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A Full Guide to Aptitude Testing

What are Aptitude Tests, How are they Used, Top Tips and Advantages and Disadvantages of Aptitude Testing

What are Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests in a recruitment process measure a person’s ability to learn, think logically, and solve problems.  Aptitude tests commonly include numerical, verbal, abstract reasoning, problem-solving and spatial awareness tests.

It is essential to understand that aptitude tests are not intelligence tests.

Psychometric Aptitude Testing versus Psychometric Personality Questionnaires

Aptitude Tests are commonly referred to as ‘psychometric tests’; however, they are not an indicator of personality traits. 

Psychometric Personality Questionnaires such as MBTI, DiSC, 16pf, etc., are not tests as there are not ‘right’ or ‘wrongs’ in personality, just different traits are better for some jobs.  See more about psychometric personality questionnaires.

How do most Aptitude Tests work?

Most aptitude tests are designed to assess an individual’s cognitive abilities rather than just academic skills.  They generally involve a series of multiple-choice questions.  They usually cover a wide range of topics, from verbal and numerical reasoning to mathematics, problem-solving and spatial awareness.  The goal of aptitude tests is to measure an individual’s ability to learn and comprehend rather than their knowledge of a particular subject.

Aptitude Tests are a test of ‘fluid intelligence’, i.e. they do not require prior knowledge.  In theory, this ensures that every candidate is ‘in the same boat’ and therefore treated equally (not strictly true, but more of that later in the Disadvantages of Aptitude Tests).

What is Fluid Intelligence

Fluid intelligence (Cattell, 1963) is the ability to reason, analyse, and solve problems with little or no prior knowledge or experience.  In easy-to-understand terms, it means “raw brain horsepower”, i.e. how quickly and accurately you can come to decisions.

How Are Aptitude Tests Used in a Recruitment Process?

They are used to screen applicants or to identify candidates for further testing.  They are typically used to see how well you will take onboard training and knowledge.

What do Aptitude Tests look like?

  • Nowadays, they are completed online.
  • Falsified respondents are assumed to be as low as 5%. However, to avoid fraudulent applications, they often take place at an ‘Assessment Centre’ in a classroom-type environment.
  • Tests are usually multiple-choice and timed
  • You usually get a daunting number of questions in an extremely short time period to complete.
  • Each test is scored as a percentage. The test results then combine into an overall test score and are compared and validated against other test takers and the validation data (see https://www.aaronwallis.co.uk/employers/why-use-aaron-wallis/skills-testing/validating-skills-testing/)

 

How are Aptitude Tests Scored?

Sometimes you have to exceed a minimum pass score to be considered.  This score has usually been attained by successful staff that perform the same role within the organisation. 

Usually, your results will be compared or benchmarked against a ‘norm’ group (‘Comparison Group’).  The 'norm group' is the sample of test-takers used to represent the population/cohort for whom the test is intended.  For instance, this could be the general UK Working Population, graduates, management-level or staff from within a specific department or discipline, e.g. Marketing staff. 

What are the Main Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests are usually a combination of several tests that include:

  • Diagrammatic Reasoning – How you reason logically
  • Error Checking – How you identify errors.
  • E-tray/In Tray Exercise - How you prioritise tasks.
  • Long Term Memory – How you retain information in the long term.
  • Numerical Reasoning – How you deal with numbers.
  • Short Term Memory – How you retain information in the short term.
  • Situational Judgement - How you would approach situations.
  • Spatial Awareness – How you can visualise things in your mind.
  • Verbal Reasoning – How you comprehend words and paragraphs.

