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An Ultimate Guide to Cognitive Assessment Test

Talent Assessment | 8 Min Read

An ultimate guide to Cognitive Test


The fundamental aspect of recruiting is understanding how a candidate will perform. Cognitive tests are a recruiter’s essential resource for employee selection with measurable, demonstrable benefits. This extensive guide covers the intricacies of cognitive evaluations undertaken in hiring and introduces cognitive tests that hiring managers use while recruiting candidates.


What is a cognitive ability test?

A cognitive ability test comprehensively evaluates an individual’s intellectual, emotional, and psychological functioning. It includes a series of tests to gauge the cognitive responses of the individual regarding specific functions, such as attention to detail, memorization, processing speed, problem-solving skills, verbal abilities, etc. Cognitive assessments are a part of psychometric tests that enhance the candidate screening process by helping recruiters identify candidates who are more likely to excel at work and more competent at achieving their goals.

The cognitive evaluation process encompasses tests about conceptualization, critical thinking, visual and spatial skills, language proficiency, and learning agility, among other cognitive skills. Since this process employs highly predictive, quick-to-complete techniques, the hiring managers can quickly filter unsuitable applicants and interview shortlisted candidates for their prospective roles. Measuring the candidates’ cognitive capabilities helps recruiters identify candidates with untapped potential who may not have the most polished resumes but possess the desired traits to prosper in an organization. This test is advantageous when interviewing individuals for entry-level positions, helping organizations hire intelligent and competent personnel. Cognitive assessments are pivotal in creating an organization’s learning and development strategy. Such tests address businesses’ loopholes while identifying training needs, high-potential individuals, successors, and fast learners. Moreover, psychological research indicates that cognitive ability tests help predict hiring success across job types, levels, and industries precisely and efficiently.


The importance of a cognitive ability test

Cognitive ability tests are critical as they predict job performance, identify high-potential candidates, enhance team performance, and inform training and development. These tests provide an objective and standardized way to assess cognitive abilities, helping employers identify individuals with the intellectual capacity to excel in complex tasks. Employers can make informed decisions about job placement, training, and development opportunities by understanding candidates’ cognitive strengths and areas of improvement. Additionally, cognitive ability tests create diverse and inclusive workforces by objectively evaluating candidates’ abilities.


Why should recruiters use a cognitive ability assessment for hiring?

Cognitive assessments bring candidates’ abilities to the fore that may not appear on a CV or cover letter. These tests are crucial for candidate screening evaluations that help identify top talent and streamline and accelerate the recruitment procedure. Here are some of the prominent reasons why cognitive assessments are needed in recruiting:

Effective predictors of job performance

Based on the works of I. Robertson, T. and M. Smith, Personnel Selection (2001), cognitive tests are practical predictors of job-specific success. They considered some of the most common approaches to personnel selection in their study: education level, graphology, personality tests, job knowledge tests, structured and unstructured interviews, references, and cognitive ability tests.




As depicted in the image above, cognitive ability tests coupled with behavioral assessments are shown on top with a 0.67 correlation coefficient to predict job success, more significant than unstructured interviews, knowledge tests, personality tests, and years of job experience and education. A correlation coefficient of 0 signifies no correlation between variables, whereas a correlation coefficient of 1.0 signifies a strong positive correlation between two variables.

In this case, cognitive ability tests (r= 0.67) positively correlate with job performance compared to other factors. However, cognitive assessments can be used in unison with structured interviews, personality tests, behavioral tests, etc., to gain holistic insights into a candidate’s job performance. Thus, cognitive evaluation is one of the most critical factors in the success of a hiring process.

Identification of exceptional learners

Cognitive tests can help organizations identify agile learners who can recalibrate their skill sets with technological advancements like artificial intelligence and automation, which profoundly impact how one works. Individuals with higher cognitive capabilities organize, arrange and assimilate information more quickly, acquiring new skills and grasping new concepts in a significantly shorter time, which later translates into higher organizational output.

