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Talent Assessment | 10 Min Read

What You Need to Know About Cognitive Ability Tests


Recruiters want the best employees for their organizations, and identifying real talent from the bulk of applications is a challenging proposition. According to the recent Mercer | Mettl Talent Assessment Practices Report India, 53% of the companies have highlighted cognitive ability as their key focus area when it comes to hiring.

Organizations are increasingly investing greater time and financial resources on their hiring strategies to attract the best candidates as they drive organizational success. A scientifically-validated process and data-based insights can ensure a succinct recruitment process. 

But the question is: despite having a proven bottom-line value of finding the right talent, why do some organizations and recruiters employ ineffectively and use an unmethodical approach for selecting employees. The answer lies in lacking a vision toward using advanced assessment tests. 

A recruiter with a well-defined plan on how and when to use assessment tools can ensure a smooth and successful hiring process without substantial investment, financial or otherwise. Given such scientific assessments, the test results help make a difference to the hiring quality. 

The cognitive ability tests assumed significance in the assessment landscape and validated that the organization’s best-fit talents come with specific skills. The nature and variety of assessments depend on hiring needs. However, according to a survey, only 40% of the recruiters use general or cognitive ability tests online in the US. However, cognitive ability assessment tests play a critical role in the hiring strategy. And these tests play a vital role in:

  • Hiring new employees 
  • Evaluating the current ones for their respective roles 
  • Identifying talent for leadership roles
  • Comparing employee potential against various organizational benchmarks
  • Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of employees  
  • Assessing the gap between the actual and expected performance. 

Cognitive aptitude tests are efficient and consistent means of creating a long-term impact on the organizational values. We will evaluate various aspects of cognitive tests in this blog, but let us first understand the idea behind cognition and how it became a valid method of measuring human intelligence.

Did you Know?

The time employers spend on interviews has almost doubled since 2009, according to research from Glassdoor.

Cognition: A Brief History

Cognition is directly related to the mental actions and processes behind acquiring knowledge. It includes having an understanding through a thinking process, experience, and using all the senses.

Our brain can accurately process massive amounts of information. But there are various aspects such as attention, memory, judgment, evaluation, reasoning and knowledge formation. Additionally, important aspects such as problem-solving, decision-making, comprehending and expressing using a language are also an extension of cognition. Cognitive processes are all about using the existing knowledge, even creating new ones.

As the cognitive process is directly related to thinking and awareness, many psychologists offered theories to explain the human brain’s complex processes.

Psychologists have tried to ensure that the brain’s studies come up with empirical evidence, deduced from scientific experiments and continuous observation.

  • “Principles of Psychology” by Willian James, published in 1890, offered several insights into human cognitive psychology
  • In 1904, psychologist Charles Spearman had developed a factor analysis to test how people performed specific intelligence-related tasks
  • French psychologist, Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon developed the first cognitive test in 1908, and it was further revised in 1911
  • Psychologist William Stern coined the term ‘Intelligence Quotient’ (IQ) in 1912 to assess individual differences qualitatively
  • American psychologist and author Lewis Terman published the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale in 1916 and introduced IQ
  • The first mass administration of IQ testing was done on 1.7 million soldiers during World War I in 1917

Core Cognitive Functions of the Brain

Cognition is all about an individual’s perception of the world and actions in it. It involves nearly all the human actions done while awake. Cognitive abilities are mostly about brain-based skills needed to perform certain tasks. 

The brain’s cognitive mechanisms include paying attention, learning, remembering and problem-solving than using acquired knowledge. For example, a simple act of answering the phone requires several actions from the brain, such as perceiving, listening, decision-making, language skills and understanding the context of the conversation. In this context of the cognitive process, let’s understand some of the brain’s core functions:


All the information that the brain collects through senses, and further organizes, identifies and interprets it.


Brain’s ability to have a selective concentration of the different aspects of information by considering the subjective or objective details.


It’s a faculty of the brain that encodes and stores data or information and retrieves it whenever needed.


Listening and expressing through words to connect and communicate with others. It involves the left side of the brain.

Visual and Spatial Processing

Ability to process information and visuals through imagination by focusing on the scenario or spatial distribution or movements of objects.

