Updated 28 July 2020
A Microsoft Excel test is a tool that employers use during the recruitment process to check how proficient candidates are with Excel. Spreadsheets allow users to input and analyse data efficiently, and are used in all kinds of office jobs; as such, these tests are becoming increasingly common.
The difficulty of the test varies depending on the position applied for but employers will certainly test candidates’ ability to perform basic functions such as printing, formatting cells and inserting tables.
It is also likely that employers will be looking for an understanding of relative, absolute and mixed references – concepts that are crucial to Excel.
Where candidates are expected to have a more thorough knowledge of Excel they will be asked to demonstrate more advanced functions such as VLOOKUP, SUMIF and COUNTIF, and creating custom charts.
The Excel test may be presented as a series of multiple-choice questions or it may use interactive software to simulate the use of Excel’s interface.
Some companies will set a test they have built themselves. This would usually be an interactive test and will often involve working with Excel software itself. In the majority of cases, companies will use specifically designed software from a test provider.
Multiple-choice tests will include questions covering every area of the software, so candidates will need to be very familiar with key functions and layout. The multiple-choice questions are pulled at random from a large pool of possible questions, so no test is the same.
The simulation format is more common for Excel tests. Here candidates must complete a series of tasks on an Excel spreadsheet, according to their skill level.
Candidates will be asked to sit a basic, intermediate or advanced level test, depending on the position they are applying for. We'll cover each in turn.
A basic Excel test is used for positions that require candidates to be comfortable performing the most common Excel tasks. The test may form part of an application for entry-level and administrative jobs.
The types of tasks included in the basic Excel test might include:
An intermediate Excel test is used for jobs where candidates will need to work with Excel at a higher level. Along with the skills assessed on the basic test, tasks may include:
The advanced Excel test is used for jobs where applicants will need to be confident using the full range of Excel’s features and understand how best to apply them.
Candidates for accountancy positions, or other jobs where Excel is used for financial calculations or to manage large databases, may be required to take an advanced Excel skills test. Tasks may include:
Many of the psychometric test companies that candidates might be familiar with from previous job application assessments also provide Excel skills test. The most popular are the SHL Microsoft Excel tests and the Kenexa Prove It! Excel tests.
SHL provides three different types of Excel skills test: Interactive, Interactive-Essentials and Adaptive. Let's examine each of those:
This is taken on interactive software that simulates the use of Excel’s interface. Each question consists of a task for the user to complete, along with accompanying data.
There are a maximum of 30 questions with a time limit of around 35 minutes.
Unlike working with Excel for real, the interactive software does not allow much room for trial and error, so formulas and functions must be spelled correctly. Some Excel shortcuts will also be inactive.
This is similar to the Interactive Test above but covers only the most vital and commonly used Excel operations. There are a maximum of 20 questions or tasks with a time limit of about 25 minutes.
This Excel skills test uses Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT), which constantly adapts the test as it progresses according to the examinee’s level.
It's made up of a series of multiple-choice questions of varying difficulty. These are selected based on the candidate’s previous performance on the test.
So if a candidate answers an intermediate level question correctly, the next question will be of the same level or harder, and vice versa.
The Adaptive Test has a maximum of 30 multiple-choice questions and a time limit of 90 minutes, although most candidates will complete it in around 20 minutes.
Like the SHL Interactive tests, the Kenexa Prove It! Excel tests are interactive and simulate real Excel software. There are two levels:
Usually, the test will include a number of Microsoft Word tests and typing assessments, with Excel among them.
Tasks pop up at the bottom of the screen and candidates must complete each one before moving on to the next. There are no multiple-choice questions.
Again, the Prove It interface does not allow for trial and error in the way that actual Excel software does. Some shortcuts cannot be used and formulas have to be typed out correctly with no help from the programme.
There will only be one correct answer, even if there are a number of ways to perform the action.
Unlike the SHL Excel tests, time is not limited on the Prove It! exams. However, it is measured and will affect the final result.
Below are a few examples of the types of questions you might see in an Excel skills test. These cover both the interactive and multiple-choice style of test, and there are questions for basic, intermediate and advanced levels.
Copy the table below into a new Excel spreadsheet, making sure that the cell marked with (A1) is pasted in cell A1 in the spreadsheet. Once the table is in place, move on to the questions below.
Category (A1) | Product Name | Quantity | Inventory | Price per Unit | Total Price |
Office Supplies | Binder | 2 | 20 | 12.99 | 25.98 |
Office Supplies | Pencil | 20 | 20 | 0.99 | |
Electronics | Samsung 4K Smart TV | 1 | 5 | 399.00 | |
Electronics | Bluetooth Speakers | 4 | 5 | 44.49 | |
Computers | Lenovo X230 12in Laptop | 2 | 2 | 279.90 |
You can’t bluff your way through an Excel skills test, so make sure you’re clear about what you will need to know.
Spend some time refreshing your skills and becoming familiar with any features you haven’t used before. Even if you are an experienced Excel user, the pressure of test conditions can affect your performance.
Remember that the interactive tests do not allow for trial and error. Below are a few hints and tips to help you perform at your best:
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