Recruitment of top talent with minimal effort

Adopting cognitive testing as part of the recruitment process can help organizations secure the top talent in the market with minimal effort on the recruiter’s end. High-quality cognitive assessments can be sourced from a leading service provider with expertise in administering and evaluating the results against thousands of candidates.

Unbiased hiring process

Cognitive tests provide actionable insights that help recruiters to include more objectivity in the hiring process. Unconscious biases often creep in while recruiting candidates, which can impact the effectiveness of the decision-making process. By using cognitive assessments, employers can hire applicants based on their intelligence rather than seeing them through implicit bias. In addition, with data-driven and objective information about candidates, organizations can build a diverse workforce of stronger recruits to build a more inclusive company culture.


What does a cognitive test measure?

Cognitive tests assess a candidate’s thinking abilities, such as perception, reasoning, memory, and verbal and problem-solving skills. Such tests challenge applicants’ potential to solve problems when learning new job skills or tackling workplace issues. Commonly, cognitive assessments measure a person’s intelligence or general mental ability. Various intense questions determining specific mental skills are based on verbal analogies, arithmetic calculations, spatial relations, comprehension, number series puzzles, and reading comprehension.

Most cognitive ability tests consider the number of correct answers and assign an overall score to those answers. This way, scores measure the general mental ability of the person under consideration. When an individual score is attributed to each specific type of skill (verbal, reasoning, problem-solving), the resulting scores measure the specific cognitive abilities of that person.

People with high cognitive ranks are likelier to perform tasks precisely and proficiently, settle on decisions more effectively, utilize reasoning skills, have problem-solving abilities, and react tactfully to new and complex situations.


People with high cognitive ranks are more likely to


What is the purpose of a cognitive assessment? 


A cognitive assessment determines an individual’s mental abilities on three main attributes: information processing, solution generation, and decision-making competencies. A high-quality Cognitive Ability Test evaluates candidates’ aptitude for critical, numerical, and analytical reasoning, among other cognitive skills, to provide insights into their mental capabilities. The tests also measure a person’s creative approach, abstract reasoning competencies and problem-solving skills to make well-informed decisions.


What is included in a cognitive assessment? 


A cognitive assessment focuses on the two most important competencies for performing efficiently in any job. The test focuses on assessing a person’s ability to learn and retain information and apply it to solve problems and make intelligent decisions. These skills are evaluated through abstract reasoning and critical thinking-based tests. The test includes questions that determine a person’s ability to question their assumptions, make unbiased evaluations, and identify relevant information when coming to conclusions.


Types of cognitive ability tests for employment

The cognitive ability test checks for the essential competencies to perform any job efficiently. Such a test can assess a person’s mental construct regarding their ability to think quickly, solve ambiguous problems, and devise new concepts when presented with novel information. Some types of cognitive tests that assess candidates on various cognitive aspects and are commonly used in the recruitment process are:


cognitive_infographic 2


Learning Agility Assessment


Learning agility represents a candidate’s ability and willingness to learn from past experiences, adapt to a new situation, and efficiently perform in new work conditions. Undoubtedly, self-learners and high-potential employees are agile learners. They are fit for leadership positions; they actively respond to unfamiliar situations and maximize experiential learning. The Learning Agility Assessment is designed to find agile learners best suited for leadership positions in any organization.

It is helpful in: 

  • Creating a talent pool to identify high potentials (including emerging stars and early-career employees), making succession plans, strategizing key assignments, and also supporting their learning and development
  • Making better recruiting decisions for roles that require learning agility
  • Recognizing existing employees who are likely to perform well in international assignments
  • Taking team building exercises up a notch.


Critical Thinking Ability Test


The Critical Thinking Ability Test measures the decision-making capability of a candidate. The assessment evaluates whether a person can identify and address the problem, collate data to question assumptions, provide valid explanations, and offer solutions. Such tests aid in hiring at mid and senior managerial levels. These cognitive tests help recruiters identify and hire candidates who can recognize problems and solve them efficiently by critically analyzing the given information to identify assumptions, draw inferences and evaluate arguments.

