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Recruiter’s Toolbox Essentials: Cognitive Aptitude Test


Finding the best employee for the job is critically important to the success of any project or even the entire business. With this in mind, it’s pretty apparent how a cognitive aptitude test might be the most important tool available to HR recruiting teams.

Although the chief parameters cognitive aptitude tests look to evaluate are productivity and performance ability, these are not the only things they’re used for. Increasingly, companies are turning to these evaluations in search of employees that will stay with the company long-term, adapt to new roles, and take on more responsibility.

Candidates list these “productivity and performance” skills on their resumes. That’s why tests are needed to answer complex questions, such as “Is the job applicant able to think abstractly?” or “How quickly can they learn on the job and adopt new skills?

In this article, we’ll try to explain what a cognitive aptitude test actually does and how to use it to your advantage when hiring new employees.

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What Is a Cognitive Aptitude Test?

A cognitive aptitude test is a pre-employment test used by recruiters to test the cognitive abilities of potential employees.

Companies that have over 100 employees should use this to speed up and improve their recruitment process. As many as 75 percent of them already do. The test has proven to be useful and more revealing than the standard interviews and reference-based recruitment process.

What Does a Pre Employment Aptitude Test Measure?

A cognitive assessment test for employment measures the mental abilities of a potential employee, with a focus on a variety of different categories. That means that the test can be used to assess how an employee will perform, within a lot of different fields and jobs.

The tests are designed to measure:

When those who apply for a junior role take the test, the goal should be to assess how quickly a candidate learns and adapts to a new role. When the test is taken by those who apply for senior and leadership roles, it measures their ability to make quick decisions and act on them.

What Does a Cognitive Ability Test for Employment Look Like?

A cognitive employment test is usually taken in the form of a test with multiple choice answers. There’s a variety of different tests and they can consist of puzzles, a reading comprehension test, math problems, or all of the above.
The test can be tailored to measure a particular set of skills, but it can also measure cognitive abilities in general. For instance, cognitive aptitude tests can measure math skills for an accountant position or spatial reasoning for someone applying for a job in interior design.

There’s a time limit in which the test needs to be completed, which can range from ten to 30 minutes depending on the circumstances. This fast pace is used to simulate real-life environments, where decisions need to be made on the fly.

The results of the pre-employment cognitive tests are a percentage or a number of correct answers. A raw score is the number of questions that a candidate has answered correctly. percentage score shows how well a candidate has done in comparison to others. The company should focus efforts on hiring those that test within a percentage (for instance the top ten percent).

Are Pre-Employment Cognitive Tests the Same as IQ Tests?

That’s a difficult question to answer because the concept of an IQ test is somewhat controversial in itself. An IQ test measures overall intelligence, meaning the ability to solve problems and understand abstract concepts. In that regard, the tests are similar.


The IQ test has one characteristic that’s different from a cognitive aptitude test. It measures the intelligence of a person in comparison to a median intelligence within a population. The IQ test will tell you by how many standard deviations your intelligence diverges from a median test taker.

Why Should Companies Use a Cognitive Test for Employment?

A company is only as good as its employees. Every business tries to find the best people for the job because it’s the people that present the most valuable resource in any industry. However, there’s no “one size fits all” solution for finding the right person and HR teams are always working on a way to perfect their search efforts.

A cognitive aptitude test can play a big role in this effort because it’s effective in finding many different qualities that a good employee should have.

It predicts job performance

The main goal of an application process is to figure out how well the employee will do on the job itself. There are many indicators that can help you sort this out. The most common include education levels, previous job experience, structured and open-ended interviews, job knowledge tests, and in the end, a cognitive aptitude test itself.

Research done by experts has shown that a cognitive aptitude test is the best indicator of future performance. On the other hand, it isn’t the only one and different indicators can affect each other. For example, an interview combined with the test can be the most efficient way to assess future employees.

