Cognitive ability tests, such as the Wonderlic test, Revelian tests and Predictive Index tests, have become a crucial part of many companies’ recruitment processes. They are a form of psychometric test designed to measure intelligence through logic, reasoning and problem-solving exercises.
This article will provide a broad overview of what cognitive ability tests are, how they are structured and how to prepare for them.
Cognitive ability tests began to develop at the end of the 19th century as a way to measure ‘general mental ability’. Initially such tests were highly inaccurate, leading to psychologists developing standardized methods of qualitatively scoring intelligence and comparing test results.
For example, psychologist William Stern coined the term ‘Intelligence Quotient’ in 1912, as a means of finding the difference between a child’s mental age and their chronological age.
In 1904, psychologist Charles Spearman recognized that individuals who demonstrated the ability to complete one task, such as identifying patterns, would also do well at other tasks, such as solving arithmetic problems. Spearman theorized that individuals possess a ‘general mental ability’ similar to intelligence. Thus, the concept of a test to assess cognitive ability began to develop.
Since the groundbreaking work of psychologists such as Spearman and Stern, cognitive ability tests have become common recruitment tools across multiple industries, from the military to sales and everything in between.
In the United States, around 43% of all companies now use psychometric tests like cognitive assessments to measure a job candidate’s suitability, and the figure is 70% for FTSE 100 companies.
It is therefore highly likely that you will be asked to take a cognitive ability test by a prospective employer.
The classic cognitive ability test uses the following types of questions:
Most tests can be completed using a computer. Typically the test will be made up of multiple-choice questions of varying difficulty; the results will present an accurate profile of your intellectual capabilities.
Usually, cognitive ability tests will have a time limit for completion. Some will require you to complete all the questions; others will ask that you complete as many questions as possible in the time allowed.
You should always familiarize yourself with how your particular test will be timed during your preparation. Be aware that the length of time it takes you to complete the test may be taken into account in your results.
Psychologists tout cognitive ability tests as being an excellent predictor of a prospective employee’s future performance at work. The tests measure abilities such as:
Demonstrating a high cognitive ability indicates that a candidate is good at adapting to new work environments, making intelligent decisions and learning new skills quickly – essential skills for excelling at a new job.
Candidates with higher test scores tend to be more productive and require less training than their lower-scoring counterparts. This can equate to significant financial benefits for the employer.
For these reasons, cognitive ability tests are a crucial and sometimes deciding factor in many employers' recruitment processes.
Employers source their cognitive ability tests from a variety of test providers depending on their individual needs. Here are some of the test providers and the companies which use them:
The Wonderlic test assesses job candidates' aptitudes using a mixture of logic and puzzle recognition, fact recognition, word problems and verbal reasoning questions.
There are two versions of the test:
Some companies known to use Wonderlic are:
The Predictive Index Cognitive Assessment tests skills such as verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and pattern recognition. It comprises 50 questions to be answered in 12 minutes.
Companies that use Predictive Index tests include:
SHL is one of the leading providers of employment aptitude tests. Each SHL test is designed to assess one particular competency.
The test is usually conducted in two stages. First, the candidate completes the test online. Then, if the candidate is invited to an assessment day, they will be asked to complete another shorter version of the test to verify their answers.
Types of SHL test include:
Companies that use SHL tests include:
Revelian tests are taken by over 200,000 people worldwide and are the most popular psychometric test taken by graduate jobseekers in Australia.
Revelian has identified various characteristics typical of candidates with the cognitive ability required to succeed at work, and has developed aptitude tests in the following areas:
Companies that use Revelian tests include:
Many job candidates believe there's no benefit in preparing for cognitive ability tests. Some think their intelligence will speak for itself; others think that, since the questions are random and cannot be predicted, it's not possible to prepare.
In fact, you can (and should) prepare for cognitive ability tests by familiarizing yourself with:
The more familiar you are with the overall format of the test, the more time you can spend focusing on answering the questions during the time limit.
There are also countless cognitive ability sample questions and tests you can access online to prepare for the test. Although the questions won't be the same as on the real test, practicing similar styles of questions and timing yourself is the best way you can prepare.
As most practice tests aren’t timed, set yourself a timer of one minute per question to ensure your practice reflects true test conditions as closely as possible.
Some final tips to bear in mind:
Finally, try these helpful practice tests to help you get a feel for the real thing.
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