What skills do engineers typically need?
As a rule, most engineering roles require at least a degree. This means that those who are looking to become a highly paid engineer need to be thinking about their choices in education first.
It is probably best to focus on maths and physics at A-Level, with the option of subjects like chemistry, further maths and design and technology helpful depending on your aim. However, a general engineering degree is a good start.
There are further qualifications that will set you in good stead for becoming a professional engineer, like a Masters or PhD, CEng (Chartered Engineer) or IEng (Incorporated Engineer).
For graduate schemes in organisations like BAE Systems, Jaguar Land Rover, BP and Nestle, psychometric tests are used as part of the application process, and they test more than hard skills; there are also soft skills that are useful for those wishing to pursue a career in engineering. These include:
Computer science: knowledge of programming and confidence in modelling software
Stress management: dealing with pressure in a positive way
Ability to learn
Data and statistics: understanding of statistics and the ability to manipulate raw data
Attention to detail
There are a huge number of career paths for those who have the skills and qualifications to be an engineer, from chemical to mechanical, and aeronautical to civil.
What psychometric tests do engineering firms use to assess these skills?
Each engineering firm is likely to have a suite of aptitude tests that they rely on to help in the recruitment process. These might be produced by popular publishers or completely bespoke assessments - but they usually cover similar topics.
Psychometric tests are not necessarily assessments of your knowledge, but as an unbiased, objective way to measure skills and aptitudes for learning that suggest success in a particular role. Most psychometric tests are in a multiple-choice format.
As the skills needed for engineering are quite specific, you should expect to be tested on your mechanical knowledge, your mathematical ability, spatial awareness and your logical problem solving skills. These aptitudes are measured in the following tests:
While the publishers and content of the assessments might change depending on the employer, the core abilities that are being tested are the same - as is the way you should prepare and practice for them in order to be successful.
Mechanical reasoning tests
A mechanical reasoning test is designed to assess your basic understanding of the physics principles used in mechanics. As a rule, these use everyday objects and images to demonstrate a problem that needs knowledge of things like physical forces, electricity, magnetism, mass and area, the dynamics of air, water and other liquids, pulleys and levers.
For the employers, this test shows that the applicant has a basic (GCSE-level) understanding of physics and can apply that knowledge to reach a conclusion. The use of recognisable objects makes this assessment relatively simple, but the test conditions including a usually tight time frame to answer the questions is what makes these tests a problem.
Diagrammatic reasoning tests
Diagrammatic reasoning tests are also known as abstract reasoning tests, and require candidates to solve complex, image-based questions using logical deductions from the information provided. These assessments are about the specific skill of assessing and analysing the available information to problem solve and reach the right conclusion.
For employers, diagrammatic reasoning demonstrates logic and clarity from recognising patterns in images and recognising when something is missing or incorrect. This assessment is not usually difficult in content and the patterns are most often simple, but the challenge is recognising them quickly and applying them while under time pressure.
Spatial awareness tests
Spatial awareness tests may look visually similar to diagrammatic or abstract reasoning tests, but the assessment is not about logical deduction. Spatial awareness tests assess the way a candidate can mentally manipulate shapes in 2D and 3D space to visualise movement or changes. The shapes used are usually basic, even in 3D, and the difficulty comes mainly from the time pressure involved.
Spatial awareness, and the ability to visualise problems to find a solution, is an important skill that is valued by engineering companies. Although there is modelling software available, there will be times when an engineer needs to mentally manipulate parts in order to find a solution to a problem.
Numerical reasoning tests
In a numerical reasoning test, candidates are presented with a series of mathematical word problems that are based on graphs, tables and charts. To answer the problem, the candidate must read, analyse and understand the data provided and then perform the required calculation. The mathematical knowledge that is tested is not difficult, it is just basic operations like multiplication and addition as well as percentages and ratios.
Basic mathematical knowledge is an important part of the skill set for engineers, and numerical reasoning tests test more than a candidate’s ability to perform equations - it also demonstrates performance under pressure and the ability to make deliberate and considered calculations.