Einstein famously had a relatively low IQ, and it's sometimes argued that the only thing that intelligence tests really measure is how good you are at intelligence tests. However, employers tend to rate such tests highly because they appear to offer a level of objectivity and certainty when faced with the task of selecting the best candidate for a job.
There are broadly two types of psychometric tests: aptitude tests, which are supposed to measure raw intellectual ability; and personality tests, which aim to assess your character, temperament and how you deal with problems.
First, let's look at aptitude tests. These tend to feature questions that test your critical-reasoning ability with words, numbers, diagrams and shapes. They're given under exam conditions, strictly timed and the questions start out relatively straightforward and get steadily harder. You'll probably find you've run out of time before you've got to the end of the paper, but don't panic. What matters is the number of questions you get right compared with the average person.
Personality tests, in contrast, aim to explore the way you deal with various situations and there are no right or wrong answers. Your prospective employer will have defined a certain set of characteristics for the job and will be looking for someone who displays those attributes. It's advisable to be honest in your answers, and not to try to demonstrate characteristics you don’t really have because you may not fit in to a particular type of organization if you are not completely yourself.
How to prepare
With preparation you can improve your accuracy and time when sitting an aptitude test. Useful books include
- Succeed at Psychometric Testing – Diagrammatic and Abstract Reasoning by Peter S Rhodes;
- Practise Psychometric Tests by Andrea Shavick; and
- Succeed at Psychometric Testing – Practice Tests for Verbal Reasoning (Advanced Level) by Jeremy Kourdi.
If you're a recent graduate, your university careers service should have practice questions and will be able to give you a full-length practice test session. Most importantly, try to get a good night's sleep before the big day.
On the day
If you're unsure about anything before the test starts, ask for clarification. On the aptitude tests, work as quickly and accurately as you can. Skip the ones you find really hard. Don’t guess.
Remember: keep calm and read all the questions carefully.
This information was supplied by the Institute of Physics, which offers a range of careers advice and resources for people with a background in physics.