How to Pass Situational Judgement Tests
Updated July 14, 2022
As part of your job search, you may be required to undertake a situational judgement test to assess your suitability for a role.
These tests can be tricky if you are unfamiliar with the format and types of question.
This article will help you understand what a situational judgement test is and how best to prepare, with some example questions to help you practise.
A situational judgement test (SJT) is an aptitude test that evaluates a job candidate’s behaviour and skills using hypothetical situations based on real-life work-based situations.
Situational judgement tests have been used by businesses for over 70 years and have gained popularity since the 1990s, with companies such as Waitrose and Partners, Deloitte and Sony regularly using them.
They are bespoke psychometric tests that go beyond taught skills to discover how a candidate’s soft skills – non-technical job-related skills such as problem-solving, decision making and people skills – might make them suitable for a particular role.
The situational judgement test is usually taken early in the recruitment process, often to filter applicants before the interview stage.
The test scores are usually compared against previous test-takers.
Usually, the SJT is taken online, in a multiple-choice format.
It might use basic questions, computer-generated avatars, video clips or animations – or a combination of all the above. Some organisations prefer paper-based SJTs.
The possible solutions will be presented in no order, and the general idea is to pick the response that is closest to how you would deal with that problem or situation.
The way you give your answers will depend on what the parameters are.
Some tests require you to select the most effective and the least effective, while others require some sort of rating or ranking – which is the most/least effective, which are you most/least likely to do.
Unlike some other tests, like speed tests, the situational judgement test typically has no time limit, so you don’t have to rush into deciding on your answer.
This means that you have time to really think about the situation and how you would deal with it.
Bear in mind, though, that some companies will record the time taken for the test and use this as a deciding factor.
Have a look at the three example tests below to see how the process works:
“You have come into work this morning to find that everyone in your office has been given a new office chair, except for you. What do you do?”
Please select from the following options, marking the most effective and the least effective:
a) Complain loudly to your colleagues about how unfair the situation is
b) Speak to your manager and ask why you haven’t received a new chair
c) Take a chair from one of your colleagues
d) Complain to HR about your unfair treatment
“You are answering the phone in a call centre and a customer is complaining about the service they have received. They are very angry and shouting. How do you deal with this situation?”
Please select from the following options, ranking them from most to least appropriate:
a) Tell the customer to calm down, as you are not responsible for the poor service they have received
b) Hang up on them – it isn’t your job to listen to shouting people
c) Listen to what they have to say and empathise
d) Pass the call to a manager – they obviously aren’t going to listen to you
e) Agree with what they are saying and promise to give them exactly what they want
“You have been asked to complete a project with a junior member of the team. They are responsible for the research portion, while you are collating all the information to present it to a customer.
“The junior member of the team seems to have made some mistakes in the research so the presentation is inaccurate. You must present to the customer this afternoon and you have other projects that also need your attention today. How do you deal with this?”
Please select from the following options, picking the one you are most likely to do and the one you are least likely to do:
a) Tell the junior member of staff that they have made a mistake and they need to fix it immediately
b) Go to your manager and complain that the junior member of staff is incompetent
c) Present the incorrect information anyway and hope the customer doesn’t notice
d) Push back your other obligations and make the corrections yourself
e) Get together with the junior member of staff and work through the inaccuracies
First, an SJT is used as part of the recruitment process, so it is important to understand what the employer is looking for in a potential employee.
To fully understand the values and beliefs of the company, be sure to find out as much as you can about them before the test.
Have a look at the website or social media posts to get a good sense of their culture.
You might discover that they value speed and accuracy, or excel in customer service – and these qualities will be part of what the situational judgement test is looking for.
As a rule, situational judgement tests are looking for competencies in different areas, such as:
- Communication and teamwork
- Drive to achieve
- Analysis and decision-making
- Organisation and planning
- Customer service ethos
- Relationship building and influencing others
Bear in mind that each question might be assessing more than one competency.
You can take practice tests online, which will make you comfortable with the format and style of a typical SJT.
Some companies even have practice test questions on their recruitment sites, so you can see how they word their questions and the answers they are looking for.
During the test, make sure that you read the questions and possible answers thoroughly before deciding – don’t make assumptions, as you only have the available options to choose from.
Remember that these tests do not usually have a time limit.
Situational judgment tests are assessments that are used as both pre-employment screeners and as part of employee development programs.
The situational judgment test is an aptitude test that puts candidates into work-related situations to see how they would react, and they are an assessment of soft skills that are hard to measure in a CV or other types of psychometric or aptitude test. These skills include how you behave at work, your people and leadership skills, and your decision-making style.
In the situational judgment test, you will be given a hypothetical yet realistic work scenario, which might be presented as text, in an animation, or as a video clip. Following this scenario will be several different courses of action that you could take to deal with the problem.
In some situational judgment tests, you will be required to choose the best course of action to take. In others, you might be asked to select the best and worst course of action or rate them from most effective to least effective.
There are many different publishers of situational judgment tests, and in most cases, the test itself will have been created for the type of role for which you have applied. As an example, if you are applying for a team leader role in a call center, you might be given scenarios based on people management and dealing with problematic customer inquiries.
Situational judgment tests are not usually timed, which means you can spend a bit more time finding the solution that most suits the way you would deal with the problem.
Situational judgment tests are not assessing any previous knowledge or experience, and they are not about your hard skills or qualifications.
Instead, the situational judgment test is measuring the way you would behave at work, how you make decisions and your preferences.
Your selection of the right course of action will determine how you follow the rules, your ethics and values, and the way you will fit into the culture and work environment.
