Graduate Assessment – Testing Times


Assessment tests are a really common way for recruiters to weigh up potential candidates and their ability to do the job. If you’re applying for a graduate scheme or internship with a large employer, you can almost guarantee that you will, at some point in your application process, be asked to complete one. Whilst practice is the only sure path to success, it helps to understand what recruiters are looking for and what form the tests take.

a) Situational judgement exercises: These tests are becoming increasingly common and allow the recruiter to get an insight into your decision-making abilities when the going gets tough. You will often be given a tricky situation and a choice of answers to choose from. The usual formats are:

  • multiple choice (the most common).
  • rank a list of 4 or 5 responses in order of importance.
  • mark the most and the least effective answers.
  • any of the above and a question asking what you would do next.

Tips to improve situational judgement skills

  • Look at all the answers rather than zooming in on the first one that looks right. As with everything in life you need all the information to make an informed choice.
  • Follow your gut instinct – it is normally right.
  • Consider of the consequences of your action in relation to the situation. It is the outcome of your decision and not just the intention that you need to consider.
  • If the solutions look either all good or all bad, you need to decide which action would be the most beneficial (or least harmful) in the longer term?

b) Case studies: These are often a group exercise where recruiters look to assess your commercial awareness, communication skills, analytical skills, your ability to work in a team and your talent to solve problems. Often recruiters are less worried about ‘the right answer’ and more interested in how you communicate your ideas, listen to and interact with your team mates and your ability to grasp the issue and summarise the outcome.

Tips to improve case study skills

Success in case study tests is not about being the loudest, the bossiest or the most popular but more about clarifying problems, initiating conversations, raising ideas, listening to your team mates suggestions and summarising what had been said. To this end someone should also take the notes.

c) In- or E-tray exercises: These test your organisational skills, logic, time management, ability to hit deadlines, commercial awareness and attention to detail. Remember to order tasks by priority and differentiate between urgent and important. If they are both that makes them top priority. These may include:

  • composing a business letter or email. You’ll get some points for layout.
  • solving a numerical problem, sometimes without a calculator. If you’re not sure, leave it to the end and give it your best guess.


In test scenario’s a), b) and c) the details you are given are key to your success. Make sure you read the instructions carefully; stick to the brief like glue; note any dates, irregularities or contradictions; remember anything involving a senior team member or client is of the utmost importance.

d) Presentation skills: This is often something you are allowed to prepare in advance, but could be on a topic given on the day (follow the Student Surveyor News Feed to keep up to date on current issues). Remember that everyone is in the same boat and you will be given a time limit to make it fair.

Recruiters are looking for a candidate with prepared and structured material and an ability to speak in front of an audience. You can get bonus points by:

  • sticking to a simple structure (introduction, body, conclusion)
  • speaking clearly
  • having good eye contact.

Tips for improving your presentation skills

  • Get Practicing – Practice your speaking skills regularly in front of an audience this will make you more competent and confident when you the time comes.
  • Be Entertaining – Speeches should be informative but they also need to be entertaining, simply reciting facts without any passion or humour will make people drift off. Use a story to create an emotional connection with the audience.
  • Slow Down – When you are nervous, with little experience you tend to talk fast in a subconscious effort to get it over and done with. Make a concerted effort to slow down your speech and add pauses for emphasis.
  • Eye Contact – Make eye contact with your audience. Don’t focus all your attention on the recruiter, good interaction with the other candidates in the room is equally as persuasive.
  • Don’t Read – This is a no brainer. Take cue cards but if you don’t know your speech without having to read it ad verbatim, it means you haven’t got a real grasp of the message you’re trying to get across. If that’s the case, you can’t then expect the audience to have any real confidence in you.
  • Don’t mumble – Nothing is worse than a speaker you can’t hear. Standing up straight will produce a clearer voice.
  • Avoid umming and ahhing – Replace it with a breathe in. When answering questions use statements like ‘that’s a good question’ to buy yourself time to process your response.
  • See it from your audience’s point of view – Ask yourself what might seem boring? Why will they find it interesting?
  • Don’t exceeding the time limit – Sticking to the brief is key. If you run over you will be cut off in your prime.
  • Get inspired – Think back to the various lecturers you have had. Think about what it was that makes them such a good or a poor speaker and how you could use that information to your benefit.

e) Psychometric Tests: These may be carried out on site but are increasing done online and from home. The recruiter will send you an email with the link to the test and all of the tests are timed so you must make sure you do all your practice tests under exam conditions to improve your chances. They are also likely to increase in difficulty as the test progresses. Don’t worry if you don’t finish the test as your score relates your performance in relation to other applicants, the general population or people already doing the job.

Psychometric tests can be split into two main sectors:

1. Ability – measuring verbal, numerical and/or diagrammatic and spatial reasoning (the first two being the most common).

i. Verbal tests: These are often agree, disagree, can not say questions. Read the passage slowly and carefully and the answer should be pretty obvious. Controversial statements (generally political, economic and social issues) are designed to provoke thoughts or feelings that can interfere with the ability to think critically – don’t fall into the trap.

