What’s so special about psychometrics?
Psychometrics is an area of psychology devoted to psychological measurement and the construction of questionnaires and tests, which assess people’s knowledge, attitudes, personality traits or mental ability. Psychometric tests have been used by employers for over 100 years, and recent surveys suggest 75% of The Times Top 100 companies, plus around 70% of UK companies with over 50 employees, utilise these as part of their recruitment process. Organisations can evaluate how a candidate might behave in a job role; for example, capacity to work with others, deal with complex situations, process information and cope with stress, amongst other skills, before even seeing them in person. Moreover, many research studies have found that people who do better in these tests, perform better in the job role itself. For example, in their meta-analysis of research studies, books and reports, Bertua et al. (2005) found that tests of general mental ability and specific cognitive abilities (verbal, numerical, perceptual and spatial) are valid predictors of both job performance and training success, especially for job roles that require complex thinking.
Psychologists use different psychological theories to inform the content of each psychometric test plus statistical techniques to demonstrate the test’s validity (measures what it intends to measure) and reliability (produces consistent results over time, individuals and situations), and so these can take years to develop. Employers should then choose relevant tests to measure the skills, abilities and/or traits that are specifically relevant to the job role being selected for. Administering tests and analysing the results for job selection are skilled tasks, requiring training and certification (British Psychological Society sets standards on testing and test use). Individual results are always compared against benchmark scores of similar people (also known as a norm group), helping employers to distinguish between candidates.
Overall, there are several arguments for employers to use psychometric tests, including:
- adding objectivity with a standardised testing procedure, where candidates can be compared in ability and other characteristics whilst reducing employer unconscious bias
- making the recruitment process more efficient and cost effective by testing large numbers of candidates (e.g., as part of pre-interview screening to reduce the short-list of possibly hundreds of candidates)
- using pre-screening tests results to inform competency-based interviews, such as asking candidates to give examples of how they use their personal traits in their work
- evidence that supports tests as being reliable indicators of future job performance
- providing additional information that corroborates other facts; for example, a candidate may present themselves as organised, and a personality test provides a high conscientiousness score (a trait associated with organisation and meticulous working), providing support for being likely to work in the role in an organised and attentive fashion
Employers mainly follow good practice by using some form of scoring system that assigns scores to test and other assessment outcomes; for example, how the candidate would fit with the team. By using multiple indicators, such as interviews, personality and ability tests, and assessment centres, selection processes create a composite picture of candidates. These can then be compared, so that the candidate with the highest overall ‘score’ is selected.
Types of psychometric test
Candidates may be asked to complete an online psychometric test as soon as they apply for a job, either at application or pre-interview, or even perhaps later during the selection process. By carefully selecting tests that identify the ideal people for the role, employers can reduce their shortlists for interviewing or assessing further.
Below are types of psychometric test that you are likely to come across:
These assess a specific or general set of skills, and can depend on the type of job role you are applying for (although numerical and verbal reasoning are tests which are typically always used):
- assesses understanding of written information, including ability to think constructively and use the information to make an informed decision
- involves reading short passages of text before answering questions
- may also assess spelling and grammar
- assesses interpretation of data (rates, trends, ratios, percentages, currency conversions) or statistics, including ability to deal with numbers quickly and accurately
- involves answering questions relating to written and statistical information presented in reports, graphs or charts
- there are skills gaps in maths across many industries, so improving in this area may be an advantage in selection for jobs that involve an understanding of numerical information - see how to improve your everyday maths for free here.
