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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 natural talent from the bulk of applications is a challenging proposition. As a result, organizations significantly invest time and resources in their hiring strategies to attract the best candidates. Cognitive tests are one of the many steps to find the right talent while using minimal resources.

A recruiter with a well-defined plan on how and when to use cognitive skill tests can ensure a smooth and successful hiring process without substantial investment, financial or otherwise. Moreover, given such scientifically validated and data-based assessments, the test results can significantly affect the hiring quality.

We will cover various aspects of cognitive aptitude tests in this blog but let us first understand what cognitive ability tests are.

According to the recent Mercer | Mettl Talent Assessment Practices Report India, 53% of the companies have highlighted cognitive ability as their key focus area during hiring.

We will cover various aspects of cognitive aptitude tests in this blog but let us first understand what cognitive ability tests are.


What are cognitive ability assessments?

Cognitive ability refers to the general cognitive capabilities involving planning, problem-solving, paying attention, abstract thinking, memorizing, comprehending complex ideas, visualizing and interpreting the surroundings, and experiential learning. Together, these brain-based skills form two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized intelligence in people, shaping their general intelligence (cognitive ability). Cognitive ability assessments, also known as cognitive aptitude tests, are psychological tools to assess cognitive skills.

Spatial analysis, critical thinking, numerical reasoning, problem-solving skills, General intelligence, linguistic fluency, and attention to detail are some of the core areas of cognition assessed via cognitive ability assessments. In its most basic form, a cognitive aptitude test is a type of pre-employment test used to predict the job performance of prospective candidates for all job levels across industries. However, what makes them indispensable is their scalable and multifaceted application, be it for lateral hiring, reskilling or organizational development. For example, assessing the cognitive skills of candidates at the screening stage or corporate level will provide insights into how well a new hire will execute the responsibilities that have been bestowed or how nimble an employee is when navigating through an ever-changing work environment.


Why should employers use cognitive ability tests during the recruitment process?

To find the right talent, it is imperative to analyze how candidates approach a problem and find a solution by looking at various aspects. Every job function demands learning, adapting, and understanding related to specific tasks. That is why cognitive skills assessments come in handy, ensuring accurate talent assessments.

Several advantages make cognitive tests highly relevant in the recruitment process, as listed below:

Onboarding Time

Time is an essential factor in the talent sourcing 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 suitable candidates only.

Potential candidates

The cognitive assessment process helps provide 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.

Effective Screening

Recruiters can use the results from the cognitive skills tests to ensure only competent candidates 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.

Easy to Scale

Cognitive skills tests are conducted on computers, and they can be administered to one or many candidates simultaneously. As a result, these tests are easy to administer and highly scalable.


Cost is an essential factor in the hiring process, and most recruiters put effort into keeping it within limits. All you need is a computer and an internet connection for administering cognitive tests online. Moreover, grading is done automatically without any need for human intervention.

Quality Hiring

With a wide range 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 assessment needs, recruiters can make a customized test, using a combination of tests as per the required job skills.


Recruiters can also integrate remote proctoring features into their cognitive assessment tests. Then, with the help of AI algorithms, the execution of tests happens smoothly without any unfavorable scenario.


What are the characteristics of cognitive ability tests?

Listed below are the defining characteristics of cognitive ability assessments:

  • The tests are multi-faceted and helpful in assessing various skills and abilities.
  • The question type and format vary across different cognitive skills tests.
  • The tests are divided into various individual segments, such as numerical, verbal, and nonverbal tests, which you must complete within a stipulated period.
  • Cognitive ability tests are not limited to one subject and contain questions from different topics.
  • It is understandable if candidates cannot complete such tests on time, given the time constraints and the shuffling between different question types that make the tests a tad complicated.


How to use cognitive ability tests for hiring and employment?

