Online tests

Online tests are used by some employers to help them select candidates. Sometimes called psychometric tests, they are often used early in the application process to determine which applicants progress to the next stage. Not all employers use tests but many do, and if you are asked to take one, it’s important to understand what they involve to ensure you are fully prepared. Read the following article to understand the different types of tests, what you can do to prepare, and to access our practice tests.

Who uses tests and why?

Employers use tests in recruitment to:

  • measure a talent/skill or the potential to acquire it
  • compare candidates’ performance with the norms for a similar population
  • establish an applicant's competence for a job and predict their likely performance
  • check an applicant's personality is compatible with the job
Types of test

Different employers use different tests and the main types are:

Aptitude/skills tests

Aptitude tests assess skills such as numerical or verbal reasoning, critical thinking, and logical or abstract reasoning. Depending which aptitude is being tested, the tests give you some text, numerical data or abstract symbols, followed by multiple choice questions based on this information. Your task is to select the correct options, under strict time conditions. You may be asked to take a series of different tests which assess different aptitudes.

Personality questionnaires

Some employers use personality inventories to assess if you have certain personal qualities required for the job and organisation. They provide you with a series of statements and you need to select those that best describe you or how you typically behave. As it’s not easy to second guess what traits the employer is looking for, it’s best to answer each item honestly.

Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs)

SJTs assess how you would respond to situations that are relevant to the job and employer you are applying for. Each question presents a realistic work situation with several possible actions you might take in response, and you need to decide what to do. When making your judgement, you will therefore need to take into account the role you are applying for and the values of the organisation.

Video game formats

Some employers’ tests take the form of simple video games rather than the traditional format of ‘static’ questions on a screen. Games-based assessments can test aptitudes, behavioural traits, and situational judgement within a suite of tests. You navigate a series of on-screen tasks, following the instructions in each game. If you don’t play video games regularly don’t worry, as research shows that experienced gamers are not at an advantage.

Whatever tests you face, employers will normally provide you with the dates when you can sit them, with instructions and practice examples. However, before then, it’s best to do some preparation.

Preparing for tests

The trick to doing well is understanding how tests work and then to practise. If you’re new to tests or find them hard, don't be tempted to just go straight into doing timed practice tests. Start by reading about them and doing un-timed example questions which explain the answers, so you understand the questions you got wrong. Once you’re confident, then sit practice timed tests via Graduates First (details below).

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

For numerical reasoning, revise how to do calculations such as percentages, ratios and fractions, and (re)familiarise yourself with using a calculator. There’s help with numeracy from MASH, the University’s Maths and Statistics Help.

Disclosing a disability

If you are a disabled or dyslexic student you can disclose this to an employer ahead of the test date. They should then make reasonable adjustments to the process, e.g. providing you with additional time or making tests available in alternative formats.

Advice when taking a test
  • If given a choice of date and time, 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 carefully
  • Pay attention to the time during timed tests. Work as quickly but as accurately as you can
  • Read questions carefully but do not spend too long on any one question

Online tests are challenging, so concentrate and expect to work hard. However, don’t worry if you didn'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.

What happens after a test? Afterwards, you will be told if you can progress to the next selection stage. If the tests are alongside an interview, your test results will be considered together with the interview and any other assessments, to decide whether to offer you the job.

Not passing a test does not mean you will be unsuccessful in the future. Other employers may use different tests or set different pass marks and it is common for applicants not to pass. Remember, further practice often leads to improvement.

Use the resources listed below to help, or contact us to discuss your results.

Key Tasks

1. Read online articles with example questions such as the tutorials on the Assessment Day website.

2. Take practice tests. Through our partnership with Graduates First, you have free access to:

  • Aptitude tests including verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and logical reasoning tests
  • A Workstyle Personality questionnaire
  • Situational Judgement Tests (SJT)
  • Games-based assessments
  • Plus video interview resources, assessment centre exercises and more

Access Graduates First practice tests

You will need to register using your University of Sheffield email address. Please read the Graduates First Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy before you do so.

If you are a graduate, use your old University of Sheffield email address and then email us at careers@sheffield.ac.uk with your name, registration number, department and graduation date and ask us to activate your account.

Graduates First provides assessment preparation resources, including detailed step-by-step advice on top graduate employers’ recruitment stages.

Further information