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A step-by-step guide on how to assess cognitive ability

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Cognitive ability tests are used to predict candidates’ future job performance. There is usually a time limit built into the test that forces them to think quickly, thus, reflecting the need to make several quick decisions in a short span at the workplace.
The questions presented to the candidates are typically short and multiple-choice, made up of logic puzzles, math problems, or reading comprehension questions. The test is usually not very difficult and is designed to be finished within 10-30 minutes.

Hiring is a tough job; the recruiters have to balance the right candidate, shorter recruiting processes, and ROI. Sometimes, only a few are chosen from hundreds, and the whole recruiting process becomes exhaustive. Hence, while hiring someone new, recruiters need certainty that the candidate is the right fit for the job role and will deliver results. However, they need support to assess if a candidate will make effective decisions under stress or if they possess the required problem-solving skills. The cognitive ability tests are skillfully and meticulously designed to answer these questions and equip the recruiters well.

Leading psychologists believe that cognitive ability is the best predictor of job performance, and it should be a common practice in recruitment. Candidates with higher scores in cognitive ability tests are more likely to complete their training successfully, learn and absorb new knowledge on the job faster, and adapt more quickly to the ever-changing work environments. Additionally, cognitive ability is correlated with reasoning and problem-solving, so professionals with higher levels of cognition tend to be more skilled at making decisions and finding the most efficient solutions to complex situations.

So, we’ve created a step-by-step guide to hiring using cognitive ability tests here:

  1. Use universally approved assessment
    Ensure that the evaluation your company is opting for can clearly tell if a candidate can problem-solve and has a short learning curve. Only knowing about their abilities for specific tasks isn’t adequate if the candidate needs to adapt quickly.
  2. Be transparent with candidates
    It’s a good idea to convey why the company uses cognitive ability assessments in its hiring process. They will be more comfortable knowing how the recruiting teams will collect and use the data derived from the test scores. They will understand the impact it will have on the selection process.
  3. Choose the correct cognitive ability tests
    It is essential to align the cognitive ability tests based on the role’s needs. For example, if a role involves lots of conversation over an email, one could opt for the reading comprehension test.
    You can learn more about mapping job roles and cognitive ability assessment in section 5.
  4. Create a criterion
    The candidates’ cognitive ability scores will be more insightful if there’s a baseline to compare them to. It’s recommended that the company relays these tests to its existing high-performing employees and uses their scores to create a criterion for what a qualified candidate seems like.
  5. Mix and match the tests
    Speed up the screening process using the cognitive ability assessments and pair them with a role-specific test to identify the candidates most suitable for the desired position.
  6. Assess the results
    Be sure to evaluate each candidate in regard to the criterion. If a candidate is too far below it, consider excluding them and if they meet the criterion, consider calling them for an interview.
  7. Use the scores as guidance
    This is a crucial step for recruiters. Even if a candidate gets an excellent score on the cognitive ability test, it is not a guarantee of them being the most suitable candidate. Recruiters must use these scores as a guide to making an informed decision while hiring.
  8. Interview the qualified candidates
    While interviewing the selected candidates, if the test results suggest any particular weak or strong points, consider asking in-depth questions for those areas. One can also follow up on any weak points with job references from previous employment.
  9. Make a decision
    Use a combination of cognitive ability test results, other assessments, interviews, and reference checks to decide on the candidates.
  10. Update your criteria
    Over time, keep assessing the high performers’ test scores and adjust the criteria. The more data points, the finer the output.
  11. Use automation to the advantage
    Organizations that automate the assessment process reap more significant benefits. Automation eases the process a lot when, for instance, recruiters need to identify role-specific tests. It also offers pre-designed reports that recruiters can quickly refer to for identifying high-performers. Moreover, automation allows recruiters to customize and combine multiple tests based on the tested job roles. This benefits the company with more refined results, and quality hires, giving it a competitive advantage over others.

Do's & Don’ts: cognitive ability testing tips

While cognitive ability tests are a productive tool, they have to be used as part of an intelligent hiring process. The tests on their own will provide valuable data, but how that data is used is the most critical part. Here, the recruiters can note the best practices or the common pitfalls while using cognitive ability assessments.