Even though cognitive aptitude tests pack in advantages galore, most organizations lack clarity when integrating cognitive skills tests into their hiring process. Well, to that end, here is a step-by-step approach that will come in handy:

For effective implementation of the cognitive ability test, one must:

Focus on the right assessments

When administering a cognitive test, the first step is to choose an assessment that focuses on the most relevant competencies desired by employers. They can select the appropriate test depending on the position to be filled. For example, suppose the role involves tasks that entail a lot of manipulation and arrangement of objects through imagining (such as is required for technical engineering and industrial design domains). In that case, it makes utmost sense to administer a spatial reasoning test rather than a verbal comprehension test.

Create a baseline and benchmark for setting the right expectations

Comparing the candidates’ cognitive aptitude test scores against a baseline comparison will help find candidates that match the recruiter’s criteria. For example, high-performing employees’ test scores can act as a benchmark for assessing prospective candidates’ job fit.

Automate the process using pre-employment assessment software

One of the most significant benefits of using an online assessment platform is that they significantly accelerate the screening process. The assessments delivered through such a platform are location agnostic and can be undertaken from anywhere, anytime. Moreover, a hiring manager saves time and effort to create and provide cognitive skills tests. The online assessment software also provides the flexibility to conduct cognitive assessments at scale and even to pair them with other domain/technical assessments to gain a holistic profile of the candidate being considered for a specific position to be filled.

Analyze the test scores

After the test has been administered to each candidate, their test scores can be compared against predefined benchmarks. Leaving the candidate out of consideration would be best if a test taker’s score is quite below the benchmark. On the other hand, if the candidate meets the norm, it seems best to invite them for an interview.

Invite shortlisted candidates for interviews

This step calls for interviewing candidates that have finally made the cut. However, interviewers can make the most of this session by delving deeply into the candidate’s underlying strengths and areas that need improvements based on the test scores.

Come to the proper conclusion

Making a well-informed hiring decision will be easier with the results achieved from the cognitive test scores in conjunction with any other assessments being conducted, alongside the interviews, etc.


What are the considerations for selecting a cognitive aptitude test?

The various aspects taken into consideration for cognitive ability tests are listed below:

Validity- Cognitive ability assessments are reliable tools for predicting training success and employees’ performance in all jobs. These tests are considered to have a high degree of criterion-related validity. The more complex the nature of the job/training, the better these assessments work. Cognitive tests that are developed keeping in mind the intricacies of the types of jobs under consideration validate the relationship between the scores obtained in the assessment and the important outcomes in the job.

Subgroup differences on cognitive skills tests – Although cognitive tests aim to facilitate hiring without bias, sometimes systemic bias can be built right into the assessment. The subgroup differences (such as ethnic and racial differences) on some cognitive tests may become more apparent than other viable predictors of job performance such as structured interviews, CVs, personality tests, etc. It would be best to enhance objectivity and minimize any potential adverse impact if cognitive aptitude tests are used in unison with other evaluation methods (e.g., resumes, interviews, etc.). Most importantly, the test creators must be careful while ensuring that their tests may not favor one subgroup over another.

Development and administration costs – Developing a customized test is usually costlier than purchasing a cognitive skills test. However, administering these tests is a cost-effective activity that requires significantly fewer resources for administration and can be efficiently conducted using online assessment software.


Types of cognitive ability assessments

Several different cognitive tests can be employed during the hiring process to predict candidates’ job performance. Recruiters and hiring managers can use these tests in combination to focus on specific cognitive abilities of candidates, depending on the job requirements.

Listed below are the most used cognitive ability assessments that come in handy while recruiting:

  • General aptitude test
  • Critical thinking test
  • Decision-making test
  • Spatial reasoning test
  • Abstract reasoning test
  • Logical reasoning test
  • Verbal ability test
  • Cognitive speed test


General aptitude test

Assessing an individual’s general aptitude involves gauging their capabilities to use logic to solve problems. The general aptitude test measures both fluid intelligence (an inherent potential for recognizing patterns and establishing connections) and crystallized intelligence (the skills/knowledge acquired through education or experience). The test includes questions that assess a candidate’s knowledge of a broad range of skills, including reading comprehension, logical reasoning, mathematical problem-solving, and inferencing. Employers can evaluate candidates’ deductive and analytical skills by administering a general aptitude test.


