FAQs for test takers
These FAQs cover many of the issues that people taking tests and other assessments often ask. If there are any other questions you would like answered or added to this list, please get in touch with us through our contact page.
Why am I being asked to take a test? There are many reasons why you might be asked to take a psychometric test, but the most common ones are that they are being used as part of a selection process or, if you are already employed by the organisation, that they form part of your development, career planning or outplacement process. Tests are most often used as they help organisations understand something about your abilities, potential, preferences or motivations – aspects that can be difficult to assess in other ways. Tests are also used because when chosen carefully to assess key job requirements, they are known to be one of the best ways of identifying people who are ‘right’ for specific role.
Are tests fair? This is a very common question and one that has been extensively studied. Research shows that when used appropriately, psychometric tests are one of the fairest types of assessment for employment decisions. Good tests are carefully developed to remove bias and are far more objective than many of the judgements made by human assessors. They also give all candidates for a job a ‘level playing field’ on which to demonstrate their abilities.
What is the difference between ability and personality tests? Ability tests (sometimes referred to as ‘capability’ or ‘aptitude’ tests) measure your ability to deal with different types of information and use this information to solve problems or complete simple tasks. Examples of these types of test include verbal, numerical and abstract (also known as non-verbal or diagrammatic) reasoning, checking, filing and spatial tests. These tests are usually strictly timed (you may not answer all of the questions in the time allowed) and they have right and wrong answers. Personality questionnaires (strictly speaking we do not ‘test’ personality) usually ask about your preferences or styles, giving a general indication of your behaviour in areas such as interpersonal relationships, thinking styles and how you deal with pressure. Personality questionnaires can be thought of as assessing ‘how’ you do things, compared with ability tests that assess ‘how well’ you do them.
What is the best way to approach ability tests? The first thing to remember is that it is always important to listen carefully to the test instructions and thoroughly read any preparation materials that you are sent. As ability tests are usually strictly timed, you should always work as quickly and as accurately as your can and ensure that you remain focussed for the duration of the test. However, do ensure that you do not work so quickly that you make unnecessary mistakes. If you are unsure of an answer, it is worth trying to eliminate answers you know are wrong and then take a ‘best guess’ (though see ‘Negative marking’ below). If you are stuck on a question it is best to leave it rather than waste time trying to do every question in turn.
NOTE: each test will have specific instructions and you should always follow these over any generic guidance given here.
Should I guess answers on ability tests? Sometimes it can be worth having a guess at an answer, particularly when tests are not negatively marked (see below for information on negative marking). The most beneficial approach is to try and work out the answer first. If you cannot do this try and eliminate answer options that are clearly wrong and then take your best guess from the remaining answers. We would advise that you avoid wild guessing, as this may be apparent to your assessor when they examine your answers in detail.
I have heard of ‘negative marking’. What is this? Negative marking is where marks or partial marks are deducted from your test score for wrong answers. Negative marking only applies to ability tests which have right and wrong answers, and is rarely used in modern selection tests. The presence of negative marking is likely to affect your test taking strategy, meaning that guessing is likely to be less effective and may even have a detrimental effect on your overall test score. If you are unsure whether a test is negatively marked you can always ask your administrator, though as this knowledge may affect your approach to the test, the administrator may not tell you.
How should I approach personality questionnaires? Personality questionnaires ask about your preferences. Usually they will ask about your preferences without giving you a specific context (complete it how you ‘generally / usually’ are), though sometimes they may ask you to give your preferences within a work context. Generally it is best not to think too long and hard about individual questions, as first answers or your immediate reaction to a question are usually the best and most accurate. Personality questionnaires are most commonly used to help the assessor understand more about your style and ways of doing things. Try to be as open and honest as you can when completing the questionnaire, as many assessors will use the results in conjunction with other information on you and may interview you about your responses.
How honest should I be when completing personality questionnaires? It can be tempting when completing a personality questionnaire to give the responses you think the assessor is looking for, or to project a profile you think fits the job role or that would be valued by the organisation. We would always advocate honesty in completing personality questionnaires. Selection is a two-way process; assessors are interested in how you fit the role but you should also see this as an opportunity to check if the role is right for you. In addition, many modern personality questionnaires have ‘response style indicators’ or ‘lie detectors’ built into them, which may show if you have tried to consciously manipulate your responses. You are also likely to be interviewed about your responses to the questionnaire, and any attempt to manipulate your responses may become apparent during the interview.
