Situational judgement tests (SJTs) are used across a range of job industries and are popular with employers as a way to assess a candidate’s values, behaviour, judgement and decision-making skills.

In the test, you will be presented with a series of hypothetical scenarios you could come across in the job you are applying for. For each one, you will be given four or five possible actions and must decide which would be the most effective or appropriate in the situation described.

These assessments have many similarities with situational strengths tests. There are not necessarily any right or wrong answers in situational judgement tests, which can make them more challenging.

Below are our top 10 tips for doing well at them. First, let’s look at how the questions are structured:

An example situational judgement question decoded

Read the passage below and select how you would most and least likely respond.

The company where you work employed a PR agency 6 months ago and your manager has asked you to assess the impact this has had on the business. Where do you start?

  1. Talk to the PR agency and ask their key people to explain what impact they believe their services have had.

  2. Start by looking at the website usage figures, sales revenue, new client data and enquiry data that has been collected over the last 6 months and compare that to the same 6 months in previous years.

  3. Talk to the Head of Sales and Marketing about the feedback they have had from staff and customers on the impact of the PR agency’s work.

  4. Talk to the internal marketing team about the internet traffic over the last 6 months and whether the data suggests there has been an impact.

In this scenario, option 2 would be the most effective approach. Combining data from a number of different sources would give you the best overview of the impact the PR agency has had.

Option 1 is the least effective approach, as feedback from the PR agency itself is likely to be subjective and biased.

1) Know your role

Research the company and role, so you have a thorough understanding of the type of person sought. Situational judgement tests are generally tailored to the employer, so thinking about the kind of people they want to hire can help you understand why they are asking certain questions and answer accordingly.

Make sure you are familiar with the key traits required – as set out in the job description – and keep these in mind when selecting your responses.

2) Identify the skill or quality being assessed

Each question will focus on a core competency. These are likely to include cognitive ability (such as problem solving and prioritising tasks) and social intelligence (such as teamwork and supporting others), as well specific skills and knowledge related to the job. For managerial roles, leadership skills will also be assessed.

Working out which skill or quality is being assessed in any given question will help you to choose the best response.

3) Understand the mechanics

Identify patterns in your responses. Are you a team player who likes to ask everyone’s opinion before coming to a decision, or are you a leader who makes decisions with conviction but fails to get everyone’s buy-in first? These are the types of personality traits situational judgement tests are designed to assess.

By practising questions in advance you can learn valuable lessons that will help you to perform better in your real assessment.

4) Be yourself

While an awareness of the qualities and traits a company is looking for will help you answer the questions more effectively, don’t be tempted to select answers that are completely at odds with your true personality.

Psychometric tests are a two-way process: the company hiring you wants to ensure you’ll be a good fit, but they are also an opportunity for you to check if you will enjoy working there. So it’s important to answer questions honestly and not to get ‘in character’ for a particular application.

5) Study the solutions

Review the answers to the practice questions you sit. All good situational judgement test practice questions will come with detailed solutions. While it’s tempting to move on as soon as you have completed a practice test and received your score, taking time to go through the solutions provided is the best way to master these assessments.

With all psychometric tests, you will learn more from the questions you get wrong than the ones you get right.

6) Read the instructions carefully

Situational judgements tests come in different formats, so the one you are sitting may be different to those you have come across before. You might be asked to rank all the responses in order of effectiveness, to choose the actions you are most and least likely to take, or to pick just one action you would take.

Make sure you have read the instructions thoroughly so you know exactly what you need to do, and check if there is a time limit too.

7) Don’t overthink your answers

Stick to your timings. At the start of your assessment work out how many questions you have to sit and how long you have to answer each one. Don’t spend too long on any one question – if you are stuck, move on to the next question and come back to it at the end if you have time.

8) Stick to the question

The response you choose should be based solely on the information provided in the question. Be wary of making assumptions or jumping to conclusions, especially if you’ve come across similar situations in the past.

Stay focused on the specific question you are answering and any context given. Similarly, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by alternative courses of action that aren’t listed as a possible response.

9) Consider the context

Think about the role you are applying for and the level of authority and responsibility you will have. The answer you choose should reflect the position you would be holding within the company. For example, a more junior employee would probably not be expected to delegate tasks, so take this into consideration when selecting your response.

10) Practise a range of situational judgement tests

Practise as many questions as you can before the test to familiarise yourself with the types of questions and responses you are likely to be presented with. And practise tests in different formats and from different test publishers, so you are more prepared for the real thing and won’t be put off by any surprises on the day.

Start out with a few free practice situational judgment questions. For more tips, see our article on how to prepare for situational judgement tests.