Executive Functions

The brain’s ability to follow a goal-oriented behavior, such as making a plan, and execute it successfully. It includes decision-making, problem-solving, and anticipation and others.

Motor Skills

The brain’s ability to use muscle and other brain parts to manipulate objects. It optimizes performance skills with precision and success.

Did you know?

The frontal lobe is important for cognitive functions and control of voluntary movement or activity.

What is the Cognitive Ability Test?

Cognitive ability is defined as general cognitive capacities involving planning, problem-solving, abstract thinking, comprehending complex ideas, and experiential learning. Perhaps the most exhaustive taxonomy for cognitive abilities is the three-stratum theory by Carroll. The first stratum includes particular and narrow abilities, the second consists of broad abilities and group factors, and the third includes general intelligence (g).

Cognitive ability is generally regarded as a useful predictor of job performance. Cognitive ability tests measure cognitive competencies (such as memorization, perception, reasoning, verbal and numerical reasoning, and problem-solving). Such assessments include questions designed to assess candidates’ potential to use cognitive abilities to solve complex problems or acquire new knowledge.

Did you know?

Chinese imperial leaders used assessment tests to gauge knowledge, intellect, and moral integrity in third century A.D.

How’s Cognitive Ability Tested?

Human Intelligence

Human intelligence is all about learning from experiences, understanding various concepts and processing information. All these activities lead a human to acquire knowledge and apply it purposefully. It is further divided into cognitive and emotional intelligence.


Cognitive Intelligence- The human understanding developed through thinking, experiences and senses. It is the ability to generate knowledge by using existing knowledge. Attention, memory, judgment and reasoning play a vital role in it.

Emotional Intelligence- It is part of human intelligence that observes and monitors self and others’ emotions. It can identify and discriminate between different emotions. It is also about managing emotions through understanding and perception. 

Raymond Cartell, a renowned psychologist, analyzed cognitive intelligence and further divided it into two parts: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.


Fluid Intelligence- It captures abstract reasoning abilities that help an individual analyze and find a solution through critical thinking. Fluid intelligence works in spontaneity without using the acquired knowledge.  

Crystallized Intelligence- It’s all about facts, skills and information acquired through experiences. Cognitive intelligence uses the existing knowledge that grows with practice and additional experiences.  

It is challenging for recruiters to compartmentalize candidates based on their abilities, considering all aspects of intelligence. There are various types of cognitive tests that help recruiters identify potential candidates for a job role:


Abstract Reasoning Test is about solving a problem with a unique perspective toward a problem and finding a logical connection between the available information.

Spatial Reasoning Test evaluates an individual’s ability to visualize two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects with a clear understanding of spatial distribution. 

Visual ReasoningTest assesses imagination that evaluates the candidates’ visual aspects and imagination through various questions based on perspectives.

Verbal Ability Test measures candidates’ language and comprehension skills and evaluates their working skills and communication.

Logical & Critical Reasoning Test evaluates a candidate’s ability to think logically and reach a solution using various available information. 

Problem-Solving Test analyses the ability to visualize a problem through various angles and find a solution using critical thinking and a unique approach.

Decision-Making and Judgment Test evaluate a candidate’s ability of decision-making and judgment based on various situational-based questions.

Are Cognitive Aptitude Tests Reliable?

Organizations need to make good hiring decisions to ensure higher productivity and lower turnover. As misfits for the job can negatively influence the organization and affect performance management efforts, it can drain time and finances on training and development.

The cognitive skills test is a handy tool to overcome such challenges and help HR professionals reduce the lead time and find the best fit individuals for the organization.

However, it is equally necessary for employers to select the tests and administer them well. Tests used for the selection process should be legitimate, authentic, rational and unbiased. Recruiters should also know any upcoming trends in the hiring process.

To implement a cognitive ability test, an employer must:

  • Determine which tests are best suited as per the job requirements
  • Create a competency model to implement a combination of assessments to evaluate the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics needed to perform well on the job
  • Administer and monitor the test

Identifying Job Requirements

It is necessary to identify the essential skills and abilities by doing a proper job analysis. The job analysis can be conducted with a questionnaire’s help by asking the incumbents some job-related questions.

