Numerical reasoning tests are one of the most common types of aptitude test used by employers in their selection process. Any job requiring numeracy skills is likely to require you to take one, especially jobs in finance, accountancy, engineering and consulting.
How will my numerical test score be used?
Typically you will encounter a numerical reasoning test at one, or both, of the following two stages:
1) Initial screening. The first stage is the online sifting stage where employers are faced with a deluge of applicants all desperate to clinch that top job. The employer won’t have the time or resources to interview everyone, but, equally, they don’t want to risk overlooking a fantastic candidate. So what can they do? They invite everyone to take an online numerical reasoning test and they discount those who don’t meet a certain standard.
At this early stage you are looking to score in the top 50% to be in with a chance of progressing. This sifting approach of testing applicants is typically used by large firms who have a sufficient recruitment budget. This is because testing lots of candidates can be expensive for the employer.
Caution: For these online tests, which you can take at home, it might be tempting to get your friends to help. This is not a good idea because many employers follow-up these online numerical reasoning tests with a supervised verification test at a later stage; for example, when you go for interview or attend an assessment centre. Most testing packages are designed to detect suspicious variations between your two test performances, so cheats will probably be found out.
2) Selection stage. If you’ve passed the initial screening stages such as submitting a CV or an application form, the next stage is where the employer is looking to objectively grade shortlisted applicants. They may use an interview, an assessment centre, aptitude tests, or all of the above. Most employers use a computer-based numerical test nowadays, but you may be asked to take a paper and pencil version. In these tests, where you are sharing a room with other test-takers, make sure you are comfortable in your environment. Put up your hand if there is a distracting draught or noise before the test starts.
What questions will be in the numerical reasoning test?
In the numerical reasoning test you will be expected to study information containing numerical data such as tables, charts and graphs. You will then have to use your interpretation of the information to answer questions on the data. The questions will be multiple-choice, although some tests, used in banking for example, use such a large list of options that it’s impossible to guess from the options given.
The mathematics involved will not be high-level; the difficulty comes in the form of time pressure. The calculations you will be expected to perform will typically be limited to addition, multiplication, percentages, fractions and ratios. If you are a bit rusty with any of these, it’s even more important to practice before your timed test.
A common format for numerical reasoning tests involves answering around 20 questions in 24 minutes. This varies with each job and each test publisher, but this gives you an idea of how quickly you will have to work. Don’t worry if you don’t get the end of the test, the important thing is to work quickly, but also accurately.
Some numerical reasoning tests allow you to go back through the questions; in which case, the best approach is to leave questions you can’t do quickly and come back to them if you have time. Some numerical reasoning tests, for example those published by Talent Q, are adaptive in that they vary the difficulty of questions depending on how you answered the previous question. Other common test publishers include: SHL, Saville Consulting, Cubiks and Criterion Partnership.
What preparation should I do before my numerical reasoning test?
It’s important to attempt the sample questions included with your test invitation, as this will give you a good understanding of what to expect in your test. After you have done this, practising full-length numerical reasoning tests will make you more familiar with the tests and will mean you are more likely to perform to the best of your ability. Practicing a numerical reasoning test will also help you to develop the test-taking approach which works best for you, and will help you to become familiar with the type of calculations you will need to perform in the timed test.
The author is a trained numerical reasoning test administrator and works for AssessmentDay.