This type of test presents candidates with hypothetical and challenging situations that employees might encounter at work, and may involve working with others as part of a team, interacting with others, and dealing with workplace problems.
The key is that an SJT should reflect things that you will actually encounter during your job.
In response to each situation, candidates are presented with several possible actions (in multiple choice format) that could be taken when dealing with the problem described.
Situational judgement tests are typically designed for the specific company, rather than for generic situations. This makes any situational judgement test you take feel relevant to the role, which helps you as a candidate tackle it and helps the employer feel more confident about the results.
Situational judgement tests are looking to see how you would respond to workplace scenarios.
Why do Employers Use Situational Judgement Tests?
Situational judgement tests, or SJTs, have been used for over 70 years, and date back to the 1940s. They have become increasingly popular as tools for recruitment because they can assess job-related skills other assessments are unable to measure, such as problem solving, decision making and interpersonal skills.
SJTs are also useful for assessing soft skills and non-academic, practical intelligence. They are often used in combination with a knowledge-based test to give a better overall picture of a candidate's aptitude for a particular job.
Another advantage of SJTs for employers is that they are an effective way of sifting candidates from a large pool, so you will more frequently encounter them with large companies than small ones.
Companies that use situational judgement tests as part of their application process include the Big Four business services firms (PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY), the Civil Service Fast Stream, John Lewis, Waitrose, Herbert Smith Freehills and Sony.
What Competencies Do SJTs Typically Assess?
Broadly speaking, situational judgement tests are looking to get a sense of the candidate's ability in each of these four competencies:
- Communication skills. How persuasive are you? Can you select the best means to communicate on someone's level and empathise with them?
- Teamwork. Are you willing to prioritise the needs of a team above an individual? Are you capable of encouraging team members effectively?
- Decision making. Can you exercise discretion and solid judgement when a situation requires action to be resolved?
- People skills. How do you approach customer feedback? How do you demonstrate leadership?
Essentially, what SJTs are measuring is your ability to perform your role well not in terms of the competencies needed, but in terms of the environment.
Someone could be an excellent project leader in a small company with small teams and lots of freedom, but struggle at the same role in a larger company with bigger teams and more layers of management to go through.
The SJT will therefore assess how suited you are to the environment that surrounds your job. Who are you dealing with? How fast-paced is it? How much initiative do you need to take, versus how much prior planning needs to be conducted? What kind of teams will you be working in?
It’s crucial for both you and the company to be sure that, regardless of how good you are at the nuts and bolts of your job, you’ll be working in an environment that allows you to thrive.
How do Situational Judgement Tests Work?
Most commonly, your task on a situational judgement test will be to select both the most effective and the least effective response to the situation described, from a choice of 4 or 5 possible actions. However, some tests may ask you to pick only the most effective response, or to list the responses in order of effectiveness.
Unlike most psychological tests, SJTs are not usually acquired 'off-the-shelf', but are designed as a bespoke tool, tailor-made to suit individual job role requirements. For this reason, and also because situational judgement tests are produced by a number of different firms, tests may differ slightly from one another in terms of length, format and structure.
The format of SJTs still varies widely: most are digital, though a few are still paper-based. Some now use video clips or digital animation to provide a more realistic setting to the tests.
Situational judgement tests usually consist of a series of work-based scenarios that could be faced by someone working in the position you have applied for. Scenarios may range from ethical dilemmas to difficulties with colleagues or clients, to common everyday problems.
SJTs usually assess the key competencies companies believe are essential for employees to possess to be successful in the particular job role applied for. In each scenario, one or more of the competences from the job description is likely to be tested.
The test will usually consist of between 25 to 50 short descriptions of problem situations. Each description is usually followed by one, two or three questions, which will ask you to select either: the most effective and the least effective responses available; just the most effective response available, or; to rank all the responses in order of effectiveness. Situational judgement tests are always multiple choice.
One curious aspect of situational judgement tests is that they usually don't have a time limit. The idea is that you should answer the questions relatively promptly, basing your answers to some extent on instinct, but you shouldn't be pressured into rushing into a response.
Generally speaking you will be given around a minute per question as a guideline (as in the free sample test below).
Each answer is worth one mark. Your score will be the total number of correct answers.
Take a Free Practice Situational Judgement Test
The test consists of 5 questions to be answered in 5 minutes approx (although there is no timer on the test itself). You need to get 80% correct (4 out of 5) to pass the test. You can take the test as many times as you like. Click the 'Take test' link below to get started.
This question asks candidates to choose the most effective and the least effective responses from a list of five.
Everyone in your department has received a new computer system except for you.
What would you do?
Please choose the most effective and the least effective responses:
- A - Assume this is a mistake and speak to your manager.
- B - Confront your manager regarding why you are being treated unfairly.
- C - Take a new computer from one of your colleagues.
- D - Complain to the Human Resources department.
- E - Quit.
Answers to Question One
A. This is the most effective response available from the list. If you have not been given appropriate equipment to do your job, then speaking to your manager (who has responsibility for ensuring you are given the correct equipment) is the right thing to do.