Those who work in similar profiles can only provide the key information and ideas about the necessary skills corresponding to the jobs.

  • Knowledge- It is about all the information that the employees should possess.
  • Skills- It is acquired learning to perform a job successfully.
  • Abilities- Observable behaviors needed and other mental requirements for the job.
  • Other Characteristics- Any other job requirements such as humility, attitude, reliability.

Making a Competency Model

Competency is a group of skills to complete a job. It’s a guideline developed by recruiters that produce a list of requirements related to individual jobs. Specific skill and behavioral requirements help the employees to perform the jobs in a better way. The competency model clearly defines the criteria for a good individual performance.

Additionally, a competency model also:

  • Provides a direction to the talent journey and aligns the hiring process with the organizational goals
  • Offers a transparent understanding for all the employees, of the expectations related to the job roles
  • Allows employees to become more accountable for their roles and responsibilities
  • Helps the recruiters to put emphasis on tracking employee skills and strategize and plan accordingly
  • Makes a fair and unbiased system for candidate assessment

Administering the Cognitive Ability Tests

Administering cognitive ability tests is extremely easy, and they can be conducted on one or multiple candidates simultaneously. Cognitive ability tests provide reliable insights and are considered useful predictors of job performance. CandidateS assessed through cognitive ability tests are highly likely to perform well because a cognitive aptitude test ensures that they have the corresponding skills.

Additionally, people with greater cognitive ability tend to learn and apply new knowledge effectively. Although cognitive ability is a very broad term and it includes different types of mental processes. A combination of cognitive aptitude tests is capable of evaluating various areas for the selection process. 

However, some employers remain apprehensive about the selection tests because they carry certain misconceptions. According to a Society for Human Resource Management report, there are some myths about selection tests:

Common Misconceptions About Selection Tests:

  • Myth: Screening candidates based on conscientiousness leads to better candidates than screening them for intelligence.
  • Myth: Recruiters should focus on values rather than intelligence to find better performers.
  • Myth: Candidates can easily mislead with their responses in the integrity tests.
  • Myth: Unstructured interview processes have more chances to provide better information about the candidates than a structured assessment process.
  • Myth: Using selection tests can create legal problems for the organizations

Selecting the Right Assessment Method

Recruiters need to make an informed decision while selecting the assessment method to ensure that the process should value the time and money invested. According to an SHRM report, four criteria help recruiters to be sure about the methodology.

  • Validity
  • Adverse Impact
  • Cost 
  • Candidate Reaction

Validity- It means the assessment is relevant to the job and can predict employees’ performance. It should validate the relationship between the scores obtained in the assessment and the important outcomes in the job. The test should provide reliable evidence that the assessment score is the direct measure of work behavior. 

Adverse Impact- Adverse impact is another criterion that recruiters should consider while deciding on the test. Adverse impact is a result of poor hiring practices, and it signifies an unfair and biased process. The test should not give any disproportionate results, and it should follow the mandatory standards. For example, if an organization has a criterion of employing a 40% female workforce, the test should abide by that.

Cost-  Some organizations buy assessment tests, and some build their own. The cost behind the test varies for both the methods. Buying a test is easy to implement, and it’s the vendor’s responsibility to host, maintain, and update the tests. Building a test can be fully customized, but it can be time consuming and expensive.

Candidate Reaction- The design and questions of the tests should allow the candidates to demonstrate their capabilities relevant to the job. Assessment procedures should be fair and consistent. Candidates’ satisfaction level is another important factor to validate the tests.

Cognitive aptitude assessment fulfills all the criteria to make a valid choice for the recruiters.


Benefits of Cognitive Ability Tests During the Recruitment Process

Theoretical tests and exams fail to evaluate the candidates for their cognitive abilities. However, recruiters must know how the candidates approach a problem and try to find a solution by looking at various aspects. Every job function demands learning, adapting, and understanding related to the specific tasks. In addition to this, several advantages make using cognitive tests highly relevant in the recruitment process.

Onboarding Time

Time is an important factor in the talent journey. With the help of cognitive ability tests, it becomes a highly focused approach for the recruiters to complete a hiring process by focusing on the right candidates only.

