hints and tips

Take a look at some of the questions we're most frequently asked about psychometric tests and be prepared for the assessments you're about to complete.

What is psychometrics?

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This could get long and complicated! Put simply, psychometrics is a set of techniques used to ensure, among other things, that:
  • You are actually testing what you think you are testing. A written test of mathematics should be testing maths not writing for instance.
  • The test gives the same results if it's given to the same person twice or administered by different people It’s fair to everyone.
  • You know how accurate the measurement is and how far you can depend on it. No measure – whether of your height or your profit - is 100% accurate (just ask an accountant about the latter). Sometimes this can be significant (in the latter case ask the taxman!).
  • Psychometrics allows you to weigh up the accuracy of your decision

What are psychometric tests?

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If you’re a parent, your children take them at school in between examinations to check their progress and predict their results. They sometimes highlight particular strengths and areas that need more teaching. If you’ve entered work on a graduate recruitment scheme, you’ve probably taken one during the milk round. And you may well have sat one when you went for your first or a subsequent job.

Psychometric tests provide an MOT of what goes on under the human bonnet. They compare one individual’s performance with other people’s or show what are the relatively strong and weak areas within one person. True psychometric tests look at three basic areas:
  • Abilities: people's capacity to work with numbers, words, diagrams and systems
  • Attainment: what people actually know about an area
  • Personality: how people are typically likely to act. This covers a huge range of aspects from people's motivations and values to how they characteristically react to authority and their honesty or integrity
Mix and match these and you get dedicated tests of areas like emotional intelligence, trainability, leadership, customer service orientation and how people think – areas that are directly related to particular jobs. Assess lots of people in your company and you can get an organisational profile: how well your teams work; what particular skills you lack; who’s going to fit in.

What are psychometric tests used for?

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Tests are used to recruit new staff; identify people with the potential to be promoted and developed; counsel staff who are under-performing; put teams together; coach senior managers; identify stress factors in an organisation; decide on the best organisational structure; create incentive programmes that really motivate – any decision about people individually or people in groups.

Do psychometric tests only test IQ?

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We often think that testing looks at what you know; that a test is something you pass or fail. Yet you know that your knowledge is only part of what you bring to life - at school, work or home. Given how quickly the world changes, it might seem better to find out what and how easily someone can learn in the future rather than what they know now.

What are often known as “softer” factors are increasingly seen as important in success, for instance: how well you understand and get on with people; your ability to lead; how far you follow rules or come up with your own unique solutions; your ability to cope with stress. Testing is as much about these as about being a “know-it-all”.

People are truly any organisation’s most important resource – whether it’s a multi-million pound corporate or a voluntary club. They’re also an organisation’s biggest cost and single most complex aspect of organisational success and failure. Next to recruiting, retaining, developing and managing a workforce, putting in a new intranet is a doddle.

What is a behavioural profile?

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Personality and behaviour assessment in the work place can reveal an individual’s capabilities and how they are likely act.

This information can be used to identify what sort of job they will be good at, how well they fit within a company's culture and even how far they will go in their career.

These types of assessment look at how people behave and answer questions such as:
  • what motivates them?
  • what are their strengths and limitations?
  • what is their preferred communication style?
  • how do they interact with their colleagues?
  • what is their value to the organisation?
  • are they modifying their behaviour to adapt to their current job?
  • how do they behave under pressure?
  • are they showing any frustrations in the workplace?
  • what management style will get the best out of them
Behavioural profiling won't show you 'good' or 'bad' qualities in a person, it simply provides an understanding of how someone prefers to behave at work and the characteristics they will display. There are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers.

Personality and behavioural assessments can be used to recruit new staff, identify potential, develop and put teams together, and get the best out of people through better management.

What is an aptitude test?

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An aptitude assessment measures a person’s fluid intelligence – how quickly they can learn and retain new skills and procedures. Aptitude tests are an accurate and reliable predictor of a person’s development potential.

Whilst academic achievement undoubtedly plays a large part in selection and management decisions, it is not a truly effective measure of a person’s mental ability and potential.

Aptitude testing offers a more objective way to assess a person’s abilities. Aptitude tests can provide the answers to question such as:
  • Can this person think on their feet?
  • Can they cope with the mental demands of the job?
  • How able are they to thrive in a high change or dynamic environment?
  • Could this person be a high flyer?
  • Is this person a problem solver?

Where do employers use aptitude tests?

Aptitude assessments are used in recruitment, retention, development, and performance management. They can assist businesses to recruit people who get up to speed rapidly, resolve issues around high staff turnover, identify talent for succession planning or management programmes, and boost the effectiveness of a company’s people managers.

What do aptitude tests measure?

These assessments are designed to measure your potential rather than your knowledge. They commonly include verbal, numerical and reasoning tests. For example numerical tests are designed to measure how quickly and deftly your mind can manipulate numbers - not how accurately you can do algebra or quadratic equations.

An individual’s aptitude profile can tell you if that person is likely to be able to think on their feet and cope with the mental demands of the job.

The results are used to give businesses an objective assessment of a person’s abilities, and to provide a greater level of certainty when companies make people decisions.

Take a look at a sample GIA report.

Why do organisations use psychometric tests?

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Research shows that interviews, references and application forms are very bad at predicting whether people will succeed. Interviews are particularly dangerous because they are influenced by people's prejudices, likes and dislikes. Using tests can never prevent mistakes like this, but they can make them less likely.

Where might I come across tests... and why?

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Candidates for jobs take tests much more frequently now than they did even ten years ago. This is, in one way, a good thing. Familiarity with the process means your performance on individual tests will be as good as it can be, which is very much the point.

The sorts of times and places you'll be asked to complete tests, include:br />
  • At school and university. Some of the tests here are different from the ones you'll encounter at work. They measure how much you've learnt, for instance. But there is a move to assess in areas like personality and ability which are important at work.
  • To cut down the number of candidates who apply for a job. You'll be asked to log on to a password protected website and fill in a test which will be used alongside your application to decide whether you should be interviewed.
  • At your first interview. These might feed into the interview questions, to check you didn't cheat on an online test or be administered after an interview to help decide whether to bring you back.
  • At final interview. Here they will be used to check the impression you made at an earlier interview or to highlight areas that need more discussion.
  • Assessment centres. For certain jobs you'll be asked to attend a day or two days of activities. These might include role play, group discussions, real work samples and tests. Using different techniques like this allows the recruiter to check on your skills and attributes (such as being a good communicator) in a number of different ways, to check that the process is fair and accurate, and that you act in a consistent way over time.
  • Milk rounds. Certain big companies go round universities and assess soon-to-graduate students to see if they should be recruited to a fast track graduate scheme. The tests here look for very high levels of skills.

You won't escape once you're employed as tests are used with employees to: inform appraisal interviews; evaluate training needs and achievements; identify candidates for promotion and leadership; evaluate stress levels and well being; check that someone has achieved a specialist professional qualification; see how well people are working together; prepare someone for coaching.

Testing is more widely used because it helps: it makes all these processes fairer for both employers and employees. And in so doing gives you the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself.

So what do they measure?

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Anything going on inside you and how that affects your behaviour. They’re used on young babies to check development, in the treatment of mental illness and in rehabilitation. In businesses, they’re used to make decisions on recruitment, development, retention, management, to give career counselling, to promote people and to build teams.

If you’re going for a job you’re likely to be given one of three types of test:
  • Ability Tests: Old IQ tests claimed to give one number that expressed your intelligence. Nowadays we know that there are lots of different sorts of intelligence. The most common tests assess verbal, abstract, spatial and numerical intelligence but there are many others: emotional intelligence for example. People may be good at some, not so good at others. Jobs require different mixes of intelligence.
  • Knowledge or Skills Tests: Do you know something (‘What is meant by R.O.I.?' for instance) or do you know how to do something (Cut and paste text in WORD for instance)? These tests are most like school and college tests.
  • Personality: Good personality tests are based on theory and many years’ research in which they’re tried on millions of people to build up profiles of the sorts of people who are successful in different jobs. They don’t claim to sum you up or predict how you’ll act in any given situation; they measure your tendency to behave in a certain way.
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.

When will I be tested?

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Tests are used at different stages in the recruitment process. Sometimes they’re used in conjunction with other information ( i.e. CVs ) to shortlist candidates; sometimes they’re used as part of a first interview, sometimes to generate questions for a further interview. The information they generate might be used to plan training for a potential candidate. Increasingly, you’ll find that access to the test is given via passworded sites on the internet or even on web recruitment sites. But be careful: there are some very bad tests on the internet.

They look like quizzes in magazines?

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True. Some use simple right/wrong questions. Some ask you to choose the one out of three or four responses which best reflects your views. Others, however, will show you shapes, numbers, pictures. For many there are no right or wrong, just responses that reflect your individuality. Whatever you see, the difference between a good psychometric test and a quiz is what lies behind the test: 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. Sometimes a true psychometric test does look like a quiz…but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface

What should I look out for?

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You should take the test in a good environment where you can concentrate on it without disruptions. If you’re taking test at a company’s offices, the test administrator should put you at your ease and be happy to explain anything you’re not sure of. Check that the test looks good – it’s not a photocopy or a cheap print out. Ask questions about the test; what it’s for, how it’s being used in the process.

If you’re taking the test on the internet, make sure you chose a place and time where you feel comfortable, you won’t be interrupted and you have the time to finish filling it in.

Finally, all good test users are trained to give feedback to you on how you performed once the test has been interpreted. This should always happen because recruitment is a two way process and you have a right to understand the decision and learn a bit more about yourself.

Will the test decide whether I get the job?

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Not on its own. Good tests are supplied only to people trained in their use and they know that tests should NEVER be used on their own to make a decision. Tests are used as part of a process, each part of which – interviews, references, work simulations – provide different parts of the jigsaw. Tests only measure specific aspects of people and are often used to challenge subjective feelings and people’s prejudices with more objective, scientific information on your human qualities.

Should I be nervous?

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A little bit of adrenaline helps in a lot of activities including testing. But there’s no need to be worried. Strangely, research shows that a lot of people enjoy a well-run testing process because the feedback gives them more information about themselves. Basically, tests are there to help you and the employer make good decisions.

Don't people dislike tests?

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Far from it: people actually like doing tests because tests tell them about their favourite subjects; themselves. If handled the right way tests used with existing staff can cause a buzz.

Where do I learn about psychometrics?

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Tests are used to make complex and costly human decisions. You’ll either need to train, or employ/contract a trained test user if you’re going to use a good instrument. Training ensures you get the most out of them, in the same way that you need to train to get the most out of a new software programme. The training will also introduce you to lots of people issues which will make you a better manager and recruiter.
"Having introduced Thomas Job and PPA, our churn rate reduced by 50%”

Bob Taylor, Everything Office learn more
Recruitment assessments - why have I been asked to complete them? learn more