Verbal reasoning is the ability to understand and logically work through concepts and problems expressed in words.
Verbal reasoning tests tell employers how well a candidate can extract and work with meaning, information and implications from text. It’s all about logic expressed verbally.
In most cases, the questions will have you read a passage of text, and then assess whether a given statement related to that text is true, false, or if you cannot say (in other words, whether there is insufficient information in the text to say for sure).
Some tests will have longer passages of text to read through and multiple questions per passage. Others may have very short passages, but only one or two questions on each. The way to approach them is identical: read the text carefully and thoroughly, and then assess the given statement.
Though the test format may vary, typically you will have between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to answer each question. Consequently, working quickly and accurately is vital. Practice will be beneficial.
It’s essential to not make assumptions as you take the test. In other words, use only the information presented, as additional facts (not presented as part of the question), will never contribute to the answer, even if those facts are common knowledge. The tests assess verbal reasoning, not general knowledge.
These tests can either be taken at home (online and unsupervised) or at an assessment centre, or both. Alongside many other anti-cheating methods, companies will often have you retake aptitude tests in person at the assessment centre, in case someone else completed the initial online test on your behalf.
Psychometric tests have a long history behind them. Research over the past decades has shown a strong correlation between performance on these tests and performance in the workplace. So it’s no wonder that employers everywhere make extensive use of them.
The verbal reasoning section of psychometric tests aims to ascertain a core skill set: the ability to work logically, accurately and intelligently with the written word.
Verbal reasoning tests are looking to assess how well a candidate can:
Verbal aptitude is, of course, a fundamental skill in the workplace. It’s key for communicating with others, reading and interpreting reports, discussing plans with clients, or writing clear emails.
That’s the case even if the role is highly technical and doesn’t immediately seem to have much to do with words. You’ll still need to be able to communicate your work to others, act on communications and reports, and interpret textual data.
Many studies have shown that psychometric tests like the verbal reasoning test are a much better indication of your key skills than even a university degree.
If you want to do well in verbal reasoning tests, you’ll need to understand how they work, so you can plan how best to practice them.
The first thing to note is that the test will almost always be timed and that the time limit is rarely forgiving. It’s hard to accurately deduce the information you need in a matter of only a minute or so.
For each question, you will be presented with a passage of text containing written information. This can be in any style or format: it might be an email, business report, internal memo or news article.
Based on that passage of text, you’ll be presented with a statement that says something relating to what you’ve just read. You must then select one of the following three answers:
Note that not all test providers will use the terms ‘true’, ‘false’, and ‘cannot say’. They might, for example, use ‘correct’, ‘incorrect’, and ‘insufficient information’.
Click on the answer you think is correct. If you make a mistake or want to go back and change an answer, you can usually navigate back through the questions.
While the text passage is likely to be related to the role or industry you’re applying for, it could be about anything. Don’t let the topic throw you off - the test does not aim to measure knowledge of any particular subject, but rather ability to parse and interpret the text.
Don’t let existing knowledge influence your answer. For example, you might be sure that the answer is ‘true’ in reality, but if there isn’t enough information to come to that conclusion in the text, then you should select ‘cannot say’.
Primarily, the verbal reasoning test aims to measure a candidate’s ability to:
These are foundational skills in any workplace, and impact on internal communications, communicating with clients, reading industry reports, reacting to news articles, following written instructions, and giving others written instructions.
Essentially, the verbal reasoning test is a great indicator to the employer of how good a communicator a candidate is, as well as how good they are at acting on communication.
The test also examines logical faculties more generally, by looking at the way you take in information and critically evaluate it.
You’ll need to read the text closely and use your comprehension skills to discern its logical meaning. While you won’t need to be good at spelling, grammar is an important part of the test. It’s often in those grammatical nuances that the answer can be found.
Check out our video for a short overview of what verbal reasoning tests aim to measure.
All aptitude tests are challenging. They need to be, or they wouldn’t tell employers very much about their candidates.
Let’s examine some areas that can cause difficulty with verbal reasoning tests specifically.
The most immediate difficulty that presents itself is time pressure. It’s not difficult to pore over a text slowly and then come to a conclusion. But it is difficult to reach that conclusion in a minute.
For this reason, it’s crucial that you practice. With practice, not only will you become more confident at working within the time limit; you’ll be more conditioned to focus on the key points of the text and the question.
Another thing that can trip you up if you’re not the most confident reader is the language itself.
Often the text will be straightforward, business-like and relatively simple to understand, but you may come across language you’re unfamiliar with, or a verbose style. Some evidence also indicates that ethnic minorities and international students whose native language is not English may be at a disadvantage, due to linguistic and cultural differences.
Reading different types of texts (academic journals, newspapers, blogs etc) will help. And even if you don’t know what a specific word means, you can often infer its meaning by the context.