Potential candidates

The cognitive assessment process helps in providing accurate insights to find the most suitable candidates. Identifying the potential candidates as per their cognitive abilities is an effective way to create a productive workforce.

Different Competencies

A competency is a group of skills needed to do a certain task. Based on these competencies. Cognitive ability tests cover all the essential competencies to ensure a holistic assessment of the candidates.

Effective Screening

Recruiters can use the results from the cognitive skills tests to ensure only the competent candidates should go to the next level of recruitment. It is an effective screening tool to zero in the candidates at the initial stages of the hiring process.

Objective Evaluation

Objective evaluation of the candidates is not very easy through the traditional ways of assessments. For example, decision-making and critical thinking skills need cognitive assessment with reliable results.

East to Scale

Cognitive skills tests are conducted on computers, and it can be administered on one or many candidates together irrespective of the numbers. Cognitive reasoning tests are easy to conduct, and scalability comes easily with them.


Cost is an important factor in the hiring process, and most recruiters put effort into keeping it at a low level. You need a computer and an internet connection for administering cognitive tests. Grading is done automatically with any need for human intervention.

Quality Hiring

With a list of cognitive assessment tests available, it gets much easier for the recruiters to ensure the hired candidates' quality. Because it is not only the acquired knowledge that decides good candidates, but it’s also about how they apply it.


Cognitive assessment tests are easily customizable. Depending on the particular assessment needs, recruiters can make a customized test, using a combination of tests as per the required job skills.


Recruiters can do remote proctoring for cognitive assessment tests from anywhere. With the help of AI algorithms, the execution of tests happens fairly and avoids any unfavorable scenario.

Did you know?

All managerial work falls into one of three subjects: accomplishing tasks, working with and through others, and judging oneself and adapting one’s behavior accordingly.

How Mercer | Mettl Can Help

We, at Mercer | Mettl, design competency-specific assessment solutions that are driven by statistical data insights. A variety of tests are available to evaluate the candidates’ cognitive skills, but not all the tests provide reliable results. Only a well-crafted aptitude test that includes all the essential elements of human intelligence can deliver the intended results. 

Measuring Cognitive Intelligence

While measuring intelligence, we firstly define the cluster of abilities and skills directly related to the job role. These skills and abilities are cumulatively known as competency. A good competency test considers all the essential competencies. 

We understand the importance of identifying the key competencies to evaluate fluid and crystallized intelligence, which is why we have well-crafted aptitude tests that ensure a thorough evaluation with insightful results. Mercer | Mettl’s cognitive ability tests measure core brain skills, such as attention, memory and speed. 

Mercer | Mettl’s Job Categorization Framework

Every job comes with particular tasks, and completing them need certain competencies. We can easily derive the core competencies using different types of cognitive aptitude tests, depending on the nature of the job. Mercer | Mettl job categorization has defined three core competencies that work everywhere irrespective of the job. These three competencies are defined as:

Information Processing- Defined as the ability to use available information using numerical and analytical reasoning.

Solution Generation- Finding creative solutions to the existing problems using abstract reasoning.

Decision-making- Solving problems using rational and logical thinking. It also involves the ability to think ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions.

After defining these core competencies, two main factors are related to each competency, and they are:

Frequency- How often an individual uses these competencies in a day-to-day job.

Difficulty Level- What is the difficulty level of the tasks related to these competencies.

Depending on the difficulty level and frequency of the need, a particular competency defines the individual’s overall performance. For example, a business analyst’s job role involves information processing and decision-making on a daily basis. In the absence of these two factors, it’s not easy for a person to take up a job irrespective of its difficulty level. Mercer | Mettl’s job categorization framework offers a transparent picture of the different job roles. The scores from the cognitive aptitude tests help evaluate according to the essential competencies.

Mercer | Mettl’s different cognitive ability tests cover all the essential competencies in the spectrum of jobs. They are:

  • Abstract Reasoning Tests
  • Spatial Reasoning Tests
  • Visual Reasoning Tests
  • Verbal Ability Tests
  • Logical & Critical Reasoning Tests
  • Problem-Solving Tests
  • Decision-Making & Judgment Test

It is equally necessary for the recruiters to know the type of cognitive ability tests and the respective job roles for evaluating candidates.

