How to Pass Situational Judgement Tests
Updated 23 June 2021
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.
What Is a Situational Judgement Test?
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.
What Format Do Situational Judgement Tests Take?
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.
Examples of Situational Judgement Tests
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
In this situation, the most effective answer seems clear – b) is most effective, as there could be multiple reasons that you have not had a new chair.
The least effective response to this situation would be e), to quit. It would be an impulsive overreaction to just leave and would be highly unprofessional.
Looking at a), while it might be somewhat cathartic to complain to your colleagues, it won’t help the situation and could cause bad feeling in the office.
If you were to choose option c), it would not only cause friction between you and your colleague but could be seen as misconduct that could end up in disciplinary procedures.
If you had spoken to your manager, and there was no reason for you not having a new chair, or the oversight was not rectified, then you would have cause to choose: ‘d) Complain to HR’ – but as a first resort, it isn’t appropriate.
“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
It can become stressful when you are dealing with an angry customer.
Dealing correctly with this scenario will demonstrate your decision-making and interpersonal skills. It is also important that you consider company policy and values in your answer.
Here are the answers ordered from most to least appropriate:
- c) – This is the most effective way to deal with this situation. Most angry customers want to feel like they are being listened to and, while you might not necessarily agree with them, empathising will make them feel like the company cares about them.
- d) – This is a good response if you feel that you are unqualified to help, or if the situation is getting out of control. Knowing when to pass a call on is an excellent teamwork skill.
- e) – While it might help the customer feel validated, agreeing with their complaint might not be in line with the company’s values – and might damage company reputation. Blindly making promises to fix an issue could also cause problems as it might not be possible to follow through.
- a) – This is a tricky one as you want the customer to stop shouting so that you can fix their issue – but telling them point-blank like that is likely to make things worse. It isn’t your fault that they have received poor service, but you do have to listen to the complaint.
- b) – This is the worst option – it won’t help the customer deal with their complaint; in fact, it will make it worse as they will call back even angrier. This response doesn’t portray a great level of emotional intelligence or professionalism.
“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
In this scenario, you are being tested on your decision-making skills, teamwork skills and your diplomacy. Remember you have been asked to choose the best and then the worst option:
- Option e) is, arguably, the best option – working with your junior staff member gives you both the chance to develop; the junior member can learn so she doesn’t repeat the mistakes, while you get an opportunity to deliver some training. This is the best option from a teamwork perspective.
- Option c), presenting the incorrect information, is the worst option here, as not only are you risking a customer relationship and potentially damaging the business, you are also demonstrating a lack of care in your work.
- a) – Delegating this task back to the junior member of staff takes the pressure off you in the immediate but might not allow them to understand what they have done.
- b) – Complaining to a manager about this in the first instance may not reflect well on the teamwork aspect, especially with the tone used. Giving more gentle feedback to a manager might be appropriate if you need more time for this and your other projects.
- d) – Doing the work yourself may mean that at least you know it is done correctly, but this doesn’t allow a learning opportunity for your colleague and means extra stress for you. Part of effective teamwork is knowing when to delegate correctly.
How to Prepare for a Situational Judgement Test
There is no formal training to undertake for any SJT, but there are ways that you can prepare for one.
Firstly, 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.
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 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.