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Top tips for passing a numerical reasoning test

Book open Reading time: 3 mins

Applying for a role with a big corporate employer? Chances are you’ll have to take a numerical reasoning test. Not only do these tests assess how well you can interpret and manipulate mathematical data; they also give employers insight into your overall intelligence, judgement and business acumen.

Here's the summary of the key points covered on this page:

  • What is the format of a numerical reasoning test?
  • Advice on answering numerical reasoning questions.

Top tips for passing a numerical reasoning test

Numerical reasoning tests are usually multiple-choice, timed and include:

  • Interpreting data from tables, graphs and charts
  • Percentages and proportions 
  • Fractions and ratios 
  • Estimations 
  • Currency conversions 
  • Critical reasoning
  • Inflation and rebasing, 'real' prices

Even though numerical reasoning tests can be challenging, they use only six basic maths skills: Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percentages and ratios. However, you will need to analyse and interpret more advanced data and tackle questions that have several steps.

Whether you’re already a maths wizard or find numbers intimidating, these tips will help boost your confidence and your chances.

1. Find out who your test provider will be

As soon as you find out you’re going to sit a numerical reasoning test, ask to see a sample of the questions. That’s because not all numerical reasoning tests are made equal. They’re produced by a number of different test providers – the main ones being SHL, Kenexa, Saville, Cubiks and Talent Q. Knowing which provider is responsible for the test you’ll be doing means you can practise on the right type of test. That will be a big advantage when it comes to the real thing. 

2. Read the questions carefully

Focus on the question before you starting looking at the data underneath it. Then constantly see-saw back and forth between the question and the data that relates to it. Often there’s distracting information in the graphs and charts – information that’s irrelevant to the answer. And it’s easy to be caught out by not reading the question properly. This includes not recognising the units, not seeing the applicability of a graph or table, and making assumptions about implied meaning.

3. Do a sense check

Once you’ve taken a minute or two to understand a graph or table and calculate the answer, it would be mad not to invest a few seconds in re-reading the question to double-check you’ve answered what was asked. It’s a little bit of time that could stop you wasting all the previous time you’ve spent on that question.

4. Manage your time

You’re being measured on two things when you take numerical tests: how many questions you get right and how long you take to answer the questions. So if you can’t answer a question, move on. An easier question may follow as questions aren’t always in order of difficulty. On top of that, you’re unlikely to be negatively marked (marked down for a wrong answer) so it can be worth going with your best guess. And you may well be able to flag the tougher questions and come back to them at the end of you have time.  

5. Take your own calculator

If you’re sitting your numerical reasoning test at an assessment centre, you’ll probably have to use the calculator they give you. But take your own anyway, just in case. Familiarity with the buttons and the functions will save you vital seconds. It’s also a good idea to have a calculator with large buttons and a clear screen – there’ll be a much lower chance of basic entry mistakes.

6. Practise, practise, practise

This is what separates successful candidates from unsuccessful ones. Getting to grips with the types of question you’ll face and the different layouts takes time. Practising increases your confidence, lowers stress levels, allows you to learn from your mistakes and helps you answer each question faster.