. Preparation or practice does not affect the outcome of this type of questionnaire. Simply follow the instructions and be honest.
Samples of personality questions
For the following choose whether statement A or B is more indicative of you:
When making decisions on how to spend my time:
- I carefully balance demands against deadlines and targets.
- I get started immediately on the most important item.
- I attempt to find common ground in situations where I face disagreement with others.
Answer Options: Never, Seldom, Sometimes, Usually, Always
The most common tests assess verbal, abstract, spatial and numerical intelligence but there are others, such as emotional intelligence. People may be good at some, not so good at others and jobs require different mixes of intelligence. You might get tested for other things – ethics, values, integrity for instance – but ability and personality are the most often measured aspects of people during the recruitment process. Normally these tests are timed, with time pressure often being a decisive factor in the effectiveness of performance in the tests.
Do you have what it takes?
Employers use aptitude tests to decide if someone has the abilities needed to do the job. The tests can also be used to identify suitable jobs for people, by demonstrating to the employer (and yourself) where your strengths and limitations lie. The tests used are more objective than for example an interview, sometimes allowing abilities to be demonstrated which would not come out in other areas of the assessment procedures. For specialist posts, such as those in information technology, tests may concentrate on specific skills such as using a simple programming language or checking computer data and syntax. Spatial reasoning tests may be used for jobs which require 3-dimensional perception.
The most basic types of verbal test may involve spelling, giving synonyms (words with the same meaning) or antonyms (opposites), or finding the odd one out in a set of words. More complicated are analogy tests, where you need to recognise the relationship that exists between the words in a word pair and then identify a word pair which displays a parallel relationship. Other tests involve filling in words to complete sentences, or interchanging two words in order to make a sentence read sensibly. Many verbal tests are used to assess logical reasoning, for example, determining the correct sequence of a set of sentences, or identifying from a number of pieces of information those that are needed to solve a problem. In order to test verbal analysis and comprehension, you may be asked to answer questions which relate to a given passage.
Samples of verbal test questions
- The relationship between WORD and SENTENCE is best expressed similarly by which of the following pairs of words?
- ENGINE and CAR B. BIBLE and BOOK C. CELL and ORGANISM D. SONNET and TEXT E. STEM and FLOWER
- Which two words if swapped would make the following sentence sensible:
“Although food production linked to career is partly a question of lifestyle, an active interest in this could form the basis of an alternative diet.”
Numerical tests are all designed to measure numeracy and logical thought. A popular form of test involves completing a series of numbers, or a series of letters of the alphabet, or a row of dominoes. Simple arithmetic calculations, without the use of a calculator, are becoming common. Related tests involve estimating the answers to arithmetic problems when there is insufficient time to calculate exact answers. Many tests now include interpretation and utilisation of data from tables, charts or graphs. Examples of numerical test questions:
- A diagram on a sheet of paper is increased in size to 120% of its original size, and this copy is then reduced by 40%. What percentage of the size of the original diagram is the final copy?
- 28 B. 36 C. 48 D. 72 E. 80
- What is the following approximately equal to? 5/9 + 3/4 + 5/7 =
- 1 B. 2 C. 3 D. 4 E. 5
Practice can help
Up to a point, the more you practice for the tests, the higher the scores you can obtain. For verbal tests, you can do crosswords and verbal puzzles, and play word games. For numerical tests practice doing maths without a calculator. Try number puzzles and study data presented in tables, charts and graphs. Try revising the multiplication tables up to 12 and practice multiplication, division and percentage calculations. To prepare for diagrammatic tests, practise with as many examples as possible.
During the actual test, don’t waste time on difficult questions; move on to ones you can do more easily. Find out whether or not marks are deducted for incorrect answers. If not, then make certain you answer every question, even if only by guessing. If you have time, check your answers and change any that are incorrect. Another don’t: don’t panic if the test appears to be very difficult; some tests have relatively low ‘pass’ marks so you may actually be doing well. Try to see the tests as another way of weeding out jobs that you may be unsuitable for, and not the other way round. That way the questions will seem less as ‘the enemy’ and more as an aid to your finding a job you are well matched to.
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