Whilst qualifications such as A levels and degrees demonstrate hard work and an ability to learn facts, they are surprisingly bad at predicting how well people will actually perform at work. This is where aptitude tests such as numerical reasoning come in.

The first thing to know about taking a numerical reasoning test is that there is no need to panic. All a numerical reasoning test is aiming to do is predict how well you will be able to work with numerical data whilst at work.

Whilst qualifications such as A levels and degrees demonstrate hard work and an ability to learn facts, they are surprisingly bad at predicting how well people will actually perform at work. This is where aptitude tests such as numerical reasoning come in.

Numerical reasoning tests are measuring your innate numerical potential and not your learned mathematical knowledge. They are also designed to be used for a broad cross-section of candidates. This means that you will not be required to perform advanced numerical calculations or algebra in your numerical test; in fact the type of numerical operations involved rarely goes beyond addition, multiplication, percentages, fractions and currency conversions.

How difficult are numerical reasoning tests?

Strict time limits and multiple stages of calculation for each question can make numerical reasoning tests very taxing. Another skill required is being able to interpret the tables and graphs correctly in order to find the right numbers to work with. The time limits are deliberately very tight; in fact most candidates will not get to the end of their numerical test within the available time.
Some tests are adaptive, which means the questions automatically increase in difficulty depending on how quickly you get the right answer to the previous question. The more difficult questions will involve multiple stages to each question, which means you will have to have strong numeracy skills and be able to interpret several different tables, graphs and charts.

What’s the best strategy for taking a numerical test?

Your numerical reasoning test results will show the employer not only your overall test score (raw score) but how quickly you moved through the questions and also how accurate your responses were. Everyone will have their own preferred way of working, but the best advice is to work accurately as well as quickly. One way of approaching a question with a time limit of 60 seconds is suggested below. This should give you an idea of what you should be thinking about when developing your own test-taking strategy.

5 seconds to scan the data: what information are you given and what are the units?
8 seconds to read and understand the question. To really understand the question you will probably have to read it twice.
2 seconds to look at the multiple choice answers: are the options all feasible given your proposed method? Have you misunderstood the question? In what units are the answer options given?
35 seconds to perform the calculation.
0 seconds for checking your working (you don’t have time).

What other tips do you have for taking a numerical reasoning test?

1. Practice. There are lots of practice tests online which will help you familiarise yourself with the style of questions used by employers. If you are calm and prepared when you take your test you will be more likely to perform at your best. If you are anxious or surprised by the content of the test you will not demonstrate what you are truly capable of.
2. Ask the employer for information about the test. Find out as much as you can about the test, for example: why is it being used; how will your results be used; will you get feedback on your results; how long will the test take; what skills is the test measuring; what to do if you have a disability.
3. Use the rough paper provided to write down key stages in your calculations. You won’t have time to write down every step but keeping key numbers on paper will help you when you need to come back to a step or re-use a number. Practising example questions with a realistic time limit will help you recognise how much time you have to write down any workings.
4. Use a calculator with which you are familiar. If your test is online you will get to take your test from home and therefore use whatever calculator you want. If you know instinctively where each button is on your calculator you will save a few vital seconds during the test. If your test is at a test centre or at the employer’s offices there’s no harm in taking along your calculator and asking if you can use it instead of the one they lend to you.
5. Seek feedback after your test. It is good practice for employers to provide feedback to all candidates who have taken a test, regardless of whether they are offered the job. Feedback will help you understand where you can improve and what you could do differently next time.

- previously published at insidecareers.co.uk

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