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January 15, 2013

Aptitude tests – practice makes perfect

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TabletWe know that aptitude tests can strike fear into the most confident student, but we also know that most of you are likely to encounter them at some stage. It's better to face the fear and find out what's involved - crossing your fingers and hoping for the best just won't cut it. Jenny Bell, one of our careers consultants, tells us more...

Aptitude testing is used by many graduate employers - across all sectors - as part of their recruitment process. No sooner have you pressed “send” on your completed on-line application form then you're be invited to take some verbal and numerical reasoning tests. If you are applying for more specialist roles, perhaps within IT or financial modelling, you might also be asked to take some diagrammatic reasoning tests as well. Aptitude testing is often the first part of the screening process, but if you succeed at this stage and progress to further interview rounds or an assessment centre, don't be surprised if you're asked to sit further tests.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

While it is in your interests to take them as soon as you can – the sooner you take them (successfully), the sooner you can be invited for interview – it is probably NOT a good idea to take them unless you have done a lot of preparation. “Why?” - I hear you say – “I have enough to do without practising some basic numerical and comprehension test I could have taken at GCSE level. I’ve seen the questions and they really aren’t very difficult.” I got an A in maths GCSE - how hard can it be?

Unfortunately, many people, who are very able and otherwise excellent candidates, are unsuccessful in the tests. We're used to seeing disappointed students who've been rejected by their chosen employer because they failed to meet the required standard. This is why you need to practise:

  1. It isn’t so much the difficulty of the questions; it’s the time pressure of answering the maximum number in the short time available. The more you practise, the easier it will be. Some recuiters will incorporate negative marking into their tests, so you'll need to work quickly but methodically. Guess incorrectly and it could cost you dear.
  2. You may be rusty on some of the basics. If, for example, you haven’t done any maths since GCSE, you may not be as quick at working out percentages, ratios, etc. as you were then and you don’t want to waste valuable test time trying to remember how to perform simple calculations. Bear in mind some tests will allow calculators but others won't so you'll need to get up to speed.

Don't be complacent

There are some Arts and Humanities students who think they'll have no problem with the verbal reasoning tests as 'they're about words'; similarly, there are STEM students who feel confident they'll ace the numerical reasoning tests because they're 'good at maths' It ain’t necessarily so….anecdotal evidence suggests that the people who perform best on verbal tests are engineers and scientists who are good at spotting the salient points quickly. Numerical tests can be difficult for Arts students (particularly for those who've avoided all things numerical since GCSEs!) but they can also present a challenge for scientists and engineers who may be used to working on more advanced and abstract material, not the basic arithmetic - or statistical - interpretation required in most numerical reasoning tests.

Practice makes perfect

So… do you practise? You will find lots of information and links to practice tests on our website. The tests we offer are completely free and will give you on-line feedback about how you compare with your peer group (other students and graduates). Taking any test will help you with your technique and coping with the timing. But, generally speaking, the more demanding employers (e.g. banks, consultancies) the more difficult the test and/or the higher the pass mark. If you think you will need to take a more difficult test, check the external links at the bottom of our aptitude test webpage. If in doubt, start with eFinancialCareers or Inside Careers. Don't forget about the resources in the Careers Hub; we know books seem a bit retro now, but it might be worth your while to browse the shelves. There's a wide range of books covering numerical, verbal and spatial reasoning tests, pitched at varying levels of difficulty.

We know that some people practise by applying to employers they don't necessarily want to work for so they'll be better when they apply to the one they really want. This isn't really an approach we'd endorse, as it takes a lot of time and effort to produce a high quality application form - certainly one that's good enough to get you to the next round. It's better to spend your time using the available resources, online and otherwise, to get you ready for test day. Put the time in now and you won't get caught out later on!

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