It’s helpful in the selection of: 

  • Senior management candidates
  • Mid-management candidates
  • Business consultants
  • Critical decision-makers and strategists


Case Analysis and Decision-making Skills Test


This test is primarily used as a screening tool to select management graduates from the vast talent pool. Such tests are available as case study simulators to understand a candidate’s analytical approach and problem-solving skills accurately. The test analyzes and grades candidates on their answers, thus generating their performance reports. The report is readily available for reference in successive interview rounds, allowing further discussion and analysis with the candidate. The test includes a case study question the candidate must solve and finish in time.


Mechanical Reasoning Test


The Mechanical Reasoning Test measures the person’s ability to solve complex problems based on the knowledge, comprehension, and application of mechanical concepts. The assessment evaluates a candidate’s command of fundamental physical laws and mechanical operations and a knack for learning automated processes, including understanding mechanical setups and more. Such an assessment can offer questions of varying difficulty levels in English. The questions are interactively structured to map a candidate’s ability to solve engineering tasks, decode technical drawings, and understand technical devices and their functions. The test helps measure a candidate’s inclination to interpret and apply mechanical principles for various engineering and technical job roles.

It’s helpful in hiring candidates with past work experience, preferably in aircraft mechanics, maintenance and repair, automotive, etc.


Spatial Reasoning Ability Test


The Spatial Reasoning Test is a cognitive test that evaluates a candidate’s ability to understand and establish spatial relations among objects. This test assesses a person’s ability to visualize and manipulate complex shapes, patterns, or designs in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional plane. Identifying the top candidates through spatial reasoning can reduce downtime in the hiring process. The candidates who have fared remarkably well in the test are considered intelligent analysts and natural problem solvers in conceptual skills-based jobs.

Such tests measure a candidate’s propensity to visualize patterns and shapes in complex puzzles and produce the desired results. The test includes questions based on rotating shapes, matching shapes, merging shapes, viewing cubes in 3D, and manipulating other types of solid forms in 2-D and 3-D.

It’s helpful in:

Assessing candidates for screening and placement in sectors that require exposure in specific areas- design, architecture, publishing, illustration, and technology. The test is helpful in the careful selection of candidates for technical and craft-centric jobs.


Logical Reasoning test


This Logical Reasoning Test evaluates a person’s ability to analyze data from multiple viewpoints by breaking it down into simple components, structuring the information logically, and analyzing the relationship between different data points to arrive at a solution. This cognitive assessment checks for a candidate’s ability to analyze the clarity of thoughts while skipping irrelevant aspects in the process. Those candidates with solid reasoning skills are good at reaching the correct conclusion. They use a steady and consistent approach to solve problems and structure problems and situations accordingly. These assessments identify talented individuals through questions that challenge their logical reasoning skills.

It’s helpful in:

Hiring fresher candidates across all education levels for various roles, from team lead and managerial positions to executive-level functions.


Language Aptitude Test


This cognitive test helps identify if candidates have the aptitude to learn foreign languages. The Language Aptitude Test aims to evaluate candidates on linguistic aspects of learning. The test measures the person’s ability to acquire communication skills, mainly speaking and listening skills. It gives an accurate idea about the skill sets of the candidate taking the test, especially in areas such as number learning, linking speech sounds and phonetic symbols together, word formation, spelling, and vocabulary.

It’s useful for:

  • Organizations providing foreign language services, for example, translation services
  • Education and training institutes measuring candidate’s aptitude for acquiring new languages
  • BPOs and KPOs hiring top individuals who can communicate with clients in foreign countries.


Abstract Reasoning Test


The test measures a candidate’s lateral thinking abilities that help define logical rules, trends, and patterns to present the most appropriate solutions for solving problems. Those candidates who possess strong abstract reasoning skills can solve complex problems creatively. They can apply learnings to solve novel problems by connecting different information points to grasp the bigger picture, detecting patterns and relationships, and solving complex problems by developing innovative solutions. Such tests can effectively test candidates’ problem-solving aptitude through logic and creative thinking.