The ‘cannot say’ answer often causes confusion.
It’s frequently simple to distinguish whether a statement is true or false. Establishing whether an answer is strictly true - or whether it’s likely to be true, but logically you cannot say for sure - can be tricky.
That’s where accuracy of reading comes into play, alongside critical thinking. You need to establish whether the text implies that something is true or false, but doesn’t actually necessarily mean it is, or whether the text definitely states that something is true or false.
The key to tackling this ambiguity is to practice reading accurately as well as quickly. You’ll need an eye for detail combined with logical thinking.
Verbal reasoning tests come in many formats. While they all aim to evaluate the same set of attributes, each test provider uses a different means to do that.
To make your practice even more effective, research which test supplier the company you’re applying for uses. That way, you can seek out more focused practice materials and mock tests.
Always be aware, however, that companies can change their test supplier at any time. What was true for one intake might not be true for the next. Bear in mind also that come companies use different suppliers for different departments and roles.
The main test providers are:
The most common type is CEB SHL, which is what we’ve modelled our free practice test on (see below). CEB SHL is a good reference point as the industry standard for verbal reasoning tests. Its tests tend to be between 17 and 19 minutes long for 20 questions, so speed and accuracy is key.
Criterion is unique in that it has an environmental focus to its questions. There are 30 questions which you have to answer within 20 minutes, so timing is pretty tight. The tests also get progressively more difficult, so try to be quicker for the first set of questions to give yourself some breathing room later on.
Cubiks offers tests similar to CEB SHL, with passages of text that tend to be a bit shorter. You should be working to a minute or less per question, so you’ll need to be quick, but other than that there shouldn’t be any particular surprises.
Talent Q uses adaptive tests. This means that each question is generated based on your previous answer. The better you’re doing, the harder the questions. The aim of this is to hone in on your skill level much faster, allowing the tests to be quick. Typically, candidates have around 90 seconds for questions with a new passage of text, and 75 seconds for subsequent questions on the same text.
The tests offered by cut-e employ a different structure. Candidates are given a series of different sets of text simultaneously on various tabs, and need to flick back and forth between the texts to piece together the answers.
With 22 questions over 35 minutes, Mendas offers a slightly slower-paced test. Its verbal reasoning test is combined with financial testing, so expect a very different kind of text to the others.
In general, while focused practice is really useful, don’t become too pigeon-holed. The tests are designed to test your skills without needing external knowledge or practice of the format, so if you can’t find out who your test supplier is, just work on the general skills.
There are various methods to try to determine the specific supplier:
When preparing for your test – either in-person at an assessment centre or online – it’s important to plan ahead to make the best use of your time.
The first step is research. Check forums, practice sites, test provider websites and anything else you can find.
When you feel like you’ve got a good idea what you’re in for, it’s time to practice.
There are plenty of mock tests out there, so make full use of them. While you’re practising, do so under test conditions. It can often feel like a whole different beast when you take the thing for real, so becoming used to the situation will definitely help.
Set aside the required amount of time for the test. Find a quiet room and ensure you won’t be disturbed. Gather everything you’ll need. Put your phone outside the room and fully focus on the task at hand.
It can also be very useful to practice timing yourself. Time in verbal reasoning tests is often tight and it’s important to stay on schedule. Use a stopwatch.
Before the test or at the very beginning, work out the average amount of time per question you have. Use a stopwatch to make sure you don’t go too far ahead of that time. This is a great way to get used to tackling the questions at the pace needed for the actual test.
In the 24 hours before the test itself, aim to:
Don’t underestimate the simple things. They can make a huge impact.
With all research and preparation and practice done, the main thing is to stay calm and approach the test in the same way you have all your practice tests.
Keep these nine tips in mind throughout:
Be aware of time
The timing usually isn’t generous. You’ll need to stay on a tight schedule to get all the questions done.
Read the questions first
That way, you already know what you’re looking for when you read the text and can focus on that. This will allow you to be quicker and more accurate.
Don’t use general knowledge
It bears repeating because it’s crucial. Everything you need to answer the question is in the text and in the text only. Don’t fill in any gaps with outside knowledge.
Deal in logical certainties
The ‘cannot say’ answer is there for good reason and has as much chance of being the correct answer as ‘true’ or ‘false’. If the information on the page doesn’t give a conclusive answer, pick ‘cannot say’.
Candidates often trip up on answers when they’re pretty sure that it’s one or the other, but the text doesn’t say that it is for certain. Be careful to note the difference.
Take things literally
Similarly to the previous tip, you should treat every statement in the text literally. There are no implications that hint towards an answer – either an answer follows logically, or it doesn’t.
If you can’t see it, it’s not there
If the key piece of info you need to make a judgement isn’t in the text, it’s perfectly possible that the answer is intended to be ‘cannot say’.
