Psychometric Testing: The tricks & traps


Psychometric tests are common in the job application process-and they can be tricky. Here's our guide to acing them.

Psychometric tests: it's likely you'll have to face a few before your job search is over. And in case you're thinking you'll have to lay on a chaise longue and disclose your innermost thoughts, don't panic - these aren't those kind of tests.

Psychometric tests are verbal and numerical reasoning tests which examine your suitability for the job in question. Usually taken online, they are one stage of the application process which falls somewhere between submitting your application and the interview stage.

So what to expect? We've gone undercover once again to find out which kind of questions you will be asked and how you should prepare. Our examples are taken directly from the Civil Service's verbal and numerical tests to show you what to expect - and the traps to avoid.

Practice Practice Practice

Verbal Reasoning tests

In theory, verbal reasoning tests are simple comprehension exercises which require you to extract answers from a paragraph and give a "yes", "no", or "cannot say" answer. The problem is that the paragraph in question is usually very dense, often oblique and you may have to answer several questions on an unfamiliar topic.

Trap 1: The Mislead

The Mislead

The example here asks you to read a paragraph discussing "Social Capital" and determine if the term has a precise definition. You have all the information you need to work out the answer. Read the paragraph carefully and see if you can get it.

Think you've got it? The answer to this one is "True". The key is "and while definitions vary"-which tells us that there is indeed no precise definition.

When taking verbal reasoning tests, it is important to be clinical and logical with your assessment. Make sure you don't fall into the trap of making general assumptions or inserting your own prejudices on a topic.

Watch out for crafty use of synonyms. Two words may be similar, but you must be able to take into account the subtle differences. For example, the difference between "always" and "often" is vital-"often" could lead a graduate to presume a definite answer when the source material does not back it up.

Trap 2: The Information Overload

The Information overload

Employers want you to be able to isolate key pieces of information. To make this difficult, extracts are overloaded with details in order to test your ability to discern what is relevant and what is not.

In the paragraph above, the question focuses on people in "high areas of social capital" and the impact social capital has on criminal behaviour-the reference to social capital's impact on employment is a distraction.

To give yourself the best chance with verbal questions, you should read the extract closely several times before you even look at the question. This will help you avoid any pre-emptive and premature answers.

Ready for a test?

Here are some more examples from the Civil Service self assessment verbal reasoning tests, see if you can come up with the answers.

Verbal Example A

Verbal Example B

Numerical reasoning tests

Numerical reasoning tests follow a similar approach. They require you to extract the necessary information from data, graphs or tables, and select an answer. You will have a set amount of time to complete the questions.

The difficulty level may increase significantly as the test goes on. Before attempting some of the practice questions, graduates from non-maths backgrounds should re-familiarise themselves with the basics, such as percentages, basic algebra and working with volumes or measurements such as miles per hour. A calculator is a must.

Trap 3: The Distractions

The Distractions

This question is asking for the "total annual revenue obtained" for a particular policy type and from a specified office.

There are all the obvious distractions-different offices, different policy types-and you will have to do some maths to work out the answer. Think you've got it?

Let's show our working. The question is about Private Policies. The second column contains both Business and Private, so you need to subtract one from the other and multiply it by the price highlighted in the third column.

So we all got C) 176,000 right?

Trap 4: The Trend Up-set

The Trend Upset

A common theme in numerical reasoning tests is to ask you to isolate patterns or trends. In the example above, the employer is asking for year on year developments of a certain attitude to crime.

To find the answer, you would use data from Year 2 and relate that to the pilot survey, then translate the figure into a percentage.

Remember: All the information you need is provided-the employer just wants to see that you know what to do with it. Taking a clinical and logical approach to what you've got to work with will help you overcome the majority of the obstacles.

Ready for the test?

Test your nous with numbers and try these examples from numerical reasoning tests.

Numerical Example A

Numerical Example B

The tricks and traps are essentially the same for the verbal and numerical tests. Now that you know what to watch out for, you should be confident that you can ace them-with a bit of practice, of course!

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