Aptitude and ability tests are designed to assess your logical reasoning or thinking capabilities. They consist of a number of multiple choice questions and are strictly timed.
You may be asked to answer the questions either on paper or online. The advantages of online testing include immediate availability of results and the test can be taken at an employment agency or even at home. This makes online testing particularly suitable for initial screening as it is very cost-effective.
Aptitude and ability tests can be classified as speed tests or power tests. In speed tests the questions are relatively straightforward and the test is concerned with how many questions you can answer correctly in the allotted time. These tests tend to be used in selection at the administrative and clerical level. A power test on the other hand will present a smaller number of more complex questions and tend to be used more at the graduate, professional or managerial level.
There are at least 5000 aptitude and ability tests on the market and every year new tests are devised and added to the already huge number of tests available. Every company that produces tests needs to differentiate their own test from those of other companies. This has produced a bewildering range of test names and acronyms. However, all of the tests you are likely to come across can be clasified into six basic types:
Verbal Ability Tests
These include questions which test your ability to spell words correctly, use correct grammar, understand analogies and follow detailed written instructions. These tests are widely used since most jobs require you either to understand and make decisions based on verbal or written information or to pass this type of information to others. In practice, the more straightforward types of question (spelling, grammar and instructions) tend to be more applicable to administrative roles and the reasoning and deduction type of questions to management roles.
Numeric Ability Tests
These include questions on basic arithmetic, number sequences and simple mathematics. This type of test is used to determine your basic numeracy. These tests are directly applicable to many administrative and clerical jobs but can also appear as a component of graduate and managerial tests. In more complex data interpretation and numerical critical reasoning questions, blocks of information are provided that require manipulation and interpretation. Sometimes these questions are designed to approximate the type of reasoning required in the workplace.
Abstract Reasoning Tests
These tests are based on diagrams and measure your ability to identify the underlying logic of a pattern and then determine the solution. Abstract reasoning tests are thought to give the best indication of your general intelligence and are very widely used. These tests are of particular value when selecting people for technical jobs which involve working with abstract ideas or concepts. However, as they also provide the best measure of your general intellectual ability, you will usually find some questions of this type whichever particular tests you are given.
Spatial Reasoning Tests
These tests measure your ability to manipulate shapes in two dimensions or to visualize three-dimensional objects presented as two-dimensional pictures. Spatial ability is required in production, technical and design jobs where plans and drawings are used, for example; engineering, architecture, surveying and design. It is also important in some branches of science where the ability to envisage the interactions of 3 dimensional components is essential.
Spatial ability questions often involve the visual assembly and the disassembly of objects that have been rotated or which are viewed from different angles or objects that have different markings on their surfaces.
Mechanical Reasoning Tests
These tests are designed to assess your knowledge of physical and mechanical principles. For example, pulleys, levers, simple electrical circuits etc. Questions are in the form of a question and a diagram and you will need to determine which mechanical principle is being illustrated. No specialist knowledge is required to answer these questions, only an understanding of the principles. Mechanical reasoning tests are used to select for a wide range of apprentice and engineering occupations.
Data Checking Tests
These tests present you with number of tables of information which must be checked against each other. This type of test is used to measure how quickly and accurately errors can be detected in data. It is used to select candidates for clerical and data input jobs, particularly where accuracy is important, for example, accounting and banking. In these tests you will usually be given two columns of data to check for consistency and you will be asked to mark up any differences.
In all of the above tests the questions will be presented in multiple-choice format and have definite right and wrong answers. You will usually find that there are more questions than you can complete in the time allowed and the aim is simply to give as many correct answers as you can.
Ideally, your score will then be compared with the results of a control group which has taken the tests in the past. This control group could consist of other graduates, current job holders or a sample of the population as a whole. Your reasoning skills can then be assessed in relation to this control group and judgments made about your ability.
More commonly, your scores will be compared to the other candidates who took the test at the same time. Whilst this does not represent 'best practice', due to the small size of the sample, it is often what happens in real life.
You may also be interested in Psychometric Tests Introduction, Personality Questionnaires, How Personality Profiles are Used, Aptitude Tests, Aptitude and Ability Tests - Speed versus Power, The Assessment Center, Why are Selection Tests So Widely Used, The Growth of Psychometric Testing and What You Can Expect on the Day.