What is a situational judgement test?

A situational judgement test, also known as an SJT, is a type of psychometric test that often forms part of the assessment process for job applications.

An SJT involves considering a series of hypothetical workplace scenarios that you might encounter in the role for which you are interviewing. You are then invited to select a response that you feel best answers each question. From these, the company extrapolates and assesses your judgement and character traits.

Situational judgement tests vary depending on the provider and the employer commissioning the test but usually take a similar form, in that you are presented with a description of a workplace-based scenario and a number of responses.

After reading the scenario you are then asked to select or rank the responses. There are no right or wrong answers per se, and indeed none of the responses may include your instinctive response to the scenario. Using your knowledge of the employer and the role for which you are being assessed, you select the response which answers the question while also conveying the competencies that the employer seeks.

For the most part, and in more junior or graduate positions, the skills being assessed will largely be obvious: communication skills, team working, building relationships, commercial awareness. For more senior management roles, these could include motivation, strategy, delivering results and long-term planning.

In addition to gaining an understanding of how you might respond to the challenges of the job and the effectiveness of your judgement, SJTs also allow you an insight into the role and decisions/situations that you may encounter should you be successful in gaining a role in the organisation.

Why do employers use situational judgement tests?

Situational judgement tests are typically used by recruiters for roles where they have a high volume of applicants, which often includes graduate roles. Employers also use SJTs when the majority of candidates may have similar academic results and they are looking for other ways to filter.

If you are asked to take part in an assessment day for any of the big law firms, financial firms, ‘Big Four’ business services firms (PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY), banks or Civil Service Fast Stream, you will most likely be asked to carry out a situational judgement test. SJTs are also used by medical and dental schools.

SJT are usually bespoke, employer-specific tests designed to assess judgement and behaviours deemed important. Of course, as the candidate you would hope to use your intelligence to be able to answer the questions in a way that demonstrates those behaviours. But the employer will want to find out how you would really behave in a situation, not how you think you should, so the questions will be designed to strike a balance.

Situational judgement tests are also useful in assessing softer skills and non-academic competencies. They are often but not exclusively used alongside other tests, such as e-tray exercises, the Watson Glaser test, group exercises and presentations.

A SJT is usually taken via computer, which allows the results to be automatically generated to create a combined score, which is then passed to the employer. Individual responses may also be provided to allow the employer to assess specific competencies. It is likely your score will also be presented in a ranking of all the other candidates, to provide context.

How situational judgement tests work

A SJT will usually form part of the assessment day alongside interviews, numeracy tests and group exercises and presentations.

SJTs are usually administered via computer and may be text only, or use videos (with either actors or animation/graphics) to create a scenario, with text for answers. Occasionally an SJT might be a paper exercise but that is rare – and they are usually written answers rather than verbal.

Situational judgement tests are multiple-choice tests in which you are asked to respond to between 25 and 50 descriptions or scenarios. Usually there is no specific time limit, but you’d expect to work quickly and instinctively, and therefore would expect the test to take around one minute per question. Each correct answer is worth one mark.

Each short scenario or description will be followed by a question and some choices. All the information is contained within the question and you do not need to know any further information to be able to answer the question.

You will commonly be asked to do one of two things: choose either the least effective or best / most likely / most effective response listed, or to rank the options.

Often but not always, one or two of the options will include responses which are clearly unethical or against company values. You should also look out for answers which amount to passive choices, or are the equivalent to ‘doing nothing’, as in SJTs these are rarely the correct choice.

Any response which replies on workplace politics – rather than on your analytic abilities – is also unlikely to be the correct answer.