Critical thinking test

Individuals with strong critical thinking can effectively conceptualize, analyze, synthesize, apply and assess information to develop a unique solution. The critical thinking test helps evaluate whether a candidate can solve complex problems skillfully and formulate new problem-solving approaches with the help of analytical skills. This test provides an excellent way to assess a candidate’s analytical skills across various critical roles at all job levels across industries.


Decision-making test

The decision-making test helps recruiters assess the test-taker’s ability to evaluate a problem from multiple viewpoints and choose the right course of action among several possible alternatives by considering the positive and negative consequences of the decisions. The test measures candidate’s capabilities in various aspects of decision-making such as analytical skills, problem-solving, etc.


Spatial reasoning test

A spatial reasoning test is a way to assess a candidate’s proficiency in manipulating objects in 2D and 3D, identifying patterns between shapes, and thinking up how these shapes can move and change differently. This test is more suited to assess candidates for technical and engineering roles.


Abstract reasoning test

An abstract reasoning test assesses a candidate’s inductive logic skills, which means assessing a person’s ability to identify and analyze patterns to form logical connections and solve complex problems.


Logical reasoning test

A logical reasoning test is a way to assess a person’s aptitude to reason logically. The test evaluates a candidate’s ability to make the fitting conclusion by analyzing the given information from multiple perspectives by dividing it into simple subsections, structuring the information logically and establishing a link between various data points.


Verbal ability test

Verbal ability is the cognitive ability to comprehend and use language. It comprises multiple components: oral communication, language proficiency, verbal memory, verbal communication, verbal reasoning, writing skills, and written communication. The test measures candidates’ language and comprehension skills and evaluates their working skills and communication.


Cognitive speed test

A cognitive speed test is used to evaluate the cognitive processing speed of candidates to determine how quickly they can skim through information to assimilate information, understand differences, and apply their findings to solve problems.


Advantages and disadvantages of cognitive ability assessments

As is the case with any selection tool, there are some pros and cons to cognitive aptitude testing. They have been listed below:



  • Effective indicator of performance
    We cannot emphasize enough cognitive tests are a reliable predictor of job performance across various domains, given their strong predictive validity. Moreover, they can help predict individuals’ problem-solving and learning ability because their cognitive ability impacts their ability to acquire job knowledge, significantly affecting job performance.
  • Easy to administer
    Long gone are the days when conducting an assessment was a colossal task, which included hiring assessment organizers and evaluating hundreds of tests manually. With the advent of sophisticated online assessment platforms comes the convenience of automating the end-to-end assessment process. Modern pre-employment assessment tools enable recruiters to administer cognitive skills tests online and simplify the hiring process for candidates.
  • Reliable
    Cognitive aptitude tests provide granular insights into an individual’s mental aptitude and skills. By integrating cognitive assessment into the talent assessment process, recruiters can quickly make data-driven, well-informed hiring decisions. They are widely considered to be reliable in predicting the performance of applicants. Much research has shown that these assessments have demonstrated consistent results when reassessed.
  • Cost-effective
    Since these assessments can be conducted online, these are comparatively cost-effective than offline exams. In addition, all unavoidable expenses inherent in the offline assessments such as logistical, operational, and administrative are avoidable with online tests, which is why online cognitive ability tests do not cost much compared to pen-and-paper based tests.



  • If the test is administered wrongly and scores are misinterpreted, it can furnish skewed results.
  • The test may yield erroneous outcomes in the cases of candidates from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds; however, this can be solved by adapting and localizing the assessment that accommodates the needs of test-takers from diverse backgrounds.


