Cognitive ability tests are used in pre-employment screening to provide recruiters with an idea of the general intelligence of job applicants.

In a similar way to an IQ test, cognitive ability tests are predictors of generalised intelligence, less focused than single aptitude tests. They are a reliable way for employers to understand how well a candidate will cope in the advertised role.

Performing well in a cognitive ability test means that you can work under pressure, make fast decisions, and switch your focus to different activities. These skills are more necessary in roles where swift decision-making and critical thinking is important, while a calm head under pressure helps in roles where you need to think on your feet.

Passing a cognitive ability test can be daunting. However, with the right preparation and revision, you can perform at your best. Below are ten tips for how to prepare well.

1. Practice with a range of tests

There are several publishers that produce cognitive ability tests, like SHL and Revelian. Although the general idea of them is similar, the structure, layout, and the way the questions need to be answered can be different.

Practicing with a range of tests makes you more comfortable with the differences, and will also expose you to a number of different question types.

2. Make mistakes, and learn from them

The purpose of practice is to build familiarity with the tests, but you also have the freedom to make mistakes so that you can learn from them.

It is usual for certain sections of the assessment to be more challenging, and you will find them out when you practice. Practice tests are the perfect place for mistakes to happen and can help you to work out a revision plan, so that you are not caught out when you are taking the real test.

3. Practice under exam conditions

Cognitive ability questions are not hard per se, but the exam conditions (including time pressure) can make them much more difficult. You need a quiet place where you can concentrate.

Make your practice count by sticking to a time limit and imposing conditions. You will have limited time to answer each question. Some people like to assign a certain time allowed for each question, while others answer as quickly as possible and go back to the ones that they found more challenging.

Neither is necessarily better than the other, but make sure that you have a plan.

4. Focus on your weaknesses

Although it’s tempting to answer the questions you find easiest, for the best results you want to be able to perform well across the whole test.

This means that your focus should be on the questions that you find more difficult, so you can put the work in to get more questions answered correctly. Getting stuck on a challenging question can put you under more pressure, using more time than you should.

5. Create a study plan

Cognitive ability assessments need revision and practice for the best results; it is not something that you are likely to score well on without preparation.

A study plan will give you structure to ensure that your revision and practice is building up to better scores in the real thing. The study plan you use should be personal to you, focusing on your weaker areas.

There are often surprising ways to improve your score in a cognitive ability assessment; other than brushing up on your math skills, you can look into reading more widely for the verbal questions, or completing ‘brain training’ games on your smartphone for logical thinking problems.

cognitive ability prep

6. Answer all the questions

Some of the assessments might mark you down for a wrong answer, while others do not. If your assessment does not have negative marking, then making a best guess on a question that you are unsure of could be the best course of action: as most are multiple choice, you at least have a chance of getting it right.

However, if the test does reduce your score for a wrong answer, it would be better to skip any questions that you are unsure of to give yourself the best chance of answering the questions that you are more confident on.

7. Check your technology and extras

As these questions are delivered via email, and usually take place through an online portal, your technology needs to be up to scratch.

You need a strong and reliable internet connection. Some assessments can be taken on a smartphone or a tablet, but it is better to use a laptop or computer.

In the information given before the assessment, you will be informed if you need any extra equipment like a calculator or scrap paper and a pencil for notes – so make sure you have that to hand if necessary.

8. Learn which test you are taking

When you are applying to a job that uses a cognitive ability test in the recruitment process, you can find out what publisher has created the assessment so that you can find more relevant practice tests.

You can ask the recruiter, or find out using the company website.

9. Avoid distractions

Recreating exam conditions means telling your family or the people that you live with to give you some space, turning off notifications and staying away from your phone.

The test is short – often around 30 minutes – and this means that you don’t have time to spare on distractions.

10. Personal preparation

Taking any type of test is a nerve-wracking experience, and when it comes to getting a job there is extra pressure to succeed.

You can give yourself the best chance of getting through it by ensuring that you get enough rest the night before, and eat a healthy and nutritious meal before you start. Don’t forget to hydrate, too, as this is important.

Take the time to prepare properly so that you can answer as many questions as you can, as fast as you can.