Tips for verbal testing

Read as much as possible, and diversify your material. Look at journals, magazines, newspapers, reports and books. Try and talk to your family and friends about what you’ve read, it will clarify your thoughts and improve your ability to think critically. You could also have a try at  letter sequences games and word puzzles that test your logical reasoning.

ii. Numerical tests: usually based on extracting data from graphs and pie charts.

Tips for numerical testing

Stop using a calculator for everyday calculations, practice your multiplication and division and test your ability to read graphs and tables and calculate percentages. If you haven’t done a lot maths since V form then brush up your skills using the BBC skillswise website. For finance/investment roles, study the charts and tables in the business pages of newspapers and do some basic calculations to get used to the format of this type of data.

iii. Diagrammatic tests: Mainly used by engineering and construction based recruiters and also referred to as abstract reasoning. These are used as a to measure of general intelligence and involve you identifying the patterns and rules within the sequence of diagrams presented to work out the correct answer.

Tips for diagrammatic testing

Study flow charts and circuit diagrams. Start to consider the sequences involved in daily processes, these tests have their basis in logic rather than education.

iv. Spatial reasoning tests: These predict your ability to work with complex plans and involve you mentally rotating two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional shapes. Again theses are more common with engineering and construction based recruiters.

Tips for special reasoning testing

Spatial ability questions are concerned only with your ability to mentally manipulate shapes, not to identify patterns and make logical assumptions. Map reading can help.

2. Personality – These tests assess your personality traits and look at how you may behave in certain situations. They try to identify your work style, how well you get on with others, your reaction to stressful situations and the type of people you prefer to work with. Their purpose lays in establishing how you do things whereas ability tests look at how well you perform tasks. They are viewed in conjunction with your application form, interview and other information to make decisions rather than in isolation.

  • Recruiters generally know what they are looking for in terms of an ideal Personality Profile but there is little point in pretending to be the kind of employee a firm is looking for. Be honest, if you are not right for them, they won’t be right for you because you won’t enjoy what you are doing.
  • The test is unlikely to be timed.
  • Choose the professional response, not what you would do in a less formal situation and make sure you don’t over think your answers, your first thought is likely to be the most true to yourself.

Tips for Psychometric Testing

There are no easy tricks to sail through these tests but you can improve your performance on the day.

  • Practice, practice, practice! Start practicing now before the demands of uni, coursework, job applications and house hunting weigh you down. Practicing gets you used to the way the questions are phrased and improves your chances in the actual test.
  • Make sure you have a calculator and your familiar with its layout.
  • Read the instructions carefully and follow them precisely. Errors are made because candidates misunderstand what they have to do.
  • Don’t spend too long on any one question – if you are stuck, leave it and move on. You can always return to it later if you have time.
  • Don’t rush to complete it, check the amount of time you have and the number of questions you have to answer. You need to balance speed with accuracy.
  •  To save time:
  1. In multiple choice tests, you can sometimes rule out answers that are obviously wrong and concentrate on what’s left.
  2. In maths tests you may be able to estimate the answer rather than working it out precisely thus ruling the other choices out.


Whilst educated guesses are worthwhile some companies (particularly investment/banking based industries) do negative marking meaning you get one mark for getting it right and lose one mark if you get it wrong. It’s therefore possible to get 50% right and end up with nothing. In this instance it is better to get all the ones you attempt correct than finish it all but get half wrong. It is worth asking HR if they use negative marking but they may not necessary tell you!

A Few Information and Practice Links

Having done some research here are a few worthwhile links (buy me a pint if you bump into me).

icould – Nothing like the personality test you would sit but a quick easy test to work out your personality type. It suggests careers that would fit your personality but may help you work out what sector you are most suited for.

BBC – At the end of the test you will be assigned one of 16 possible personality types. It is a simplified personality test based on personality type theory (Myers-Briggs). 20 questions long and should take about 10 minutes.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter – Personality questionnaire with instant feedback on personality types

Personality Test Center – A collection of free professionally developed tests that help users discover their personality type and individual personality traits

Morrisby – Examples of ability tests.

WikiJob – Aptitude-tests

Knight Chapman Psychological – Contains practice test examples

Practice Psychometric Tests – free information portal on psychometric assessment with example tests.

Psychometric Success – Non-commercial site is aimed at providing student job seekers with the practice material they need to pass psychometric job selection tests. Over 100 pages of free information on psychometric and aptitude tests and has over 50 free downloadable practice tests.

Psych Press – Free trials of numerical, verbal, abstract reasoning and other tests.

SHL Direct – Ability tests and personality questionnaires for assessing critical qualities for job success, such as solving problems, communicating effectively, and being innovative and creative.

NHS – This interactive practice paper is designed to help you prepare for the Foundation Programme Situational Judgement Test (SJT)

Europa – This test is designed to provide information on your typical behaviour within work situations.


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