It’s helpful in:

Hiring candidates worldwide for various industry job roles, mainly suited for entry-level or senior-most positions. The test assesses people for sales and marketing roles, creative designing, writing, and analytics.


Reading Comprehension Test


The test evaluates candidates’ ability to read, process, retain and synthesize a large amount of written information and quickly comprehend large pieces of written texts.

Candidates who perform exceedingly well in these tests are likely to absorb information faster, interpret it more correctly, and implement it in making rational business decisions than others. The test consists of questions, including a passage meant to be comprehended by the candidate, after which the candidate will have to answer questions related to the passage. The format of questions can either be direct or inferential.

It’s helpful in:

Hiring fresher candidates with work experience of 0-1 year for various job roles across industries.


Attention to Detail Test


The Attention to Detail Test is beneficial for finding employees who can demonstrate thoroughness and accuracy in accomplishing a task and capturing every minute detail, anywhere, at any point, ensuring quality and timelines for completing work. Highly focused individuals can achieve quality-focused results faster and better than others because they do not need to be continually micromanaged. This test will help organizations filter the top candidates that provide high-quality, detail-oriented, and on-time results. In addition, recruiters can use this test to hire for entry-level administrative and clerical jobs. This speed-based test measures candidates using various comparison-based questions based on numbers, texts, images, and visuals.

It’s useful for organizations seeking effective screening and recruiting entry-level professionals for various industry roles. It is, however, most suitable for data processing and administrative tasks


General Aptitude Test


Organizations need candidates who can solve complex problems through logical thinking. This test helps companies assess individuals to find people with the innate or acquired ability to learn new things and apply logic to solve complex problems. The General Aptitude Test evaluates candidates on core skills and competencies, which are essential to perform well on the delegated tasks. This test measures the person’s tendency to perform well across various functions and helps managers identify skill gaps and training needs.

The test is thoughtfully designed to assess candidates for various skills with a wide variety of questions. It measures the individual’s information-processing ability besides evaluating their problem-solving skills at work. Finding potential hires through these tests can significantly improve organizational productivity. An effective employee knows what is expected of them.

It’s helpful in the hiring for: 

  • Administrative and clerical roles
  • Executive roles
  • Functional and supervisory roles
  • Senior managerial and business head roles
  • Leadership and strategic roles


Quantitative Aptitude Assessment


The Quantitative Aptitude Test measures whether a candidate is good at perceiving and processing numbers and related functions to perform basic arithmetic operations while maintaining accuracy and speed in calculations. This test accurately measures the aptitude for numerical analysis. It evaluates a candidate’s skills in performing numerical operations, which apply to candidates across job roles, regardless of their educational experience.

It is helpful in: 

Screening and hiring of candidates with 0-2 years of work experience. The test is best suited for candidates with an educational background in engineering, a bachelor’s or master’s in business administration, certification courses in statistics, etc.


Verbal Ability Test


Candidates with strong verbal abilities can express their ideas and thoughts using correct sentence structure, proper words, and grammar. Such candidates can communicate well and understand messages in business contexts. The Verbal Aptitude Test helps hire candidates with a good command of English and the ability to understand, comprehend, and convey written messages precisely and clearly by formulating grammatically correct sentences.

It is helpful in: 

Finding candidates for different job roles across industries with 0-1 years of work experience.


Numerical Reasoning Assessment


Candidates with strong numerical reasoning can analyze statistical data to draw inferences and make suitable business decisions. Since deriving information from numerical data is essential for the business, every company needs professionals who can collect, study, understand, and crunch data to make things easier for organizations. This basic-level test is designed to measure a candidate’s ability to work with the information presented in a number-based format to make essential business decisions and analyze its impact on how good a commercial decision is.

It is helpful in: 

Finding candidates for different job roles across industries with 0-1 years of work experience, mainly in data analysis, banking operations, and accounting and financial analysis.


