Cognitive ability tests are among the most common psychometric tests used in the recruitment process. Employers use these tests to help them shortlist applicants, by scoring them on a range of cognitive skills.

A cognitive ability test measures your abilities in areas such as memory, reasoning, perception, problem-solving skills, and numerical reasoning. The tests are typically multiple-choice.

We’ve put together a list of ten tips that will help you score well in your cognitive ability test, so as to stand out to a hiring manager.

1. Know which publisher is used

Cognitive ability tests come in various guises, and depending on the test publisher (such as Korn Ferry, SHL or Aon), the format of the assessment – and the areas covered – can vary significantly. Learning in advance which one you’ll be taking allows you to hone your preparation accordingly.

2. Don’t get stuck

Time is often a factor. If a question is getting the better of you, move on: you don’t need to get every question right, but you should aim to get to every question.

3. Practice different reasoning tests to build your confidence

As mentioned earlier, cognitive ability tests tend to incorporate numerous types of test, such as numerical, abstract and logical reasoning. We encourage you to practice a range of different tests to build your confidence. This will help you feel familiarised with the way questions are worded and how to answer them.

4. Sharpen your numeracy

Numeracy tends to be a key part of most cognitive ability tests, particularly if your role is in finance or business. As such, it’s advisable to sharpen your basic numeracy skills to ensure you’re comfortable with simple maths.

Some areas you might consider improving are:

5. Get comfortable with spotting patterns

Assessments like abstract reasoning tests require you to spot patterns within a series of shapes. But how do you spot the patterns? Here are a few things to look out for:

  • The most important step is identifying the first pattern
  • Watch for common or repeated features
  • Check the rotation and positioning
  • Colour might also be a consideration

Pattern spotting can be quite challenging, so make sure you are focused with no distractions. This is where practicing tests can be very useful, to develop technique.

cognitive ability test tips

6. Repeat hard questions

Although easy questions will help build your confidence, your progress comes from repeating the hard questions that you don’t feel confident answering.

Make a note of any practice questions you get wrong as well as any subject areas you could improve. Focus on practicing these until you get them correct consistently.

7. Have a strategy

It’s important to have a strategy or tactic for different scenarios during the exam. For example, what if you can’t answer a question? What if your time is running out and you still have lots of questions to answer? The more clear you are on your tactics, the more confident and less panicked you will feel.

8. Skip or guess?

Once you have selected an answer, in most cases you cannot return to the previous question – so think carefully before guessing. Sometimes, you might hit a mental block or generally cannot figure out the answer. In these situations, it’s best to guess (if you cannot skip the question and come back to it later).

9. Be conscious of time

Most cognitive ability tests are timed, so you must work out roughly how long you can afford to spend on each question. Most employers will let you know this beforehand, but it’s good to get some practice under exam conditions by timing yourself.

10. Don’t be afraid to fail

Finally, don’t be disheartened if you do badly in a test, whether it’s a practice test or a real assessment. Most employers let you retake tests after a period, should you wish to reapply.

These exams are meant to be difficult and are meant to test your abilities - low scores in one skill does not mean you don’t offer competencies and strengths in others. Learn from your mistakes and keep practicing to improve!