Psychometric tests

Psychometric tests

Psychometric tests are objective measures which some employers use to help them select candidates. Online tests are often used at the start of the application process to pre-select suitable candidates. In other cases the results will form part of the selection process alongside the other information collected about you. In all cases, it’s important to understand what these tests involve and use our advice to ensure you are fully prepared.

Types of psychometric tests

Aptitude/skills tests

Depending on the type of job you are applying for, these tests can include numerical or verbal reasoning, spatial awareness and diagrammatical reasoning. The usual format of such tests is to present you with either paragraphs of text, numerical data or abstract symbols (depending on the aptitude being tested). You will then answer a number of multiple choice questions based on this information. Aptitude tests are taken under timed conditions and you will need to achieve a certain score to progress to the next stage of the selection process. See our advice on preparing for tests below.

Personality questionnaire

The employer will be looking for certain personal qualities required for the job. There are no right or wrong answers as what may suit one job will not necessarily suit another, so answer as honestly as possible. Avoid trying to work out what you imagine the employer wants you to say, as it's not easy to second guess what's required. Questionnaires are designed to check for consistency of your responses, so it's difficult to maintain a false impression.

Situational Judgement Tests

SJTs pose typical work scenarios and ask you to select appropriate responses to the situation. You will need to take into account the role you are applying for when deciding how best to respond.

Our information sheet provides advice on taking an SJT.

You may also want to try our light-hearted example of a situational judgement test against the clock.

Video game formats - 'gamification'

Some employers present their selection tests in the form of video games rather than the traditional format of ‘static’ questions on a screen. This 'gamification' of assessment tests makes them more fun and engaging as candidates navigate their way through on-screen tasks, following the instructions to select from different options.

Typically lasting 20-30 minutes games-based assessments are fun activities but with a serious purpose, requiring your concentration and focus. They are likely to be testing the some qualities as traditional tests, such as aptitudes (e.g. numerical reasoning skills), personality traits (decisiveness, leadership potential etc), and situational judgement; so the key steps to preparation are the same (see ‘Preparing for tests’ below). Don’t worry if you don’t play video games regularly, as the formats are simple and research shows that experienced gamers are not at an advantage.

Who uses them

Some employers value their use highly and use them regularly - others don’t use them at all. Employers using tests will normally provide you with clear instructions and practice examples.

Generally speaking, organisations use them to:

  • measure a talent/skill or the potential to acquire it
  • establish or confirm an applicant's competence for a job
  • measure intellectual capacity for logical thinking and reasoning
  • compare objectively one candidate's performance with the norm levels for a similar population
  • reliably predict how well an individual is likely to perform in the job
  • check an applicant's personality is compatible with the job
Preparing for tests 

Before a test

The trick to doing well on tests is understanding how they work and then practising. If you’re new to tests or find them hard, don't be tempted just to do timed practice tests. For aptitude tests, start by doing some untimed example questions which provide the answers with explanations. This way you can take your time, and understand the answers to any questions you got wrong. Once you’re confident, then try some sample timed tests to get a realistic experience. Online practice tests include our Graduates First tests listed below. You can find more example questions and practice tests via our Applications and Interviews Resources (via the link on the right of this screen).

If you’ve not studied maths for some time, revise how to do calculations such as percentages, ratios and fractions, and (re)familiarise yourself with using a calculator. You can get help with numeracy skills from Maths and Statistics Help (MASH). See the MASH website for Mathematics resources and numerical reasoning workshops www.sheffield.ac.uk/mash.

For verbal tests, if you are not used to analysing lots of written information, practise by reading well-argued articles on unfamiliar topics.

If any factors such as disability or dyslexia are likely to affect your performance, check with the employer whether they can give additional time, or if the test can be made available in alternative formats.

What to do on the day

Timed tests are designed to be challenging, so focus and expect to work hard for the duration of the test. However, you shouldn't worry if you don't answer every question. Not finishing doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll fail, as only a small percentage of candidates will complete all the answers, and even fewer will get them all right! 

Key points:

  • If you're taking a test at home, pick a time when you feel rested and mentally sharp
  • Make sure you have all the resources you need and will not be disturbed
  • Ensure you understand the test instructions and follow them exactly
  • Check if marks are deducted for incorrect responses (‘negative marking’). If so, do not guess any answers
  • Make sure you are focused. Read all the instructions
  • Pay careful attention to the time. Work as quickly and accurately as you can
  • Read questions carefully but do not spend too long on any one question

What happens after a test?

Your results may decide if you can progress to the next selection stage or be used alongside other information such as your interview, to decide whether to offer you the job. If you fail to progress, this does not mean you will be unsuccessful with future tests, as other employers may use different tests or set different pass marks.
It is common for candidates to not meet the level required but practice can often lead to improvement. Use the resources listed below to help, or book an advice session at the Careers Service to discuss your results.

Graduates First - practice verbal, numerical and logical ability tests

The Graduates First package provides Sheffield University students and graduates with free access to 21 different verbal, numerical and logical ability tests, each with individual feedback reports.

The package also includes a workplace personality questionnaire, practice situational judgement test and four assessment centre exercises, plus online tutorials to help you perfect your test performance.

Instructions for students (pdf)

Read the instructions for details of how to access Graduates First.

You will be required to register using your University of Sheffield email address. If you are a graduate, you also need to use your University of Sheffield email address and then email us at: careers@sheffield.ac.uk to ask us to activate your account. Please supply your name, registration number, department and graduation date.

Please read the Graduates First Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy before you register.

Access Graduates First