Verbal ability is apt for managerial roles, corporate communication, PR related jobs. It is a type of test that can be used for all kinds of recruitments. Verbal ability ensures that individuals can easily convey and communicate their thoughts. 

Visual Reasoning– Since it is related to strategic thinking and visualization, it is extremely effective in recruiting graphic designers, computer programmers, advertising professionals, system designers and system analysts 

Logical Ability is related to quick decision-making and concluding with the help of facts and available information. It can be used to recruit HR professionals, managerial roles, computer programmers, etc. -precisely any job that involves a logical approach to a problem.

Decision-making is apt to recruit for roles such as management professionals, HR professionals, senior-level executives, project managers, business analysts, etc. It is an effective way to evaluate candidates for jobs involving decision-making as part of daily work. 

Abstract Reasoning involves identifying patterns and analyzing complex problems. It is suitable to recruit mechanical engineers, design engineers, product designers, architects, system designers and others.

Spatial Reasoning is about visualizing two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes and objects. Such tests are suitable for recruiting designers, engineers and architects who deal with shapes, patterns and objects.

As mentioned above, different kinds of cognitive ability assessment tests have distinct purposes. Mercer | Mettl cognitive ability tests are primarily used in:

 Mercer | Mettl cognitive ability tests

At Mercer | Mettl, we understand that only employees who possess the necessary skills can further achieve their organizational objectives. We have designed our cognitive assessments to ensure that the hired individuals possess the necessary skills, and can apply the acquired knowledge. 

The talent pool of the company depends on the accuracy of the assessment. Identifying the right talent for your company is one of the essential steps toward making your organization successful. Once you identify the right candidates, it is equally necessary to deploy them according to their abilities in the appropriate job roles. Effective and well-designed cognitive ability tests from Mercer | Mettl fulfill such needs of the hiring process and are equipped to empower recruiters in every possible way.


How do I prepare for cognitive ability tests?

There are few practices that you can follow to do well in the aptitude tests-

  • Practice different types of aptitude tests
  • Practice tests in a specified time only
  • Focus on your weak areas and practices them more
  • Take a variety of tests to check up on your skills
  • Practice daily  

How can I test my cognitive ability?

You can attempt a test to know your cognitive ability. Here is a practice test given,

What is the 30 question cognitive test?

The 30 questions cognitive test is also called mini mental status exam. It comprises questions like,

  • Questions related to date and time
  • Sense of location
  • Short-lisiting common information
  • Attention level and ability to basic maths
  • Ability to name some common objects
  • Complex cognitive questions

What questions are asked in the cognitive tests?

Numerical Reasoning- Ability to work with numbers and find a solution of a numerical problem.

Verbal Reasoning- Question related to language and comprehension. It also includes questions related to grammar and syntax.

Abstract Reasoning- Finding solutions by using abstract ideas and information given. Questions related to visual diagrams and deducing the missing information. 

Spatial Reasoning- questions related to different shapes, sizes and orientations.

What are the 8 cognitive skills?

There are 8 skills that come under cognitive ability,

  • Sustained Attention
  • Response Inhibition
  • Speed of Information Processing
  • Cognitive Flexibility and Control
  • Multiple Simultaneous Attention
  • Working Memory
  • Category Formation
  • Pattern Recognition

What are the examples of cognitive skills?

There are mainly 9 types of cognitive skills,

  • Sustained attention
  • Selective attention
  • Divided attention
  • Long-term memory
  • Working memory
  • Logic and reasoning
  • Auditory processing
  • Visual processing
  • Processing speed

Originally published August 31 2020, Updated February 8 2021

Vipul Srivastav

Written by

Vipul Srivastav is a seasoned marketing professional with expertise in branding and communication. He writes on numerous web platforms to share his views and experiences on various topics. In his free time, he does photography, reads fiction, listens to U2, and stays curious about the outer space.

About This Topic

Cognitive tests, also known as aptitude tests, come under the purview of psychometric tests. They measure core brain functions - attention, speed, memory and visualization. Cognitive assessments are used for talent acquisition and development and are great indicators of employee potential.

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