 

Top Tips for Aptitude Tests – Both Online and in an Assessment Centre Setting

  • Try and get a good night's sleep.
  • Take the stress out by arriving at least ten minutes before the designated time.
  • Listen to the instructions.
  • Ask questions if anything is unclear. You will typically be given some paper on which to make rough workings.
  • Plan your time - Before beginning each test, calculate roughly how much time you can dedicate to each question. Do not remain fixated on just one question; move on and attempt another.  Avoid guessing; if you do not have adequate time to answer a question, you can always return to it later.
  • Make sure that you are hydrated. Always accept water at any interview.
  • Ask whether you have to answer every question in succession (sometimes you do, in which case the ‘educated guess’ comes into play).
  • Often, tests use ‘negative marking’, i.e. if you answer 30 and score 15 correctly, you will score lower than someone who answered ten questions all correctly.
  • Ask whether the test uses negative testing before you start. If not, take ‘educated guesses’.
  • Don’t make assumptions. The tests are designed to be quite deliberately ambiguous in their wording.  Ask questions until you are 100% sure what is required of you.
  • Always complete the trial/practice questions. If you get these wrong, re-read the guidance and do them again until you get them all correct. 
  • Also, always ask whether the Aptitude Test is designed for i) Speed, ii) Accuracy or iii) a combination of both speed and accuracy
  • If it is a test of speed and accuracy, then try not to guess (or at least take an ‘educated guess’).
  • If it is solely a test of speed, then take an ‘educated guess’.
  • If it is solely a test of accuracy, then only answer the questions that you are fully confident are correct
  • Ask if you can mark your sheet. Often you cannot.
  • Ask about neurodiversity allowances, such as Autism Spectrum Conditions, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, DCD and ADHD. Almost all major test providers will make allowances such as access to a PC, extra time, or removing one or more of the tests.
  • Is English your first language? If not, ask whether you can take the test in your first language.
  • Ask who the test provider is beforehand. Big firms, famously Google (In the Plex, Levy, 2011), may have the resources to have their own.
  • Ask for pre-test instructions. Most test providers have help sheets/booklets.
  • Google the test. There will usually be examples online or hints/tips from previous applicants on what to look for.
  • If you want to get ‘into the zone’ Google ‘free SAT tests’. SAT Tests can sometimes help you get used to the style of questions and required tasks, in particular the ambiguous way that questions are asked!
  • Read through the instructions and do some practice examples in preparation.
  • In an Assessment Centre scenario, don’t worry if the Administrator is ‘frosty’ and quite deliberate/clinical in how they communicate and deliver the information – that’s their job!
  • At the testing session, ask if you need help for any reason. The Test Administrator’s primary function is to enable fairness.
  • Do not be afraid to ask to go over things again if you are unsure how to do any of the tests.
  • Usually, there cannot be any help given once the test has started.
  • If there are 60 questions and you have 30 minutes, allocate your time equally for each question.
  • Some people find it easier to answer the questions where they know the answer and return to the others if they have the time.
  • Aptitude Tests are designed to put you under time pressure. It’s common to feel confused when you start each test.  Take a deep breath and try to regain composure.
  • If there are five multiple-choice answers, you can typically take the odds down to two choices. Then take a 50/50.
  • If you know the test consists of five areas and say, ‘verbal reasoning’ is your nemesis, then focus your time on this area and speed through the rest.
  • Keep a positive mindset. Aptitude Tests are designed to provide a ludicrous number of questions in a ridiculously short space. 
  • Don’t be disheartened if you only answer half the questions in the allotted time. It is very rare for anyone to answer all of the questions correctly.
  • Don’t be demotivated if you struggle in one section of the battery of tests.
  • Most employers are looking for an ‘above average’ score rather than the top 2%ers.
  • If you are allowed a calculator, use one, but ensure you know how to use it!
  • If you get stuck, then move on.
  • Sure, practise the tests beforehand but understanding the instructions are more important.
  • Afterwards, ask for your test results.

Top Tips for Online Aptitude Tests

  • If completed online, choose the time that you know works best for you – are you a ‘Lark’ or an ‘Owl’.
  • Get yourself in a space where you feel comfortable. Dedicate the time required for the task.
  • Do all of the examples repeatedly until you have fully understood the instruction.
  • Turn off all potential distractions. Let others in your home know what you are doing.
  • Important: Most people feel mentally exhausted after completing an aptitude test so schedule an hour afterwards to reward yourself.