  1. Test transparently.
    Candidates deserve to know about the tests they are to perform, the data collected from them, how their test scores will impact the final decision, and how this data may continue to be used after being hired. It is essential to be transparent to avoid any possible legal or privacy issues.
  2. Use the test results.
    It is common not to use the cognitive ability test results and value the long resume of past accomplishments or the interview results more. It is vital that recruiters use the test results in tandem with all other assessments and not exclude them only because of an impressive resume or how the interview went.
  3. Distinguish the adverse influence.
    Use cognitive ability tests as only one element in the hiring process and combine it with various other selection criteria, controlling the system’s odds of bias. Do the calculations regularly using tools that calculate the selection rate for all applicant subgroups (race, gender, or another category) or by dividing the number of candidates who do reasonably well in the cognitive ability tests by the total number of applicants from that group. The calculations and analysis derived from these will tell if there’s any systemic bias hidden inside the standardized test.
  4. Give a great experience to the candidates.
    Employers can curate tests that include a flavor of their brand and culture, helping the candidates to understand more about the company they’re looking to join. Communicating through brands also attracts top talent. Moreover, the overall testing experience matters a lot to the candidate, and recruiters must make it a priority. It affects how positively they view a potential employer. Today, many candidates are proactive about going through an assessment as that’s a way to understand the role and culture before joining a company.


  1. Be discouraging or scary.
    Candidates usually find the recruitment process daunting. But the tests are not meant to scare them. Hence, it becomes the recruiters’ job to make candidates feel at ease. Recruiters must talk freely and positively to make them comfortable.
  2. Rely solely on cognitive ability test results.
    The test results are an essential element of the hiring process, but using them as the sole selection criteria is common. The cognitive ability tests give more imminent success when used in collaboration with other hiring assessments. Moreover, cognitive ability tests measure intelligence and ability to learn, whereas, in some roles, experience and knowledge play a more significant role than learning new things.
  3. Suggest the same test for every role.
    Every job role is distinct from one another. Complex jobs with higher training demands require cognitive ability tests; hence, recruiters need to use various tests to assess a candidate multi-dimensionally. This is true for more senior roles or leadership roles. Similarly, for junior positions, only relevant tests for that role are adequate.
  4. Be biased.
    The primary reason behind adopting cognitive ability tests is to hire without bias. Ensure that the tests you create or use are not supporting systematic bias as a part of standardized tests. The recruiters should be vigilant in spotting any biases.

11 advantages of cognitive ability testing during the recruitment process

  1. Drop in Time to Hire
    Recruiters continually look to reduce the time to hire; at times, the hiring processes can be lengthy and exhaustive. Using cognitive ability tests, recruiters can speed up the hiring process and arrive at a candidate shortlist faster. Naturally, the interviews get aligned quickly, and decisions are way quicker.
  2. Predicting Job Performance
    The recruiters use cognitive ability tests mainly to predict the job performance of candidates. Cognitive ability tests are the best choice to gain insight into how well a new candidate can learn new skills, follow instructions, and communicate with others.
  3. Simple to Administer
    Many hiring techniques are high-priced and time-consuming to conduct. In comparison, these tests are easy to add to your hiring process. The recruiters can use an online platform to run the tests and get quick data to verify.
  4. Highly Customizable
    Cognitive ability tests are readily customizable. Recruiters can make customized tests using a combination of skill tests per the specific job role.
  5. Inclusion of Distinctive Competencies
    A “competency” is a group of skills needed to do a specific job. Cognitive ability tests include all essential competencies to ensure a holistic evaluation of the candidates.
  6. Effective Screening
    Using the cognitive ability test results, recruiters can ensure that only competent candidates go to the next level of the recruitment cycle. It is an effective screening tool to select candidates at the initial stages of the recruitment process.
  7. Easy to Scale
    Cognitive skills tests are conducted on computers or online; hence, they can be achieved with one or many candidates simultaneously. Scalability is a direct benefit of cognitive ability tests.
  8. Reduce Unsuccessful Hires and Enable Quality Hiring
    According to the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation) report, “The cost of a bad hiring decision can be up to 3.2 times their annual salary.”
    No recruiter wants that to occur. Hence, they look to cognitive ability tests to make better hiring decisions. By gaining data on essential factors, companies and recruiters save time and money by avoiding hiring an incorrect candidate.
  9. An Inexpensive Method
    Cost is an essential factor in the hiring process; naturally, recruiters are expected to keep it low. However, considering that the tests can improve the quality of the hire, these are relatively inexpensive hiring tools. Moreover, all we need to conduct these tests are computers and an internet connection, and grading happens automatically without human involvement.
  10. Increased Retention
    The attrition rate is a big concern for companies and recruiters likewise. By hiring candidates who perform well on cognitive ability tests, recruiters can employ people with good job fit and skills aligned to the role. Over time, the more these tools are used, recruiters might see an improved retention rate.
  11. Helps the Company be Successful
    The data you obtain from the cognitive ability assessment of the candidates is beneficial. It enables recruiters to hire for the skills needed right now and keep the future in mind. Adding a cognitive ability test into the hiring process can be an efficient way to achieve company success. After all, the recruiters are hiring people who may lead the company tomorrow.