If you’re struggling on a question, come back to it later
You can usually go backwards and forwards on the test. Use this to your advantage. If you can’t work a question out, don’t waste time staring at it. Get on with the other questions and come back if you have time.
Use the practice questions to your advantage
At the beginning of the test, you’ll often be presented with a few practice questions so you can see what the format is.
Just because these don’t count towards your score doesn’t mean they’re not worth concentrating on. They present the perfect opportunity to gain some vital information. Instead of trying hard to answer the question correctly, take a close look at the format.
You might be able to glean information like how long the passages of text tend to be, what kinds of topics they’re on, what the statements are like, etc. Pay attention here, because every bit of knowledge can save you time later.
Ignore everyone else
Sometimes all the assessment centre candidates will be in the same room taking the test. For some, this can be distracting. Be aware that this can happen: try to ignore everyone else and focus only on your own work. Other people might be shuffling around, sighing with exasperation or chewing gum loudly – it doesn’t matter. You’re there for you and no one else.
Time to get stuck in. We’ve got a realistic practice verbal reasoning test for you to take right here.
Created by WikiJob alongside psychometric experts and modelled on real tests, it should give an insight into how the test will go and what you need to work on.
The test has 10 questions which should be answered in around 5 minutes if you’re timing yourself, although the test itself doesn’t have a timer.
It’s designed to be slightly tougher than the real thing, so don’t worry if you struggle at first. To pass, you’ll need to score 70% or higher. You can take the test as many times as you like. Click the 'Take test' link below to get started.
Companies should always be transparent when putting their candidates through a strenuous application process. Most importantly, companies need your informed consent to test you.
How to discuss accommodations for disabilities, learning disabilities or other things that might affect your ability to take the test on a level playing field
Put simply, the company should let you know what the test is, how it’s run, and should be open to you asking reasonable questions about it.
One thing to note is that sometimes companies don’t make accommodations for candidates during the test. Rather, they prefer to adjust the raw scores afterwards.
The answer to this depends partly on how good your English is. The test will be in English and most likely so will your work environment. If you feel comfortable with the level of English required for the job, there should be no real issues.
So long as you understand the text in front of you, the real work is in the logical reasoning, rather than any advanced knowledge of the language or cultural norms. If in doubt, ask the HR team to see if there’s anything they can do or advice they have.
Dyslexia or similar learning difficulties will make the test more difficult. However, to compensate for that, employers almost always make allowance for it.
Talk to them: explain the specifics of your condition and ask them what they might be able to do to help put you on a level playing field.
For instance, it might be appropriate to give you extra time, or a slightly altered test.
Rest assured that you won’t be the first person with dyslexia or another learning difficulty that the company has come across. They won’t want to to reject good candidates simply because the application process doesn’t accommodate them properly.
It’s usually better to aim for accuracy. This is for a number of reasons.
The most obvious is that in the rare sort of test that has negative marking, incorrect answers will lose you points. But accuracy is also usually tracked regardless and sent to the employer, even if you don’t get to see it. And they tend to prefer candidates who are a little slower but more accurate, within reason.
This can vary a lot from provider to provider.
In general, expect to receive feedback within 1–3 weeks. For a few online tests, candidates get their results instantly.
Depending on the provider and the company, you may also get some written feedback to say where you went wrong and how you can improve. This is somewhat rare, but it does happen.
As always, you can ask a contact at the company for more information.
No. Don’t even think about it.
Employers have been at it a lot longer than you. They know cheating happens and so over the years have invested a lot into anti-cheating methods.
While most of these are, for obvious reasons, kept largely obscure, they exist. And they’re effective. Aside from cheat-detecting software, companies will often have you retake the aptitude tests in person at the assessment centre. If your performance there is vastly different (not only in terms of score, but also style, approach and so on), then alarm bells will ring.
Basically, you are very likely to be caught. Your application – or even job offer if you made it that far – will be rescinded and you may be blacklisted from applying in the future.
Practice is simply a far better, more effective and more rewarding use of your time than cheating.
These are our recommendations for resources to use:
We have our own psychometric tests app that contains 8 timed verbal tests that are closely modelled on real tests. For each test, there are full explanations of answers, to help you see where you went wrong and how you can improve.
JobTestPrep offers numerous curated practice tests for different test types and providers. These can give you a great feel for how the different tests work. Well worth checking out.
Others you may want to look at include AssessmentDay and Graduate Monkey, which both offer a range of excellent practice tests.
Don’t discount books when it comes to preparing for your test. We particularly like Rob Williams’ Passing Verbal Reasoning Tests.
We’d also recommend this book, packed full of tips, hundreds of pages of sample questions, and detailed workings to show you exactly how each question is answered.
You may also want to check out: