How to approach aptitude tests and assessment centres

Published: 24 September 2014

Just hearing that a test or assessment centre is part of an interview process can be enough to make even the strongest of candidates reconsider or even withdraw from a process. 

I hold a Degree/Masters I hear you cry and I’ve done a similar job for the past 10 years – why do I need to do these tests? Your Masters in quantitative physics will differ enormously from someone’s MBA. They are used as a standard measurement to give a consistent gauge of all candidates. They are however only used as part of the assessment process. Anything unexpected thrown up in the tests will be covered during an interview. 

Let’s look at the purpose of these tests; some might be part of a standard company HR process on bringing on board anyone above a certain level, others might be a particular favourite of the hiring manager. The tests come in various guises; verbal, numeric, abstract, occupational personality questionnaires, the list goes on.  Different tests clearly look for different aptitudes from your ability to assess verbal or numeric data or in order to get an insight into your personality and ethics.

More often than not, you get the opportunity to complete these tests in the comfort of your own home, however they frequently have a time constraint attached to them. They also typically have a deadline – so be mindful of this and don’t leave it to the last minute.

My advice would be to:

  1. Find a quiet time and place to undertake the tests. The tests can often be demanding enough without the distraction of a TV or children playing in the background.
  2. Practice makes perfect. You will often get 3-4 sample questions to answer immediately prior to starting the test – however do your research and practice in advance. Ask your consultant or the company to notify you of which type of tests you will be asked to undertake and search online for sample questions. This will give you some insight into what to expect and hopefully help build up your confidence in preparation for undertaking them for real.
  3. Try and stay calm throughout, have a pen and pad at hand and a calculator for the numeric tests.
  4. If time is running out don’t rush at the end and guess the answer to the remaining questions; you’re generally assessed on a percentage of the questions you answer, however there does tend to be a minimum amount that you are expected to complete in the allotted time.
  5. For the Occupational Personality type questions, you need to be truthful to yourself and answer the questions as consistently as possible. Too many candidates fall into the trap of answering questions that they think correspond to the demands and traits of the job they are applying for. The results will show how consistent you have been in your answers and you would be required to re-sit the test if the consistency measurement is too low.

The tests are used to gauge your general intellect and problem solving ability whilst under pressure. The more you practice them the less intimidating they become.

Assessment centres are a little harder to prepare for as each one can be different and throw up a variety of scenarios. Again your consultant should be able to give you some insight as to what to expect on the day. The most important part during an assessment centre, particularly during a group exercise, is to participate – don’t sit there without contributing, but do pause, observe, listen and respond. Try to be succinct and avoid waffling. Don’t always feel the need to take the lead – they are not always looking for a leader to emerge from these tests. If the exercise has a time limit to it – stick to it. Be mindful of when you started and ensure you have sufficient time at the end to summarise the group’s discussion and reach an agreement.

Most of all try and enjoy them and learn from the experience.  

Richard Guest is a Consultant specialising in Procurement and Supply Chain roles at Berwick Partners. 

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