Best Practices: Cognitive skills testing tips

Cognitive assessments are essential tools, yet they must be shrewdly implemented in the hiring process for the best results. Although the tests offer crucial insights, harnessing that data is the most critical aspect of conducting assessments. Listed below are some tips that can help you draw on the full potential of cognitive ability tests:

Establish trust with test-takers

It would be best to ensure accountability and transparency in the assessment process by helping candidates voice their concerns, making the intent known to the candidate as to why they are being assessed, what data is being fetched and how it would impact the decision-making process, and how this data can be leveraged even after they have been recruited. This openness trait will come in handy, preventing you from any privacy or legal issues should such an undesirable situation arise.

Assess wisely

Analyzing cognitive ability through assessments is a critical step in the talent evaluation process. That said, you should be using appropriate assessments to evaluate the specific positions and the tasks directly linked with that role. It's also worth noting that some roles require the candidate to undergo only basic testing. In contrast, others may mandate an in-depth assessment of the applicant to predict job performance accurately.

Use the test scores as reference

Although test scores are an essential part of the screening process, should someone be considered the best applicant for the job just because they scored high on the test? In the same way, while cognitive testing scores should be factored in to make informed hiring decisions, it should not be the only criterion for filtering out candidates. Instead, it will be best to administer cognitive ability tests with other hiring tools to make a holistic hiring decision.

Avoid adverse impact

Adverse impact is another criterion that recruiters should consider while deciding on the test. Adverse impact results from 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.

Take the cost into account

Some organizations buy assessment tests, and some build their own. The cost behind the test varies for both methods. Purchasing a test is easy to implement, and it’s the vendor’s responsibility to host, maintain, and update the tests. On the other hand, building a test can be fully customized, but it can be a tad expensive.

Gauge the candidate's 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 crucial factor to validate the tests.


How Mercer | Mettl Can Help

At Mercer | Mettl, we design competency-specific assessment solutions driven by statistical data insights. Even though the market is teeming with various tests to evaluate the candidates’ cognitive skills, 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.

While measuring cognitive intelligence, we firstly define the cluster of abilities and skills directly related to the job role. These skills and abilities are cumulatively known as competencies. A high-quality cognitive 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 different cognitive ability tests cover all the essential competencies in the spectrum of jobs. They are:

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

The verbal ability test 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.

The logical ability test is related to quick decision-making and concluding with the help of facts and available information. Therefore, it can be used to recruit HR professionals, management professionals, computer programmers, etc. (it includes precisely any job that involves approaching every problem logically).

The decision-making test is apt to recruit managers, HR professionals, senior-level executives, project managers, business analysts, etc. Moreover, it is an effective way to evaluate candidates for jobs involving decision-making as part of daily work.

The abstract reasoning test involves identifying patterns and analyzing complex problems. It is suitable for mechanical engineers, design engineers, product designers, architects, system designers, etc.

The spatial reasoning test is about visualizing two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes and objects. Therefore, such tests are suitable for recruiting designers, engineers and architects dealing with shapes, patterns and objects.

A problem-solving test is about visualizing a problem through various angles and finding a solution using critical thinking and a unique approach. This test can be used to recruit for roles that are dynamic and time-critical such as project managers, administrative assistants, sales professionals, planners, and hospitality professionals.

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


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

Identifying the right talent for your company is one of the essential steps toward building winning teams. However, once you identify suitable candidates, it is equally necessary to deploy them according to their abilities in the appropriate job roles. Cogent and well-designed cognitive ability tests from Mercer | Mettl fulfil such needs of the hiring process and empower recruiters in every possible way.




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Originally published August 31 2020, Updated February 23 2022

Written by

Abhilash works with the Content Marketing team of Mercer|Mettl. He has been contributing his bit to the world of online business for some years now. Abhilash is experienced in content marketing, along with SEO. He’s fond of writing useful posts, helping people, traveling, and savoring delicacies.

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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