How to Prepare for Psychometric and Personality Tests

A wide range of employers use selection tests at some stage of their recruitment process. These may be used with an interview or may form part of a range of exercises and tests at an assessment centre. Knowing what to expect can help you approach these tests more positively. You can improve your performance to a certain extent through familiarisation and practice, as using the right approach to get your answer can save valuable time.

Psychometric tests focus on your ability in specific areas which are believed to be particularly relevant to the position for which you are applying. Therefore, within the legal profession, the most common type is the verbal reasoning test. Other psychometric tests will focus on numerical and ‘diagrammatic’ reasoning. In contrast, personality questionnaires build up a profile of your preferred working style. A crucial distinction between the two types of exercise is that the questions in psychometric tests do have correct answers, and you are given a score; whereas with personality profiles there are no wrong answers.

Who uses these tests?
In general terms, the larger and more commercial the organisation, the more likely it is you will encounter these tests. Psychometric tests are not used as often in smaller firms, although larger legal aid firms may use written or verbal reasoning type exercises. While limited resources may prevent small firms using psychometric or group tests, they may use other assessment methods, such as mock client interviews, asking you to write an opinion on a legal or business case, or a letter to an imaginary client. While appearing very different to psychometric tests, in fact the principles are the same: these employers are testing key attributes they think are important for successful lawyers in practice areas such as theirs.

How will I know?
If you are attending an assessment centre, the employer should inform you in advance about what to expect. However, in rare instances, you could find that a test is given to you by surprise. Whatever your feelings about this at the time, it generally makes sense to use unexpected situations at interviews to show how calm you can be under pressure. At such times, it is worth remembering that all the other candidates will be facing the same challenge, so you are not at a competitive disadvantage.

Psychometric tests
These tests seek to measure your fundamental ability, or aptitude, in particular area. They usually involve answering multiple choice questions, either using pencil and paper or at a computer. These are not conventional exams, and your performance should not be affected by how much you have studied English, maths or any other academic subject in the past. Another difference from conventional tests is that the number of correct answers does not equal your score – not in any meaningful way. Psychometric tests work by building up ‘norms’ of how people of differing abilities perform with the same test. Your initial score is then compared with these norms to give your position compared with the rest of that ‘norm group’. So it is impossible to know how well you have done at the time you take the test.

The aptitude most frequently tested by legal employers is verbal reasoning . Typically, this type of test will have a series of short passages of text, each followed by several statements; you have to decide if the statement can logically be deduced from the information in the text. The emphasis is on how well you can draw accurate meaning from written information, not whether you have an elegant prose style or perfect spelling.

Numerical reasoning is less popular, but is used by some commercial firms and financial institutions recruiting for in-house legal roles. Again, the challenge is to draw conclusions from information presented to you, in this case in the form of numbers. These are usually presented in simulated ‘real world’ situations, such as tables of sales figures. The maths rarely gets any more complicated than addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and percentages. Calculators are sometimes allowed – check the instructions. Even if you are allowed a calculator, it is worth practicing mental arithmetic if you have not done any for a while.

Abstract reasoning (also called diagrammatic or logical reasoning) involves working out the logical next step in a sequence – usually presented as a series of shapes or diagrams – hence the name ‘diagrammatic’ reasoning. As no calculations or language are needed, these tests aim to uncover your ability for ‘pure’ logical thinking, However, it is unlikely, if you are apply for jobs in the legal field, that you will be asked to take one of these tests.

The best thing to do to improve your performance on these tests is to practise. This is unlikely to improve your verbal reasoning or other skills, but it will familiarise you with the tests and the type of questions you will be asked, ensuring you perform to the best of your abilities when asked to undertake one of these tests by a recruiter. Once you are familiar with the main types of test, the most useful thing you can do well is to turn up refreshed and relax, as far as possible, before the test.

For most tests, aim to work with ‘quiet urgency’; in other words, work as quickly as you reasonably can without rushing. Some tests have too many questions to answer in the time allowed, so do not assume you have done badly if you fail to finish. If you are really stuck on a question, in most cases it is best to guess then move on; come back to it if you have time.

Sample questions can be found on the following sites: - contains a student section with free sample tests and personality questionnaires. Free registration gives access to timed tests with feedback provided. – the Prospects site has many links to psychometric tests and personality questionnaires, see the section under “Applications, CVs and interviews / Tests and exercises”.

There are also numerous books available which combine advice on test-taking strategy with sample tests and answers.
Personality questionnaires

Because these address personality rather than ability, there are no right or wrong answers, hence the use of the term ‘questionnaire’ rather than ‘test’. The questionnaire looks at your style or preferences for doing certain things (e.g. making decisions, gathering information) and how you typically behave. A typical question might be:

Q: Which word appeals to you the most?

A. 1. Statement or 2. Concept

You should respond naturally and spontaneously rather than trying to work out how the employer might want you to answer. There is usually no time limit, or ample time to answer within the time allowed. Useful sites for practice questions include: - the student section allows you to see sample items from a personality questionnaire. – the Prospects site has many links to psychometric tests and personality questionnaires, see the section under “Applications, CVs and interviews / Tests and exercises”.
Resist the temptation to think that you should respond in a certain way to please the assessors. If you try to second-guess what they are looking for, you may give misleading or inconsistent answers. Just try to be yourself.

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