What is a numerical reasoning test?
A numerical reasoning test is a form of psychometric assessment commonly used in the application stages of the recruitment process. It is specifically designed to measure a candidate’s numerical aptitude and their ability to interpret, analyse and draw conclusions from sets of data.
They’re often used in conjunction with other psychometric tests, including verbal reasoning tests, personality tests and situational judgement tests.
Unlike standardised maths tests, which demonstrate a student’s ability to learn and apply mathematical techniques based on a set syllabus, numerical reasoning tests reflect how successfully a candidate can apply numerical understanding in a realistic context.
General arithmetic, percentages, fractions and averages are all common elements of a numerical reasoning test, but its main focus is statistical information. Candidates are required to work with graphs, tables and charts to identify key facts and figures, and apply the correct logic to form an answer in response to a worded question.
You may be required to sit a numerical reasoning test if you’re applying for a job in a numeracy-based sector, such as finance or insurance. That said, they are increasingly common for any role that involves a level of data interpretation or numerical analysis, including marketing and HR.
Why do employers use numerical tests?
In a competitive job market, employers of all shapes and sizes use a range of methods to narrow down their pool of candidates for any given opening. Numerical reasoning tests are one such method.
The questions posed in these tests are based on the particulars of a given job function, such as determining profit margin or estimating material quantities. As such, they give employers a good indication of how an applicant would perform in the role in question, allowing them to separate those with promise from those who would struggle with their daily tasks.
Numerical reasoning tests are also a good measure of how well an individual works under pressure. Employers want to know that you can perform well in any given circumstance, and since these assessments are timed, they demonstrate your ability to interpret data and draw accurate conclusions at speed.
How numerical reasoning tests work
Numerical reasoning tests are not standardised. They can vary in duration, complexity and format depending on a number of factors, including:
- The test provider – there are several publishers of numerical reasoning tests, each with its own slight variation on the assessment, so the exact nature of your test will depend on which provider the employer uses.
- The occupation in question – since numerical reasoning tests are used to predict your workplace performance, they vary in relation to the role for which you’ve applied. For example, the questions posed to an aspiring engineer will differ from those presented for a financial post.
- The level of the position – typically, the higher up the ladder you climb, the more complex the numerical reasoning test, so the difficulty rating of your assessment will increase as you progress from graduate, to professional, to managerial level.
That said, there are commonalities across the board which can help you prepare for your numerical reasoning test.
Generally speaking, numerical reasoning tests are short, timed assessments presented in a multiple choice format. Their exact length can vary from roughly 10 to 45 minutes, and the number of questions will be relevant to their duration. As a guide, one question for every minute is a reasonable expectation, but some of the more difficult tests require more speed.
If you have the right skill set, the questions themselves would not be too difficult to answer under normal circumstances. However, these tests aren’t designed to be straightforward, and the time limit isn’t the only added complication.
Many test publishers use what are known as distractors – answer options purposefully similar to the correct answer, or that could be achieved if a common mistake was made.
In addition, numerical reasoning tests for graduate level positions can be quite complex in their nature. The data given may include information that’s not relevant to the question posed but is there to distract you. It’s also likely that you’ll need to apply a number of processes to draw the right conclusion, not just a single action.
Common Question Types
You can expect a range of questions that cover various aspects of numerical understanding.
These are likely to include general arithmetic, or numerical computation, where you’ll work with addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, as well as dealing with things like percentage change and simplified ratios.
Currency conversion questions are also a common occurrence.
Numerical reasoning questions often take the form of a number series, where your numerical logic will be tested, rather than your ability to perform basic calculations.
You’ll also encounter numerical estimation questions. Here, you’ll be asked to give an approximation as opposed to an exact answer, usually through graph interpretation.
The last common question type is data interpretation. With these, you may be presented with numerical data in the form of graphs, charts and tables, or in a paragraph of written text, and asked to make an inference based on the information provided.
How well you’ve performed in your numerical reasoning test will usually be assessed comparatively. Your prospective employer will receive your raw score, that is the number of correct answers, which will then be measured against a benchmark score.
This benchmark score will either be based on the performance of other candidates for the role, or the historical scores of employees in a similar position of comparative level.
There is no differential or negative scoring in a numerical reasoning test. You’ll get one point for every correct response and won’t be marked down for an incorrect answer.
You can easily improve your score with practice, and by mastering some key formulas for success.
Key maths skills you’ll need – and how to improve
Although numerical reasoning tests focus more on your interpretation and analytical abilities, rather than your mathematical skills, there are a few key areas you’ll need to be confident in.
Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division should be revised as the very basics. Generally speaking, GCSE level understanding is sufficient.
You’ll also need to be able to work with percentages, fractions, ratios and averages. Here are a few key formulas to get you started.