Technical and Quantitative Aptitude Assessment


Most organizations need help finding talented software engineers, given the talent scarcity. However, in software development, a professional needs to be more thorough in understanding all areas of software development, from designing to testing. Generally, software engineers are well-versed in any given programming language and are conceptually sound. Such tests determine if a candidate follows a structured approach when solving problems. Most importantly, employers can measure candidates’ essential competencies to ensure that only deserving candidates make it to the final interview round.

It’s helpful in:

Hiring candidates with an engineering background, preferably in IT, with 0-2 years of work experience. The test helps recruiters screen and select candidates from tier-I and tier-II colleges.


English Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation Test


Given the fast-paced corporate world, communication is at the core of every business. As a result, gaining fluency in oral and written communication has become a norm for professional behaviour. Such cognitive tests evaluate basic principles of grammar and spelling and assess candidates’ knowledge in parts of speech, common words and abbreviations, punctuation, etc. This test measures a candidate’s proficiency in English for many different professional roles.

It is helpful in:

Finding and hiring candidates proficient in English, mainly for such job profiles as sales, marketing, technical support, and more roles.


Are cognitive ability tests reliable?

Cognitive ability tests have consistently shown to be reliable and valid measures of mental abilities. These tests effectively predict academic achievement, job performance, and leadership potential, further supporting their validity. However, there have been specific concerns regarding cognitive ability tests, including worries about cultural bias, test anxiety, and potential adverse effects on marginalized groups. Acknowledging these concerns with proactive measures to address any possible biases in administering and interpreting these tests is crucial. For instance, incorporating multiple measures and considering contextual factors when interpreting test results can minimize the impact of biases. Cognitive ability tests remain valuable tools for assessing and predicting mental abilities and potential.


Why are cognitive ability tests used by employers?

Employers use cognitive ability tests in the recruitment process due to various benefits like increased accuracy, improved candidate selection, and reduced bias. These tests evaluate a candidate’s critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and adaptability to new situations, essential skills for many job roles. Employers can obtain objective and comparable results across candidates using standardized tests, leading to more accurate and reliable evaluations. Furthermore, cognitive ability tests reduce biases in the recruitment process, such as the influence of personal characteristics or demographics, by focusing on skills and abilities rather than background or experience.


A step-by-step guide to hiring using cognitive ability tests for employment

1. Selecting the most appropriate cognitive ability tests:

Choosing the most relevant tests for the hired role is essential. For example, if a role involves using different languages, one can use a Language Aptitude Test and combine it with other skills tests.


2. Establishing a benchmark:

The candidates’ cognitive ability scores are more insightful with a baseline to compare them to. Testing the existing high-performing employees and using their scores to benchmark what a qualified candidate looks like can be helpful.


3. Assessing the candidates: 

One of the significant advantages of utilizing tests for hiring is that they enable one to speed up the screening process. Pairing the cognitive ability tests with role-specific and personality tests and identifying the candidates best suited for the position is crucial.


4. Evaluating test results:

Measuring and analyzing each candidate’s results relative to the benchmark created is an important step. If a candidate is too far below the benchmark, it is advisable to consider eliminating them from the selection. If they meet the benchmark or are above it, inviting them for an interview is the next step.


5. Interviewing qualified candidates:

Interviewing each candidate who passed the initial skills assessment and identifying areas for improvement and strong areas in the test results is vital. Asking targeted questions can help during the interview.


6. Making a decision:

The assessment will be strengthened by using the results of skills tests and other tests employed in the whole process, such as interviews, reference checks, etc. Other tests should accompany cognitive ability tests.


7. Analyzing results and updating benchmarks: 

Over time, assessing high performers’ test scores and adjusting benchmarks should be continued. The more data is gained, the more power there is to make intelligent decisions.


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Dos and don’ts: Cognitive ability testing tips and best practices

Cognitive ability tests provide valuable data, and understanding how to utilize that data effectively is essential. Here are some guidelines to maximize the value of cognitive ability testing.