B. It is not right to assume you have been treated unfairly, until you have spoken to your manager.
C. Although you have not been given a new computer and your colleagues have been, it would not be right to take someone else's computer. This does not fix the problem, just moves the problem on to someone else.
D. Making a complaint would be a good decision if your manager fails to act after you have spoken to them, but you should speak to them first.
E. This is the least effective response available from the list. Quitting would be ridiculous, after what is effectively only a small problem.
This question asks candidates to rank the available responses from most effective to least effective in number order.
You are aware that large amounts of company property have been going missing over the past couple of weeks. You have noticed one of your colleagues putting stationery and other equipment from the office into her bag on a number of occasions and suspect that she is responsible.
What is your response to the situation?
Rank the following options in number order from the least effective to most effective response, with (5) being the least effective and (1) being the most effective.
- A - Gather more evidence and catch her red-handed.
- B - Confront your colleague and ask her about what you have noticed.
- C - Inform your manager that you suspect your colleague is stealing.
- D - Don't do anything. If guilty your colleague will be caught.
- E - Privately ask some of your colleagues if they have noticed anything suspicious recently.
Answers to Question Two
5 (least effective) - D. This would be the worst option from the list. This option does not resolve the issue. You have not addressed why this behaviour is occurring, confronted your suspicions or informed anyone else. This activity is illegal and may now continue indefinitely.
4 - A. In this option you are not taking decisive action. Instead, you are spying on your colleague and wasting your own time. In the meantime more hospital property may be stolen.
3 - E. In this option, you are at least doing something, but are still not taking any decisive action. Gathering further information will not necessarily bring about a resolution or allay your suspicions, will not prevent further theft and may lead to misplaced rumours being spread about your colleague, who may quite possibly be innocent.
2 - C. By doing this you take decisive action and draw your problem to the attention of someone senior, who can deal with the situation through the correct channels. However, you might be wrong and you haven't given your colleague the chance to explain their actions first.
1 - (most effective) B. This is the best option from the list as it allows you to discuss the issue directly with your colleague addressing your suspicions and clearing any doubt or ambiguity. On the basis of this outcome you would then proceed to option C.
This question asks candidates to choose only the most effective response from a list of four.
At the end of a busy day at work, you accidentally send an e-mail containing an attachment with some confidential client information to the wrong person.
Which of the following would be the best thing to do?
- A - Decide to leave the office and deal with any problems tomorrow.
- B - Decide to overlook your error, send the e-mail to the correct person and leave things like that.
- C - Immediately send a follow up email to the "wrong" person, or if possible telephone them explaining your mistake. Then send the email to the correct person.
- D - Find your manager, explain what has happened to them and let them deal with any problems.
Answers to Question Three
A - This is the least effective decision. In this scenario, you would have sent the wrong person the important email, but not have sent the correct individual the email.
B - This is not an effective decision. Although you do send the email to the correct person, you do not rectify the error you have made, which you must do.
C - This is the most effective decision. In this scenario you explain your mistake to your colleague and send the email to the correct person.
D - This is not an effective decision. If the contents of your email are very confidential then it would be a good idea to explain your mistake to your manager. However, it is not necessary to pass this type of issue to your boss to deal with, when you could quite easily deal with this yourself.
How Employers See Your Test Results
Once you complete your SJT, the results are usually scored automatically. But, being a soft skills test, the answers aren’t always clear-cut.
Sometimes there are several decent answers, and sometimes there are none that seem good.
Typically, the employer will rank the answers of each question. The computer will then assign your answers scores based on these rankings, and add them up to a final score.
The employer will be shown your final score, but they might also receive extra information.
If the questions were divided into types of questions that target specific competencies, then they might receive a breakdown of your score by competency. This will show the employer where you are strongest and where you are weakest.
It’s also likely that your results will be presented in comparison to all other candidates’ test scores. This gives the employer vital context, as an easier test may have a higher average score.
Knowing how an employer might be analysing your answers can help. It can be a useful way of thinking about a difficult question from a new angle.
For example, you can take each question and think “what would the employer consider to be the best answer here?”.
Preparation and Tips
No special training, knowledge or experience is required to take this type of test. A candidate's answers should draw on general knowledge and life experience only.
That said, candidates will benefit from practising similar questions, such as those above.
Apart from anything else, practice helps to make you more comfortable with the test and its format, reducing some of those nerves and allowing you to focus more clearly.
It would also be useful to familiarise yourself with the key competencies your prospective employer is looking for from candidates, as it is these competencies that are likely to be tested in the situational judgement test.
During the test it is important that you read each scenario and each possible response, before answering the question or assigning rankings. The first option available may seem very sensible, but it is important to avoid assigning any rankings until you have considered each option carefully. For example, the last option available may be an even more sensible option and the most effective response.
Bear in mind that you are not being asked to judge if an option is right or wrong, just to evaluate which is the best (and worst) option available to you from those provided.
For questions that ask you to rank responses in number order, it is important to note that the ranking is relative. All the available options may be effective, or they may all be ineffective. It is your job to decide on the relative rank, rather than to decide if each option is right or wrong.
Use only the information provided in the question. Do not make assumptions during the SJT.