How will my test results be used? Test results may be used in a number of ways. In selection contexts there may be certain scores (pass marks) that you will be required to achieve on ability tests if you are to pass on to the next stage of the selection process. These ‘pass marks’ are less likely to apply to personality questionnaires. Test results may alternatively be combined with other assessment information and used as part of an overall decision-making process. Here a weaker performance in some areas may be compensated for by a stronger performance in others. Finally, personality questionnaire profiles may be used to identify areas that assessors are interested in exploring further, and so form the basis of questions asked at interview or during a questionnaire feedback session.
Is there a pass mark? There may be if you have taken an ability test but this is unlikely with personality tests. Some organisations have strict pass marks that need to be met. In these cases ability tests are often used towards the beginning of a selection process to sift out quite large numbers of applicants, especially for very popular jobs with high volumes of applicants.
Will I get feedback on my results? Not all organisations will automatically offer feedback, but if you want it, do ask. Due to large numbers of people being tested, it is increasingly rare to give verbal feedback to all candidates, but if this is offered it is always worth taking it. Feedback may be given in written form, sometimes by a computer-generated report, or only given if requested. It is worth noting that the Data Protection Act gives test takers the right of access to information that is stored on them, and you can make a request for this information if it is not forthcoming. Whenever you get feedback, bear in mind that this will usually be in the form of overall scores, not at the level of your answers to individual questions.
I have been asked to take a test online.How should I approach this? Online test administration is becoming increasingly popular, as it allows testing to be done without having to invite test takers to a testing venue and from anywhere with an internet-ready computer. You should approach these tests in the same way as you would a test administered in a face-to-face testing session. Just because the test is not supervised, do not feel tempted to cheat as you may be retested later if you are successful at this stage. It is also vital that you complete the test in a suitable environment – quiet and free from distractions. If you have any concerns about online testing, you should contact you assessor in the same way you would ask questions during a face-to-face test session.
What if I have a disability that affects my test performance? If you have a disability that you think may affect your test performance or your ability to participate in any aspects of a selection or development exercise, you should contact your assessor as soon as possible. Many assessors will ask you if you have any special requirements when they invite you to a test session. Under the Disability Discrimination Act organisations have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to all selection and assessment processes, though the nature of these adjustments depends on your specific needs. You may therefore be asked to discuss your requirements to ensure that any accommodations that are made adequately meet your needs.
How can I best prepare for interviews? Most of the questions you will be asked at an interview should be based around the job requirements and how you meet these requirements. They may also explore aspects of your experience, education and achievements. In preparing for an interview, you should carefully re-read your application or CV, and the job description. Think about what types of questions you may be asked, and think about how your experiences are relevant to the job requirements.
A common approach used by interviewers is to ask you to recall activities that you have been involved in that are likely to demonstrate the kinds of skills required for the job (e.g. Can you describe your experience of managing others?). A good preparation is therefore to think of specific situations that highlight the kinds of skills listed in the job requirements. If you do not have any direct relevant experience in some areas, we would recommend that you say this but then describe how you would deal with the situation if you were faced with it. Another very important thing to do is to make sure you find out about the organisation you are applying to – what they do, the market they operate in and recent developments that are likely to affect them. The internet makes it very easy to research organisations, so do make sure you spend some time doing this before attending an interview
How can I best prepare for an assessment or development centre? Assessment centres can contain a wide range of assessment activities, so you can do some general preparation for an assessment or development centre but also prepare for specific exercises if you know what these are going to be. As with interviews, re-reading the job description and your application, doing some research on the organisation and thinking about the kinds of questions you may be asked or skills you will be assessed on is all good preparation. Ahead of an assessment or development centre you should be sent a briefing, so make sure you read this carefully. If you would like to know more ahead of the centre, do get in contact with the organisation. They may not be able to answer all your questions, but providing your questions are sensible and not covered in the information you have already been sent, this should not affect your chances of success. Assessment exercises will tend to look at samples of your behaviour: presentations at you communication skills, written exercises at you ability to communicate effectively in writing, analysis exercises at your ability to understand complex information and determine a way forward, etc. Each of the sets of behaviours assessed by these exercises can be practised ahead of the centre, so when you know what exercises you will be facing, find some time to practice the kinds of behaviours they will be assessing.
