Demystifying a cognitive ability test: A 2020 guide

May 11, 2020 | Assessment, Recruiting | 0 comments

What is a cognitive ability test?

The cognitive ability test is a test intended to measure a candidate’s cognitive ability. Cognitive ability is the mental capacity to reason with others, solve problems, understand complex ideas, and learn quickly. It’s the ability to comprehend the environment and our surroundings. There is a lot of research that links cognitive ability to job performance and leadership potential. Therefore, a lot of organizations include in their recruitment process, cognitive ability tests.

What do cognitive ability tests measure?

Cognitive ability tests measure an applicant’s potential to solve work-related problems. Specifically, cognitive ability tests in recruitment measure:

  • Reasoning: The ability to think in a logical way

  • Perception: The ability to interpret sensory information

  • Memory: The ability to memorize and store information

  • Verbal ability: The ability to process verbal information

  • Mathematical ability: The ability to process mathematical information

  • Problem-solving: The ability to find solutions to difficult problems

How to read cognitive ability test answers?

There are several ways to interpret a cognitive ability test. The most common way is to read the test based on the sum of the correct answers given (raw score) by the candidate. It is also common to measure speed and incorporate the time spend to complete the test in the results. The speed of performing the test can be considered a factor when reading the results. For example, if you have two candidates that scored the same in the test, you could use speed as another metric to get insight on someone’s ability to think faster. Human Resources also use normal distribution (continuous probability distribution for a random variable) and compare the test results to a pre-tested group.

Are reliable cognitive ability tests reliable?

There is strong evidence indicating that cognitive ability is linked to employee performance. These tests measure general mental capability and are one of the most accurate psychological assessments. But as any other test, the cognitive ability test should be well defined to be effective and to predict job performance.

Examples of cognitive ability tests?

It is very usual for HR teams and recruiters to use a combination of cognitive ability tests to predict candidate potential and to predict job performance. Here are some different examples of cognitive ability tests:

1. Verbal ability and reasoning test: Measures the candidate’s ability to read and understand things. This test allows employees to know how the candidate can comprehend information after reading a document.

2. Numerical ability and reasoning test: Measures numeracy and the ability to handle numbers accurately. The mathematical ability test covers addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division typically.

3. Logical ability test: Measures analytical thinking and if the candidate can apply logical reasoning to solve complex problems.

4. Technical aptitude test: Technology plays a significant role in today’s workplace. Therefore, employees evaluate candidates based on technical abilities and their capability to understand new technologies.

5. Visual (spatial) ability test: This test is designed to measure the candidate’s ability to recognize patterns and designs and their ability to visualize objects in 3D.

6. Information processing tests: Measures the candidate’s ability to process information. Usually, these tests are based on the actual job the candidate applied for.

7. Memory tests: A test that focuses on the candidate’s ability to memorize something during a short period

Advantages of cognitive ability tests

  • Cognitive ability tests are very consistent in giving a unique perspective on a candidate’s mental capability.

  • Cognitive ability links to employee performance. The interpretation of the results can indicate whether an employee will be a high performer or not.

  • The more complex the job is, the more reliable the results are

  • Easy to automate using a pre-assessment tool

Disadvantages of cognitive ability tests

  • Some candidates may feel less motivated to complete the test as they perceive it as non-valid, resulting in poor performance.

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