Cognitive Ability Test

Cognitive ability tests (such as Wonderlic tests or Predictive Index tests) are a form of psychometric assessment designed to measure general intelligence. The tests are widely used by organisations as part of the recruitment process in order to assess a candidate’s competence and suitability for the role, and to predict future performance.

Typically, cognitive ability tests cover some or all of the following categories: numerical, verbal, abstract, spatial and mechanical reasoning. Questions can take many different forms and cover varying degrees of difficulty, depending on the type of ability being assessed.

Background and Context

The idea of rating a person’s cognitive intelligence is hardly a new one: after all, the German psychologist William Stern coined the term “intelligence quotient” (IQ) back in 1912. But over the last 100 years, this original measure of cognitive function has evolved to provide the uniquely objective, highly accurate information upon which many employers now base their recruitment decisions.

It’s worth noting that a staggering 70% of companies in the FTSE 100 now use psychometric tests – of which cognitive ability tests form a major part – as a standard recruitment tool.

Role in Recruitment

The key thing about cognitive ability tests is that they provide employers with a depth of insight into a candidate’s strengths that other selection methods – such as interviews, references and background checks – simply do not yield. They allow employers to gauge how effectively candidates are able to learn, adapt, understand instructions and solve problems.

Importantly, research shows that those candidates with higher test scores are more productive and require less training than their lower-scoring counterparts, and this can equate to significant financial gains.

How Does a Cognitive Ability Test Work?

Cognitive ability tests are made up of a series of multiple-choice questions designed to give an accurate intellectual profile of the person answering them. Although some tests might focus on a single category, such as numerical reasoning or verbal reasoning, many include a mix of these, along with spatial, mechanical and abstract reasoning. This depends on the recruiter’s preferences, and whether they’re after a highly focused, or much more general, set of results.

On the test paper, expect to see everything from numbers, words and letters to weird and wonderful shapes and sequences. Tests are usually carried out on computers, to be completed within a set time frame.


Few candidates believe it’s worth their while preparing for a cognitive ability test, given that it assesses innate intelligence. Although it would, of course, be impossible to alter your natural mental capabilities, there is strong evidence to suggest that preparation can significantly improve your chances of succeeding on the day – not least, by familiarising you with a typical test’s format, length and style. Your prospective employer should tell you, ahead of your recruitment day, what sort of test you will be presented with; they might also supply some sample questions.

The key thing here is practice. Familiarity with the format and time frame of a cognitive ability test will stand you in good stead. Get used to the style of question and start timing yourself to be able to answer all the questions during the time period set. You can practise tests very similar to the ones used by employers via Job Test Prep, AssessmentDay and Graduate Monkey.

Cognitive Abillity Test Technique

  • Bring/use a stopwatch.
  • Be prepared with scrap paper if doing an online test.
  • Work swiftly but carefully- some answers are there to trick you.
  • Calculate the maximum amount of time to be allocated to a question and stick to it using your stopwatch.
  • Do not use any general knowledge when answering questions. Everything you need to answer the question is included in the passage.


Ask your prospective employer what sort of test you’re set to take as part of the recruitment process, if they haven’t already supplied you with this information. Make sure you complete a couple of practice papers before undertaking the real thing, so that you can familiarise yourself with the format and know what kinds of questions to expect – including their number, length, subject matter and style.

The key to effective practice is to keep test conditions as realistic as possible, so be sure to set a timeframe and go to a place where you won’t be interrupted. The likelihood is that you won’t be allowed to scribble down notes in a formal cognitive ability test, so get used to visualisation and mental note-taking. Often, if tests are conducted online, the time you take to complete a question can affect your overall score significantly; so keep that in mind and, once you’ve started a question; try not to linger.

Having said that, it’s worth reading a question twice – or even three times – if you feel confused. Take a deep breath and recite the question in your mind. Try to avoid guessing your answers. Although it’s tempting to guess when you’re faced with a difficult multiple-choice question under pressure, it’s far better to take a bit longer to answer and know that you’ve followed a clear and logical thought process, rather than to answer too quickly and get it wrong.

Practising Cognitive Ability Tests

We have the following practice tests for you to try. They are very similar to the real tests you will have to sit, and of similar difficulty. These tests are not timed, however you must be able to answer each question in '''one minute or less''' when you sit the real thing. You can take the tests as many times as you please, and you will be marked at the end. Unlike the real tests, you are not permitted to revisit questions you have already answered.

Here are two free sample tests for you to get started with (you must be logged in to take this test):

Numerical Practice Test 1 - Free!

Verbal Reasoning Practice Test 1 - Free!

If you spot any problems with our tests, please email [email protected] to let us know.