They will also show the recruitment team your problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as how you deal with colleagues and customers. They are often used in assessing candidates for leadership potential in employee development too.
As with other pre-employment psychometric and aptitude tests, situational judgment tests have been regularly evaluated for reliability in predicting future workplace success.
In the reviews of situational judgment tests, it has been consistently found that they are dependable and useful as tools in assessing the suitability of a candidate for several different roles, particularly customer-facing or leadership.
This reliability is why several major employers, from Deloitte to John Lewis, use situational judgment tests to assess potential recruits and help with employee development and talent management.
When you take a situational judgment test, the recruitment team is looking for the way you deal with potentially problematic scenarios.
The assessment is about your behavior at work, how you take control of a situation when you ask for help (and who you would choose to ask), and how compliant you are in terms of rules and guidelines.
The recruitment team will have a set of ‘ideal’ answers that you must match in your assessment to proceed to the next stage of the recruitment process. Your answers will show that you are what they are looking for in terms of culture fit, leadership style, and teamwork skills.
Situational judgment tests are slightly different from other aptitude tests in that there is no correct answer to a situational judgment test. There might be several courses of action that are listed that could be considered appropriate to solve the problem that is presented.
However, the answer that you give needs to match the answer that the recruitment team is looking for so that you can earn the mark – and that makes it very difficult to judge what might be considered a good score for a situational judgment test.
Ideally, you want to score as much as possible because that means your work behavior matches the desired characteristics for the role for which you have applied.
Every business will have different needs, so to give yourself the best chance be sure that you know what type of person the company is looking for and answer as honestly as possible.
If you know that you are facing a situational judgment test, there are a few things that you can do to prepare so that you can perform at your best.
If the test is part of the application process for a new role, then make sure that you do your research on the job, the company, and the wider industry. You will want to be sure that you know what the company values, what the competencies for the role are, and what type of person generally works in that position. This will help you to demonstrate that you match with their ‘ideal candidate’ when you come to the assessment.
Situational judgment tests can be challenging because they are unfamiliar. They pose work-related scenario questions and can make you feel flustered if you do not know what to expect. While the scenarios might change depending on the position you have applied for, the basic idea of the situational judgment test tends to be the same across all industries – and this means that practice tests can help you feel more prepared.
Take practice situational judgment tests to see how you respond to different work challenges and get used to thinking about situations as if you are already employed in the role.
General test preparation will come in handy for the situational judgment test – especially in the way that you mentally and physically prepare yourself. Ensure that you get enough sleep to help your brain work at its best and eat nourishing and healthy meals while staying hydrated. You want to give your mind all the fuel it needs to perform so you get the best score you can.
Situational judgment tests are a popular type of assessment. They are used in pre-employment screening mostly, but they are also used as part of employee development and talent management, especially looking for leadership potential.
This means that almost all the major test publishers have created some form of situational judgment test, including:
The situational judgment test tends to be a bespoke creation designed for the role or type of role that you have applied for – and this means that each publisher might have something a little bit different to offer. In general terms, however, situational judgment tests are broadly similar in structure and layout across industries.
When you are facing a situational judgment test, it is natural to feel nervous.
You need to make sure that you give yourself time to read the questions and understand the scenarios and possible courses of action before you rush to answer.
Some situational judgment tests will present the hypothetical work scenarios as a written passage, while others might make use of animation or video clips. Make sure that you understand what has happened, what the problem is, and what your role in the situation is.
The courses of action that are presented as options also need careful consideration; some might seem an obviously wrong choice, but there may be more than one that you think is suitable to deal with the problem. Depending on the test you are taking, you might need to choose the best action, the best and worst action, or you might need to rate all the actions depending on how well you think they would solve the issue.
The best way to answer situational judgment questions is to be honest and really think about how you would behave at work in that scenario. You should also bear in mind the company culture and values – this will help you choose the course of action that demonstrates that you match what the recruitment team is looking for.
If you are unsure what the ‘best’ answer would be, always go with your instincts. The situational judgment test is usually not timed, but don’t spend too long trying to judge the perfect answer.
If your answers do not match what the recruitment team is looking for, then you can fail the situational judgment test. This usually means that your application will not be taken further.
You can prepare yourself with practice tests to get used to the structure, layout, and type of questions that you are likely to be asked. This will help you feel more comfortable and familiar with the test environment, so you can make the best choices.
In some cases, you might be allowed to reapply for the role later and retake the situational judgment test.
Unlike numerical and verbal reasoning assessments, the answers in a situational judgment test tend to be subjective – the preferred course of action chosen by a candidate depends on their leadership style, how they behave at work, and what their values are.
This means that it is incredibly difficult to successfully cheat a situational judgment test.
In your preparation, you will have read about the company values and learned about the culture as well as knowing what competencies and skills are needed for the role. It might not necessarily be a cheat but bearing these things in mind will help you highlight those values and competencies in yourself when you are choosing the best course of action.
Situational judgment tests differ depending on the publisher and the role that is being recruited for, so it is difficult to give a definitive answer of how many questions there are in a situational judgment test.
In general, the test is untimed with only a few questions – usually a maximum of 16-20. As with other pre-employment screening assessments, they are mostly designed to be taken online and, in the candidates, own time, so they can usually be completed in 20-30 minutes.
Situational judgement tests are bespoke psychological tools created to assess the soft skills of potential employees by asking them to choose the most appropriate response to a work-related scenario.
They are designed to accompany other recruitment procedures, to ensure that potential employees have the practical and emotional intelligence to make them the right choice for a specific role in a particular environment.
There are no formal training options to help you pass a situational judgement test, but practising with the format and understanding the competencies that the organisation are looking for will help you to complete them successfully.