I’ve heard about emotional intelligence, can you tell me more about this? Emotional intelligence is a concept that has become increasingly popular over the last ten years or so. A lot of claims have been made for the importance of emotional intelligence for successful job performance, though many of these have not been based on sound research. There is also a lot of dispute about what emotional intelligence actually is and how best to measure it. Despite such differences in opinion, a growing number of assessments are based around quite practical aspects of the ability to understand emotions in ourselves and others – what are sometimes referred to as ‘emotional competencies’. Assessments of these competencies often look at understanding of emotions in ourselves and others, the ability to manage our own emotions and those of others, and the ability to use emotional states productively to motivate and energise. There are many assessments of emotional intelligence but most are based on self-report approaches, making them very similar to personality questionnaires. They are used as part of selection processes by some organisations, though their widest use is for personal and team development.
I’ve heard of Situational Judgment Tests. What are these? Situational Judgment Tests or SJTs are a relatively recent type of test that is being increasingly used by organisations particularly for job selection, though they are also useful for development. SJTs typically present you with a short description or scenario containing an issue that needs to be dealt with (the ‘situation’). This is followed by various ways in which you could respond to the situation, and you are asked to indicate which of these are likely to be most effective or how effective you perceive each option to be (the ‘judgement’). These types of test have a high degree of ‘face validity’, that is they present test takers with scenarios they are likely to encounter in the workplace. Evidence also shows that SJTs assess abilities that are fairly distinct from those measured by more traditional ability tests.
Can I improve my performance on ability tests? This question relates to a longstanding debate in psychology as to whether abilities are relatively fixed or can be developed with effort and practice. Whether or not underlying potential or ‘intelligence’ can be developed, it is certainly possible to develop specific skills and competences with practice. One of the most useful points to recognise is that test taking itself is a skill. Any score you get on an ability test will be partly influenced by your actual ability and partly influenced by how you approach the test – your test taking skills or what is sometimes referred to as your ‘test wiseness’. By taking sample materials and practice tests, making sure you adopt appropriate tactics in terms of speed versus accuracy and guessing (see above for comments on these), and that you arrive for the test in a good frame of mind, you will do much to maximise your possible score by letting your real abilities be seen through the test.
Where can I find out more information about psychometric tests? There are many websites where you can find out more about tests, but some contain much better and more accurate information than others. The ones that we have found to be particularly useful are:
What should I do if I don’t understand how to do a test? If at any time you do not understand what a test requires you to do or how to complete it, you should ask your administrator. Administrators will usually be following a standardised script to ensure that all test takers get exactly the same instructions. Scripts will usually allow administrators to answer questions about the conduct of the test but not about individual test questions, with the possible exception of practice questions. Ensuring that you carefully read any preparatory material or sample questions that are sent to you before the test session will also help you highlight any areas where you want further clarification. If this is the case, it may be worth contacting your administrator before the test session to seek any further they may be able to give you.
Are tests accurate? Reliability or ‘accuracy’ is one of the key characteristics of a psychometric test. The need for tests to be accurate is so well recognised amongst test users, that all good test publishers will ensure that their tests have been developed to meet established standards of accuracy. Research has shown that the accuracy of tests is far higher than many of the other types of assessment that you may be asked to take part in (e.g. interviews, assessment exercises). This does not mean that tests are completely accurate. Measuring mental constructs is difficult and there are many factors that can introduce ‘noise’ into test results. The test itself is one such factor, as no measurement instrument is perfect. Other factors include how well the test is administered, the suitability of the environment for completing a standardised test and how motivated the test taker is.
Can I appeal against a test result? Usually it is only possible to appeal to the organisation that administered the test. If you do feel that a test result did not adequately reflect your ability or characteristics, it is always best to discuss this with the organisation. Before appealing against a result you should ensure you have clearly thought through what you are going to say and that you put it across clearly and succinctly. In practice, however, it is unlikely that you will be able to retake the test. It is important to remember that, in a job selection context, tests are like any other part of the selection process. Organisations are unlikely to be sympathetic if you ask to redo your application form or to have a go at the interview again, and the same applies to tests. The most likely outcome is that you will be invited to apply again when the organisation is next recruiting.
I am unhappy with how a test was conducted, what should I do? We could recommend that you always approach the person or organisation who administered the test to you. Competent test users are specially trained in the administration and feedback of tests, and are also expected to follow appropriate rules on how your test data is stored and used. They should follow best practice guidelines in their use of tests (e.g. guidelines can be downloaded from the Psychological Testing Centre) and are required by law to comply with data protection legislation. However, psychometric testing is not directly regulated in the UK, so most of the protection for test takers comes from legislation that applies to activities such as job selection more broadly, e.g. equal opportunities, anti-discrimination and data protection.