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HomeCareersAll About Cognitive Ability Tests_ What Job-Seekers Need to Know

All About Cognitive Ability Tests_ What Job-Seekers Need to Know

The job market today can be extremely competitive, with more than a hundred applicants vying for the same position. To screen candidates more quickly, especially in the early stages of the application process, recruiters often ask candidates to take pre-employment tests. Cognitive ability tests are among the most common of these. Whether you’re applying for a role in marketing, finance, STEM, or management, you’re likely to encounter a cognitive ability test during your application--and you’ll have to do well in it to pass on to the next stage.

What are Cognitive Ability Tests?

Cognitive ability tests are psychometric aptitude tests that are meant to measure your skills in areas such as problem-solving, verbal and logical reasoning, spatial awareness, or mathematics. Questions are in a multiple-choice format, and the duration of the test can range from 15 minutes to an hour. Whatever the length, you’re expected to answer each question quickly. Because of the time-pressured setting, it’s common for candidates to not finish the test. These tests are usually taken online, but some employers will ask you to go to an assessment center or even their office. 

Employers use cognitive ability tests because they correlate well with job performance. In fact, around 70% of FTSE 100 companies incorporate cognitive ability tests into their screenings as well as more than 40% of US companies, so being prepared for these can be a massive help if you’re applying for jobs. 

Types of Test Questions 

There are different kinds of cognitive ability tests out there, but these are the kinds of questions that you’ll encounter the most:


Numerical questions will test your proficiency with basic math and data analysis. Instead of complex topics like calculus, these focus more on arithmetic, fractions, and percentages. For data analysis, you might have to look at different kinds of charts and tables, then make a conclusion based on the numbers provided.  


Verbal questions tackle your reading comprehension as well as your grasp of grammar and word relationships. You may be given a short passage to read, followed by a series of questions to test your understanding of the passage. Alternatively, the test might ask you to make analogies, choose synonyms, or correct the grammar in a sentence. 


Logical reasoning questions evaluate how well you can interpret information. These can be divided into two types: deductive and inductive. Deductive questions require you to choose a logical conclusion based on a set of statements. On the other hand, inductive questions present you with patterns that you have to complete. 


Diagrammatic questions assess your visual-spatial abilities. You might have to study a series of shapes and figures, then select the next item in the sequence. These might also involve visualizing an object from different angles, choosing the odd item out in a sequence, or imagining the 3D version of a flattened cube.  

Some cognitive ability tests include all of these types of questions, while others focus on only one type. Many companies specifically favor the Wonderlic Test, the Predictive Index Test, and the SHL Test, which assess your reasoning on diverse areas.

Preparing for Cognitive Ability Tests 

Cognitive ability tests don’t require prior knowledge, so you can technically take them without any preparation. However, completing the test right away might be difficult because of the time pressure. The more comfortable you are with the types of questions that will show up, the more likely you are to finish the test, and the more accurate your answers will be.

If your employer has mentioned the type of test you’ll be taking, you can get a head start on preparing because there are plenty of practice aptitude tests available online. Try taking one while timing yourself. If your score falls below what you expected or if you took longer to finish, you can use this initial test as a benchmark for your efforts. Look up the types of questions that you had issues with, and do several of them until you get the hang of it. Once you’re satisfied with your accuracy, you can work on your speed by taking practice tests until you’re beating the timer.     

Taking the time to prepare will give you a better score, and it’ll help you secure your spot for the next round of your application.  

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