Perfect the art of psychometric tests

Posted October 13, 2011, by Helen Isbister

Thanks to your carefully polished resume and cover letter, you’ve been shortlisted for that dream job. Now it’s time to jump another hurdle on the path to your new role.

Psychometric tests are on the rise, with more than 70 per cent of large Australian firms now using the assessments in the preliminary weeding-out process. So it’s in your best career interests to understand how they work and what you can do to blitz them.

The good news is you don’t need to get freaked out by the terminology. Despite its connotations, psychometric doesn’t mean you will be lying on a couch being poked and prodded by a stern-looking psychologist. They’re not there to unlock your deepest, darkest secrets and release the skeletons from your closet; they just want to know if you are the right fit for the job on offer.

The bad news is there isn’t much you can do to ace a psychometric test – you either have what they are looking for or you don’t. That said, there are a number of things you can do to put yourself in peak performance condition.

Understanding the tests

The nature of psychometric tests can vary, but basically they come in two different streams. Firstly, you will be screened for things such as numeracy, literacy, abstract reasoning and information checking. The results of these aptitude tests will verify whether you are intellectually capable of doing the job.

Then there’s the personality test. This will aim to find out whether you are the right fit for the company and assess factors such as honesty, sociability and conscientiousness. It will give the potential employer an insight into how you might cope with stress, whether you are a team player or an independent worker, if you have problem-solving abilities, and whether or not you are ambitious.

While the test isn’t the be-all and end-all of whether you are offered a position, combined with more traditional employment criteria it will allow the employer to delve beneath the surface and get a more complete picture of who you are.

Be aware that the timing of the tests may differ from company to company; some give the test to applicants before the interview stages and others give a more in-depth test to help decide between several interviewees.

Preparing for the tests

While you can’t study the exact content of aptitude or psychometric tests, there are measures you can take to prepare for the big day. Learn as much as you can about the test session beforehand – structure and content, how long it will last, and whether you’re allowed to use a calculator – so you know what to expect when you’re in the hot seat. Many organisations and career services provide sample questionnaires, so try to get hold of some of these so you can familiarise yourself with the layout and practise pacing yourself.


While practice can’t make perfect for psychometric testing, it will pay off if you can approach it with confidence. Work on improving your logic and reasoning skills by solving word games, brainteasers, crosswords and sudoku puzzles. Practise your mathematical skills, get reading and look up words you don’t understand. Giving your mind regular mental workouts like this will also help you to think more quickly when you’re up against the clock.

As for the personality component, unless you book yourself in for a session with Dr Phil there’s probably not much you can do to make over your personality and iron out any quirks before the big day. However you can get into the right frame of mind to respond to the test.

Get your brain in peak performance mode

Make sure you are well rested and nourished on the day of the test so that you are in the best mindset possible. Avoid a sugary breakfast or you could crash and burn during the test. If you feel tired, hung-over or plagued by personal problems during the test it could affect your performance. If you go in with a good attitude, brimming with confidence and a can-do attitude there is a very good chance that this will be reflected in your answers.

Of course some nervousness is normal and actually serves a purpose as you’ll be more concentrated and focused. However being a complete nervous wreck is not going to allow you to bring out your best, so take a deep breath, calm down and think positive.

Be consistent

Trying to cheat the system is not as easy or useful as it may seem. Most tests ask similar questions repeatedly but in different formats so it will be hard to maintain consistency if you are not sticking to the truth. Many tests also have inbuilt lie scales that will test you against the norm and come up with alarm bells if you answer extremely or inconsistently. Honesty is the best policy. Answer truthfully and quickly without attempting to second-guess the employer and without giving the responses you think they are looking for. Just think, if you go to great efforts to lie you might just end up in a job you are totally unsuited for – and hate!

Helen Isbister

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