Common Aptitude Tests

The most common Aptitude tests and their providers/publishers are :

  • Thomas International - TST, GIA
  • SHL - Graduate/MGMT Tests
  • Saville – Executive Aptitude Tests
  • Talent Q – Aspects
  • Kenexa (IBM) – NRT & VRT
  • Wonderlic - Cognitive Ability Test.
  • Profiling for Success – PFS
  • Cubiks Logiks General Advanced
  • SAT, SHSAT, GRE and LSAT
  • British Army Recruitment Battery (BARB)
  • Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
  • General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB)

 

The Advantages of Aptitude Tests

  • While expensive, they ultimately help organisations save a lot of money
  • They also save organisations time
  • They help to facilitate a valid and fair comparison of candidates in the selection process.
  • They can help to remove unconscious bias from a recruitment process
  • They can provide insight into the future employee’s training needs
  • They can help organisations look further than a CV or previous experience and qualifications.
  • They can predict future performance and the psychometric providers have the data to corroborate this.

The Disadvantages of Aptitude Tests

  • They can cause ‘test anxiety’ – 18% of adults are affected by anxiety disorders (American Test Anxiety Association, 2017), and this is both rising and higher in younger adults.
  • (Usually) doesn’t test for specific domain expertise, i.e. a Biologist. But there are subject-specific Aptitude Tests such as Oxford University’s HAT.
  • Aptitude Testing should always be used in conjunction with other recruitment processes. Personally, I don’t agree with it being ‘the decision maker’, but the test providers argue that this is valid.
  • This can mean that ‘outside the box’ thinkers are dismissed from the process (‘Rebel Thinking’, Matthew Syed, 2019)
  • Aptitude testing cause diversity and inclusivity problems.
  • For instance, 2,000 members of the American Elite, from Fortune 500 CEOs to politicians to federal judges, were all significantly above average at aptitude tests (Wai, 2013).
  • In the USA, affluent families invest in specific ‘cram schools’ for SAT tests, and therefore perform better than those less fortunate. College admission tests are changing, though and becoming more holistic.
  • Wai’s conclusion to his research was “whom do the tests overlook?” - do aptitude tests show a ‘thumbnail of talent potential, rather than the full person?’ (Wai, 2013)
  • Aptitude tests neglect creativity, innovation and ‘out of the box’ thinking (Syed, 2019)
  • Finally, the dangers of Aptitude Testing. For an utterly repugnant usage of Aptitude tests, see Buck v Bell, 1927.

Aptitude Tests – Are They Fair?

  • Yes, if well designed and highly validated.
  • Yes, if the validation data shows a connection between high scores and high performance.
  • Yes, if it is designed for the level of the job role.
  • Yes, if it has mechanisms to support neurodiversity.
  • Yes, if it has mechanisms to support those whose first language is not that of the test.
  • Ideally, you should undertake psychometric aptitude tests in your ‘first language’. The larger providers offer this, so do ask.

Note

This is a transcript from a talk by Rob Scott, MD of Aaron Wallis, to Manchester University students about to embark on their first job search.  It, therefore, has several academic references and is written in a ‘talk style’.

 

Date published: 24th November 2023

Rob Scott, Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, Author Photo

About the author

Rob Scott

Rob is the Managing Director of Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, a national recruitment agency specialising in sourcing sales and marketing staff for businesses across a broad range of commercial sectors. Before setting up Aaron Wallis, Rob spent ten years at a specialist Sales and Marketing recruitment division of a £0.5BN recruitment group, leaving in 2007 as Marketing & Sales Director to establish Aaron Wallis.
 
With over 24 years of experience in sales recruitment, Rob is a History graduate with an MBA (Merit) and a PgCert in Management Practice.  In 2007, 2009 and 2013 Rob conducted the most extensive surveys of sales professionals in the UK and is a trusted authority in the sales industry. From guiding employers through the recruitment process to helping candidates find their dream job, Rob's advice has been quoted in leading publications such as Business Insider and The Independent, as well as OnRec, which host The Online Recruitment Awards every year.

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