So, you've finished your time at university, got your degree and graduated without falling off the podium. Congrats!
All that hard work is over, but one of the biggest challenges has yet to come.
Many graduates dream of getting a place on a prestigious graduate scheme - and for good reason too. These programmes are known for offering the most comprehensive training schemes, meaningful career progression and competitive salaries.
However, one of the first hurdles is among the most arduous: passing the psychometric tests used by many employers. Help is at hand though - these four tips from practice test provider Graduate Monkey should see you through.
Tip 1: Familiarise Yourself With The Types And Categories Of Tests
Graduate employers use a wide range of tests in their recruitment process. The most common, by far, are numerical reasoning tests and verbal reasoning tests. No matter what industry you're applying to, you are almost guaranteed that you'll have to take both of these (possibly along with a selection of others).
Numerical reasoning tests focus on the applicant's ability to interpret and manipulate numerical data. This could include working with graphs or fractions, converting currency or calculating percentages. The skills needed to succeed in these tests are are not overly challenging; what often catches people out is interpreting the questions correctly.
Jumping straight into mock numerical reasoning tests isn't always the best way to start. It may have been a while since you've picked up a calculator or had to use basic mathematical functions. Spend some time brushing up on your maths skills before you begin thinking about practice tests.
As you'd expect, numerical reasoning tests are used most commonly in finance-related graduate programmes. That said, since basic maths skills are essential in almost every industry, you'll come across them in most graduate recruitment programmes.
Most verbal reasoning tests assess the applicant's ability to comprehend and analyse verbal content; a few also aim to measure their knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar.
The language used in these tests is deliberately complex and can be difficult to interpret. While practising these tests is of course useful, it’s also a good idea to read academic texts and try to identify the key themes and arguments throughout. If you can get used to doing this routinely, your skills will be sharper and more refined under test conditions.
Other Common Tests
Think of numerical reasoning and verbal reasoning tests as the bread and butter of your graduate employment journey - but don't forget about the other tests too. Non-verbal reasoning, critical thinking and personality tests are also common. Here's a brief overview of each.
- Non-verbal reasoning: these test your ability to analyse visual information such as patterns and diagrams.
- Critical thinking: in these tests, you'll be asked to assess a short piece of writing and make critical judgements about its content.
- Personality tests: these tests are used by companies to discover which applicants will fit in best with their working culture and environment. Usually, you'll be presented with a difficult scenario and asked how you would act.
Tip 2: Practice Tests Specific To Your Industry And Employer
Some employers will provide you with practice versions of their aptitude tests, so you can practise them in advance. This is a great way to refine your skills and familiarise yourself with the data and the language that is used.
If your employer doesn’t offer its own practice test, don’t worry - various practice packages are offered online for all the types of psychometric tests you might have to face. Graduate Monkey, which authored this article, is one such provider.
It’s important to be aware that different companies use different test formats, as well as different providers (the most common being SHL, Kenexa and Saville). Don't assume that the numerical reasoning test that you took for, say, Morgan Stanley, will be the same as that used by KPMG. Research the style of test that company uses, to avoid getting caught out.
Although these test providers are of course similar, there are some key differences between them. Kenexa, for example, gives test-takers an average of one minute to answer each question – significantly less time than the other providers. SHL breaks some of its tests into two parts, leaving the more difficult parts for the assessment centre. The Saville tests are generally the shortest in terms of time, but equally difficult.
Tip 3: Stay Calm Under Pressure
Taking a graduate reasoning test is a very nerve-wracking experience. How you perform in the space of 20 minutes or so decides whether or not your application continues. It’s a scary thought, sure, but it’s critical that you put this to the back of your mind during the test.
If you did a lot of exams at university, you probably have a routine that works for you. Whether that's doing some light meditation before the test, eating a specific meal beforehand or even taking in a mascot, do the things that you know help to calm you down.
Don’t practise at all on the day of the test. Read the questions carefully, and re-read them if nerves are getting the better of you. All the information needed to pass the test will be in front of you on the screen. You just need to bring your analytical and interpretational skills to the table.
If you're doing the test at home, rather than an assessment centre, choose a quiet space away from distractions like pets, noise or other people.
Remember that these tests aren't designed to be easy. You can rest assured that almost everyone sitting the test is finding it difficult. Just remember that if you’ve practised and you’re familiar with the test, there’s no reason for you not to pass.
And if you do fail, then consider your time sitting the test as even more practice for the next one. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Tip 4: Manage Your Time Effectively
Time management is one of the most important skills to have when taking an aptitude test. Before the test begins, take a note of how long you have to finish it and how many questions you will be asked. From this, you'll be able to figure out how much time to spend on each question.
Also, be sure to check the instructions and find out whether you can go back and change any questions once you get to the end of the test. Some providers allow this and others don’t, so make sure you know before you begin.
Most online tests will have a time counter on the screen, so it's easy to track your progress. If you're doing the test at an assessment centre, bring a watch so you don't need to waste precious seconds looking up at the clock.
As in any exam, don't waste time pondering a question you don't know how to answer. The chances are that there will be other questions further on in the test that you can answer quickly and easily.
Graduate reasoning tests are often tricky, but never impossible. Like anything, the key is practice. Familiarise yourself with the tests and you’re one step ahead of the competition. If you can concentrate, stay calm and manage your time effectively on the day, you are giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed.
This article was written by Qobil Yusunov, owner of Graduate Monkey.
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