10 Tips for Taking Ability Tests

Ability TestsHaving administered ability tests for jobs ranging from call centre staff, sales advisors and graduates to finance, HR and technical professionals I know that very few of us (if any!) look forward to sitting a test as part of a job application process.

However with studies just last year showing that “80% of FTSE 100 companies use aptitude tests in the recruitment process” and “8 out of ten facing psychometric tests” at managerial level, it’s something many of us these days need to prepare ourselves for.

Whilst there are a wide range of different ability tests available there are some common hints and tips we believe will help you perform at your best on the day.

1. What’s it all about?

Where possible find out the names of the tests in advance and what abilities the tests are actually assessing. Knowing whether you’ll be taking a tested on ‘calculation’ or ‘understanding instructions’ may help your preparation.

2. Practice!

Most test providers will have practice tests for you to try before you sit the actual test. Ask your contact how you can access practice questions relevant to the test you will be sitting.

 At Escape we use SHL tests – you can access a range of their practice tests here.

 3. Pay attention to instructions – and ask for help!

Instructions may be read aloud to you and/or may be given to you to read. Either way make sure you read/listen to them carefully and most importantly that you understand them. If you aren’t sure about anything, ask for help before you start the test. You may not be able to ask once the test has started so ensure you know:

  • What you’ve got to do
  • How to complete the questions/answer sheet
  • How much time you have for each question and/or the whole test

 4. Pay attention to the questions

Be careful about skimming questions. Make sure you know what the question is asking you – often it’s something more straightforward than you first think! For example I’ve noticed in multiple choice questions there is sometimes a “Cannot Say” option but if you don’t spot this you may spend a long time trying to work out something that cannot be worked out!

5. Think about speed AND accuracy

Different tests measure results in different ways. Ask whether your test is looking at speed, accuracy or (as most do) a combination of both. With many of the tests I deliver, candidates will need to answer certain amount of questions correctly to be successful, so my advice is always to:

“Work as quickly and as accurately as you can throughout the tests and if you aren’t sure of the answer mark your best choice but try to avoid wild or random guesses.”

6. Ask for feedback

Feedback can be given in a variety of formats depending on the test itself but always ask if they can give you information on your results. It can be helpful to know how you could perhaps improve for future tests. For example if you answered your questions accurately but just didn’t answer enough in the time provided you’d know you need to work on your speed.

7. Wear a watch….and remember your reading glasses!

If you’ve only got 10 minutes to answer 30 questions you’ll probably want to keep an eye on the time and if there’s not a clock you’ll be grateful for your trusty watch. (Many assessors will ask you to turn off your phone so you can’t always rely on using that for timekeeping!)

8. Don’t give up!

Pass marks differ from one test to another and often you don’t always need to complete all questions correctly to pass. Additionally when you have 2 or more tests to complete you may find that one test is weighted more than another. So, if you have to skip a question or you feel you haven’t done well on the first test and still have another test to complete don’t give up!

9. Remember first impressions!

In addition to the test itself, remember you are also being assessed on the day in other ways. If you act unprofessional, are late, rude or clearly unmotivated it won’t go unnoticed by the assessor. You may still pass your ability test but might have failed the all-important “good first impressions” test!

10. Testing at home

More and more tests are available for you to complete at home. Top tips here are:

  • Give yourself plenty time, peace and quiet to complete the test
  • Make sure you have access to a reliable internet connection (and feedback any problems you had that may have impacted on the time you took)
  • Have all the equipment you need to hand (eg calculator, rough paper, pencil)
  • Turn off your phone and ignore the door – once you’ve started a test it’s not always possible to pause it!

These are just a few tips and we hope they help you when you’re next sitting ability tests.

If you have any advice you’d like to share we’d be delighted to hear from you and pass it on. You can use the comments section below or email assessment@go-escape.com

Connect with Laura

Laura is qualified to SHL level A & B and has over 12 years’ experience in delivering a wide range of assessment tools supporting apprentice and graduate level campaigns through to supporting managerial and professional level recruitment.

Laura won “Best Newcomer” to the SHL’s Partner Network and continues to be a member of this group since 2007.

Connect with Laura on LinkedIn or email her at laura.barnet@go-escape.com


3 thoughts on “10 Tips for Taking Ability Tests

  1. Maggie Allen

    You make a really good point about trying to increase both your speed and accuracy. In my opinion, it isn’t possible to do well on any aptitude test if you aren’t utilizing both of those traits. After all, be less accurate means that a higher percentage of your questions will be incorrect! How would you suggest increasing your accuracy? I know that it is possible to get faster by practicing, but does that also help make you more precise?


    1. Escape Recruitment Services

      Hi Maggie, thanks for your message and question. As you know, aptitude tests are designed to measure your ability in certain areas and whilst you can often work on developing your skills in those areas over time, the advice to “work as quickly and as accurately as you can throughout the tests” refers more to ensuring you follow the instructions, answer the questions asked and complete the specific tasks (eg select/rank options, calculate the sum/average/maximum etc) coupled with an awareness of the fact that the test is timed and you may need to balance how quickly you work with accurately you work. For example in a numerical test if there was no time pressure you may spend longer double checking your calculations to be sure your answer is accurate but in a test you may have to decide whether to spend more time on one answer or move on to the next question.
      One other comment relating to improving accuracy: completing practice tests beforehand can ensure you are more familiar with the types of questions you will be asked, what it feels like to complete it in the time required and even little things like the layout of the screen, all of which will help you prepare better for the real test. Whilst it won’t help you improve your skills in numerical/verbal reasoning etc, it could reduce any anxiety you may have about completing the test and improve your approach to managing your time, both of which could help with your focus and approach, positively contributing to your end result.
      For more information on preparing for assessments and practice tests you can visit the CEB (previously known as SHL) website. They are the test provider we use and consult with, hope you find this helpful: https://www.cebglobal.com/shldirect/en-us



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