A cognitive aptitude test measures problem solving and learning abilities

A work environment is always changing. There are jobs where there are no two days alike and it’s impossible to create a test that will cover every possible problem that a job applicant can face. But a cognitive aptitude test measures the ability to solve problems in an abstract way, without being limited by details of a particular problem.

This also means that an employer will be able to tell how quickly a person can move up within the company and expand their role and impact. It’s a useful tool when it comes to charting a career path for a new employee.

Identifying hidden potential

There’s much focus on having a good resume and diverse work experience. All of those are great, but they only tell you about past performance, not about the future an employee has in a company. For instance, having a well-balanced resume also depends on a variety of factors an employee can’t control (such as where they grew up, their socioeconomic status, and more).

Many times focusing on these aspects ends with favoring one category of applicants over the other, and hidden potential may fall through the cracks. Using a cognitive ability test for employment purposes means unlocking those hidden potentials, regardless of where the candidate comes from.

How Do Companies Benefit from Having a Cognitive Aptitude Test

Testing saves time and money

Finding the best employee is no small task. This is especially true for roles with complex tasks and experience requirements. A lot of the time, companies decide to hire a few candidates as interns for a probationary period. With that method, the potential employees can show their skills in a real-life environment.

It’s a useful way to test potential employees, but it’s also a costly and time-consuming approach to the problem. Using cognitive aptitude tests is a way to accomplish the same thing without the additional expense, and time wasted.

It improves retention

Losing an employee is a costly problem for a company. There are costs related to compensating the departed employee themselves and additional costs for finding and training a new one. That’s why it’s important to try and hire employees that will stay with you for a long time.

A cognitive assessment test for employment is a good way to hire for the future and to make sure that a company improves retention and thus cuts costs related to it. A candidate that does well on a test proves that they can live up to the challenges of employment and adapt to the changing environment and therefore stays with a company for years to come.

Testing shows the candidates that you care

It’s important to have in mind that the employees are choosing their place of work as much as the company is choosing its employees. A company shows that they are taking the job seriously, by using a test for selecting the employees. The test then makes the current employees feel valued and appreciated.

How to Conduct a Cognitive Assessment Test for Employment?

Using a pre-employment aptitude test could be challenging if you don’t do your homework. Stick to a few simple rules and, if you know what kind of employee you’re looking for, it can be done with great success.

What to Do After a Cognitive Aptitude Test?

It’s important to follow through after the test and to use interviews and other recruiting techniques to go in-depth on the results of the testing. Using these other tools will complement the tests and provide a more complete image of what the applicant has to offer.

Conduct an interview

The selection process shouldn’t be based on the cognitive aptitude test alone, but it should be driven by it. An interview stage is where the HR team, along with the hiring manager, should make their decision. These decisions will be made based on testing results, interviews, and any relevant work experience.

Make a choice

In the end, you should make a choice based on all of these factors.  Make sure to continually review your benchmarks against the applicant pool test results. Your initial benchmark may need to be adjusted, based on scores being too high or too low. It’s best to modify them after you’ve met a range of different candidates and made some hires, then have verified that the new employees’ performance reflects their test scores.

Maintain transparency

It’s important that a screening process for new employees is transparent from the onset. Applicants should know that there’s a test involved, before beginning the process. Applicants also should know what the other hiring criteria are, in addition to testing.  This transparency will make for a better experience for your applicants.  The applicant you don’t hire today may be a perfect fit for a job next year.

Summing Things Up

Choosing the best employees for the job is a complicated process and one that’s costly for the employer. Using a cognitive test can help HR teams identify the best candidates for the job. It’s a way to learn about the potential and their abilities to solve problems and adapt to change.

It’s a multiple-choice test that will focus on a few key characteristics. These include: reading comprehension, spatial intelligence, problem-solving abilities, and numerical reasoning. When combined with an interview, a test can predict job performance and the ability to thrive in a career. That’s why these tests have been adopted by companies working in all fields and industries.

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If you’re hiring for your team, consider adding cognitive aptitude tests to your recruitment process. To learn more, contact us and get a free sample cognitive aptitude test