  • Firstly, it is essential to test transparently. Candidates should be informed about what is being tested, the data collected, how test scores impact decisions, and how the data may be used after hiring. Transparency helps prevent legal and privacy issues.
  • Secondly, it is important not to intimidate candidates. Communication should be positive and friendly. This approach builds trust and demonstrates an open and honest company culture.
  • Next, it is crucial to use the test results. It can be tempting to dismiss low scores if a candidate performs well in other areas. However, if cognitive ability tests are part of the hiring process, committing to using the results is essential.

However, these tests are most effective when used with other hiring tools. Additionally, avoiding using the same tests for every role is essential. They are suited for entry- to mid-level positions with high on-the-job training demands. Various tests should be used for senior or leadership roles, considering management skills and industry knowledge. Combining cognitive ability tests with motivation tests for junior roles can help identify high-potential candidates. Reinforcing biases should be avoided. It is essential to be aware of potential biases and take steps to minimize them. Scrutinizing testing procedures and avoiding stereotypes or gendered language can help reduce bias.


Sample questions in a cognitive ability test 

1. If the first two statements are true, is the final statement true?

Most snakes are green.

Most snakes are quick.

At least one snake is both green and quick.

2. If thirty-two students are in the classroom, and 12.5% own at least one pet, how many students do not have any pets?

3. Tina has seven dresses, eight pairs of shoes, and seven necklaces. Suppose she wears only one combination of clothes each day. How many days can she go without wearing the same outfit?


Cognitive ability testing tools & resources

Mercer | Mettl’s extensive suite of cognitive ability tools and resources helps employees recognize and recruit top candidates. Mercer | Mettl offers the most comprehensive suite of cognitive assessments applicable for 200+ job roles across 25+ industries in 100+ countries. The broadest range of cognitive tests from Mercer | Mettl can become integral to every recruiter’s toolkit. These tests are role-specific and measure proficiency requirements at different organizational functions, such as entry-level, middle-level, and executive-level roles. Moreover, organizations can customize these assessments based on their versatile needs. Backed by data-driven, easy-to-use reports, organizations can leverage actionable insights to make well-informed decisions. Some testing tools and resources include the General Aptitude Test, Language Aptitude Test, Critical Thinking Test, and Logical Reasoning Test, among others.


Make cognitive ability tests a part of your recruitment process with Mercer | Mettl

Cognitive ability tests by Mercer | Mettl assist companies and recruiting professionals across industries and geographies in making well-informed decisions, whether for recruitment or learning and development. These ready-to-use scientific tests provide details of the underlying abilities and skillsets of the shortlisted candidates, helping organizations hire the most appropriate talent with high cognitive intelligence. Mercer | Mettl’s all-in-one virtual assessment platform accommodates talent assessment requirements to efficiently and effectively assess skills, personality, and ability. This cutting-edge platform also houses world-class proctoring technology that enables test administrators to conduct cheating-free online tests.


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Employees are every organization’s essential resource. Their knowledge, experience, and skills form the core of every company, and they are crucial to maintaining high organizational productivity. The ability to excel and learn things faster to succeed at work is what cognitive screening tools are used for. The more precisely they are utilized for assessing cognitive intelligence, the better the organization’s workforce will be. Quality talent is limited in supply and high in demand. The quicker employers identify and onboard them, the better it is for overall growth. Useful cognitive screening tools give companies the power to determine, sort, differentiate, and bring the top talent to the forefront.

Cognitive assessments could be an excellent tool for hiring and recruitment. Using it early in the process may significantly improve the quality of hire and employee engagement.



1. How is cognitive ability tested?

2. What does a cognitive ability test measure?

3. What is a cognitive test in recruitment?

4. What is a cognitive ability test in the workplace?

Originally published April 1 2018, Updated July 12 2024

Written by

Archita Bharadwaj has worked as a Content writer at Mercer | Mettl since April 2023. With her research background, she writes varied forms of content, including blogs, ebooks, and case studies, among other forms.

Cognitive Test/Assessment

Cognitive assessments evaluate a candidate's cognitive skills

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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