Numerical Reasoning

Welcome Test Takers! My name is Dr Greenwood, a mathematics lecturer and numerical reasoning test designer for major test publishers.

Over the years I have been asked literally hundreds of questions by countless candidates about numerical reasoning tests. I’m reassured that there are no secrets to approaching these tests, but some quick training in the most common examples of questions, and a little prior knowledge, certainly helps. It surprises me how many graduates are not comfortable with calculating percentage increase/decreases, or are rusty with currency conversion questions. So I’m here to teach you some solid foundations for the questions which typically come up in all numerical tests.

The same questions and misunderstandings from candidates keep coming up, so I thought I’d publish all my advice in one handy resource – all on this website.

The most frequent request for help comes from undergraduates preparing for their numerical psychometric tests – such as those published by SHL, Kenexa, Talent Q, Cubiks etc. But a lot of the same advice also applies to A-level and GCSE exams.

Numerical tests needn’t make you anxious; you just need to know a few basic concepts which I’ve categorised on the menu on the right. Good luck everyone! And if you need to ask questions not already answered here, please drop me an email and I will get back to you. If it’s a sensible question I will even add the answer to this site.


Employers’ Numerical Reasoning Tests

company numerical testsEmployers continue to use numerical reasoning tests (as part of other psychometric tests) because they are a lot better at predicting future job performance than traditional selection methods such as interviews and what you have on your CV. They are a quick, accurate, fair, and low-cost way of sifting through the hundreds of applications they get, particularly at graduate level.

Employers rarely write their own tests; they use tests sold by psychometric test publishers. This is because the science and research behind an effective numerical test is a specialist area and not everyone can do it. There are also legal issues the employer has to consider; namely unfair discrimination laws. If a numerical test screens out a job applicant, is that test a fair one which measures abilities important for the role, or is it actually indirectly discriminating against groups of people (for example people with reading difficulties, ethnic groups, etc.)

Your numerical test results are presented to the employer in the form of a percentile score. This means your score is compared against a large group of people who have taken the test before so it is possible to see whether your score is high, typical or low. For example if you scored 11 out of 25 in a numerical reasoning test, is that good or bad? You don’t know until you know what other people get.

The time limits for employers’ numerical test are strict and most people do not finish with the time. This is partly because a person’s innate numerical abilty is best measured this way, and partly because in a real job situation you are sometimes required to work quickly or under pressure.


Numerical Test Tip 1

numerical test calculatorUse a calculator with which you are familiar. If your numerical reasoning test is online and unsupervised, you will have the luxury of using whatever calculator you like in whatever environment you feel most comfortable, at whatever time you feel confident. So make the best use of this advantage and use a calculator you are familiar with. You will instinctively know where the buttons are, you will know how to operate it and this will all save you vital seconds during your test.

If your numerical test is going to be at an assessment centre or at the company’s offices, you will probably have to use a calculator they issues to all candidates. They like to do this to standardise the test experience for everyone.  But it can’t hurt to ask the test administrator beforehand if you would be allowed to use your own calculator.


Numerical Test Tip 2

numerical test pie chartPractice makes perfect! As well as having a sold grounding in the essential mathematical operations you will need, you should certainly practise numerical test questions. A good place to start your practice is on the test publisher’s website. You might be told who the test publisher is (i.e. SHL, Kenexa etc. ) which means you can go straight to their website to get some practice.

By practising these tests you will become familiar with the typical questions, you will develop your own style of approaching them and importantly you will increase your confidence. If you are confident and rid of any anxiety, you are much more likely to perform your best. Panic and anxiety only inhibit test performance.

Practice will get you used to how much time you should spend on each question and how much working to write down (too much and you wlil waste time, too little and you will not be able to go back through steps in a calculation).


Numerical Test Tip 3

numerical test estimateMake the best use of the multiple choice answer options. It is wrong to just randomly guess answers, as we shall see in a bit, but judicious use of the options will help you save time. Before launching into a numerical question which involves lots of steps, have a quick look at the available answer options. Are any of them obviously wrong, and therefore able to be discounted? What units is the question expecting your answer to be in? Halfway through your calculation, is it apparent that there is only one or two possibilities? These techniques can save you time during your test.

It is strongly advisable not to guess answers because your accuracy score is seen by the test administrator  If you attempt lots of questions but get many wrong, your accuracy score will be low. Would you want your potential employer to see you as a carefree risk taker? Employers will be looking at your accuracy score as well as your overall percentile score. The best advice, which you will probably be told before your test is “work both quickly and accurately”.


Numerical Test Tip 4

numerical graph A-BSome text about numerical reasoning test tip 4. Suggestion: Check units of tables/graphs. Classic area for making mistakes. Some questions deliberately have axes of hundreds, thousands or some other unit which needs converting before you can get the wright answer.

As in real life, the units of tables and graphs can vary, can be rebased, or can have asterisks with caveats. Most numerical resasoning tests aim to emulate the types of numerical interpretation skills required on the job, so they will be similar.

Another classic mistake candidates make is to forget what units they have been working in. For example numbers might be given in millions, and associate calculator work done in millions, but then students forget when the get to the answer and fall for the trap of selecting the answer given in tens, or hundreds. Many numerical tests deliberately include in the multiple choice answer options what they call distractors. Distractors are answers which people have mistakenly arrived at during trials of the test. So try not to fall for these common pitfalls.


Numerical Test Tip 5

numerical test lightbulbRead and understand each question carefully and think through the problem before launching into it.

This is a common mistake made by candidates on the first few tests they take (which is why it’s important to practice before your real test). It is easy under the tight time pressure to rush into a question, start working out your answer, then realise toward the end that you have misunderstood and wasted lots of time. At this stage some candidates panic and think “well, I’ve invested so much time in this question now, I’m not going to leave it, I will do it again”. Which is probably the best option if this happens to you. A quick glance at the available answer options will help prevent going down entirely the wrong route.

Some numerical test questions are deceivingly straightforward, requiring only minimal calculation. This too can throw some candidates because they are expecting something else. Taking time to read, absorb and understand the question is time well spent since it helps avoid wasted time working out the wrong answer.


arrowNow, that’s enough tips; let’s get down to brushing up on our numerical skills. Having a strong grounding in tackling the most common types of questions, you will be in good shape for performing your best in your next numerical test. Click the links to the top-right of this page to jump to a topic and start training.