- assesses ability to learn new things quickly, plus spatial abilities, by identifying a set of rules and applying them to a new situation, judging how well able to follow information or spot patterns
- involves a series of slightly different pictures, with a choice of other picture options to complete the series
- commonly used for IT, science and engineering roles
- assesses logical problem-solving abilities
- involves deducting logical conclusions based on a series of facts or statements
- an example might be: ‘all men are mortal; John is a man’, where the deductive reasoning would be that ‘John is mortal’
- assesses all deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, verbal and numerical reasoning
- questions are shuffled, but are easy to spot with practice
- commonly used for entry-level job roles as a pre-interview screening test
- assesses ability to logically justify an argument and make an objective decision
- involves reading statements or short passages of text before making judgements on a situation, recognising assumptions, creating hypotheses and evaluating arguments
- commonly used for graduate, professional and managerial roles, especially in the legal and finance sectors
- assesses ability to understand and remember spatial relations among objects
- involves being asked to manipulate or assemble two- and three-dimensional figures
- commonly used for roles that involve dealing with complex environments, such as engineer, architect, chemist, mechanic, diver, firefighter and pilot
Workplace skills tests
Situational judgement (SJT)
- assesses how approach and behave in different workplace scenarios, including how well follow instructions and prioritise tasks
- involves being given a realistic, hypothetical work-related situation before choosing a preferred course of action from a list of options
- will be asked to choose most and least effective answer; or rate possible answers for effectiveness; or choose one most practical course of action, so must read the instructions carefully!
- commonly used for many job roles, even at entry-level, sometimes within the online application form/process itself
- evaluates personality characteristics to assess suitability for a role and fit for organisation and its culture
- involves choosing between options or rating how typical a description of behaviour is, such as ‘I tend to follow roles’, ‘I admit when I am wrong’, ‘I adapt quickly to change’
- no ‘right or wrong’ answers, and personality tests are designed to spot ‘faking’, so best to go with ‘gut feeling’ and not spend too much time analysing the questions
- commonly used for many job roles, where the specific personality test matches the required traits for the job role and working environment
Emotional Intelligence Tests (EI or EQ)
- evaluates ability to recognise and manage emotions and relationships, including communication, self-control, emotionality, sociability and adaptability to change. Find out more about emotional intelligence here: The Value of Emotional Intelligence in a Challenging Workplace
- involves rating statements that assess emotional intelligence traits and attitudes, such as ‘I can recognise my emotions as I experience them’, ‘I struggle to build rapport with others’
- as with personality tests, it is best to not spend too much time thinking about the questions but go with initial ‘gut’ answers
- commonly used for management or leadership positions
How to prepare for success
Being successful in psychometric tests is mainly about learning what to expect from each type and practicing these, not about trying to work out which answers present traits or abilities in a particular way. The key is to be consistent in both tests and face-to-face, i.e., to be the best authentic version of yourself. That said, it is possible to thoroughly prepare, by taking practice tests, working on staying calm by breathing slowly and deeply, and ensuring that read all instructions carefully.
Each test will start with clear instructions and demonstrations of required actions, followed by example exercises to ensure understanding. Many psychometric tests are often timed, where employers are looking at both accuracy and ability to work fast under pressure. However, there is no time limit for the introductory section, so look over the examples again before starting an actual timed test. Then work briskly and accurately, coming back to any questions you’re not sure of. Always be aware of the time!
What to do if not successful in the pre-interview testing
Try not to be disheartened if not selected for interview or further assessment after a psychometric testing. It is common to not succeed, especially if little experience or practice at the type of test used. Moreover, this does not mean that the employer does not want you! Often candidates reapply after further practice, and pass. Ask the organisation for feedback on each test score and try to remember which part of each test was most challenging. If you need to brush up on maths and/or English skills, look for free courses (see OpenLearn). Then practice each test again and don’t be tempted to give up!
Psychometric test practice websites
Try to find out which psychometric tests the employer or sector you are interested in may use, through websites such as www.glassdoor.co.uk or www.graduatesfirst.com, which also provide lots more tips on how to be prepare.
There are many websites that provide practice tests, such as:
The British Psychological Society also has a list of practice tests providers:
There are further resources you may find useful in the Applying Psychology at Work Hub:
Bertua, C., Anderson, N. and Salgado, J.F. (2005) ‘The predictive validity of cognitive ability tests: a UK meta-analysis’, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 78, pp. 387–409, doi: 10.1348/096317905X26994