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The fundamental aspect of recruiting boils down to understanding how a candidate will perform in the job. The hard part, however, is figuring that out. For example, how do you know if a candidate can employ mental processes to solve complex problems at work or possess the ability to pick up new skills at work? How would you know if the candidate can make effective decisions under pressure? Cognitive assessment tests provide answers to these questions.
When making a hiring decision, you pull out all stops to ensure that the prospective hire delivers results. However, many businesses have to spot “diamonds in the rough” individuals from a vast pool of applicants during lateral recruitment, which is no mean feat. It’s for this reason that cognitive tests come in handy. These tests are a recruiter’s essential resource for employee selection and come with measurable, demonstrable benefits.
This extensive guide will cover the intricacies of cognitive evaluations undertaken in hiring and introduce the most common cognitive assessments that recruiters and hiring managers use while recruiting candidates.
A cognitive assessment is a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s intellectual, emotional, and psychological functioning. It includes a series of tests designed 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 family of psychometric tests that make the whole candidate screening process a breeze 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, it enables the hiring managers to quickly filter out unsuitable applicants and interview candidates who stand the best chance of success in their prospective roles. Measuring the candidates’ cognitive capabilities can help recruiters identify candidates with untapped potential who may not have impressive resumes but possess all the desired traits to prosper in an organization. This testing is especially advantageous when interviewing individuals for entry-level positions, helping organizations hire intelligent and competent personnel at all levels of the organizational hierarchy.
The role of cognitive assessment tests is also pivotal in creating an organization’s learning and development strategy. Such tests address businesses’ loopholes while identifying training needs, high potential individuals, worthy successors, and fast learners. Moreover, psychological research consistently indicates that cognitive ability tests help predict hiring success across job types, levels, and industries with precision and ease.
Cognitive assessments bring candidates’ abilities to the fore that don’t show up 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 imperatively needed in recruiting:
Based on the works of I. Robertson, T. and M. Smith, Personnel Selection (2001), it’s safe to assume that cognitive tests are practical predictors of job-specific success. They considered some of the most commonly used approaches of 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, which is greater 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, noteworthy here is that cognitive assessments can be used in unison with structured interviews, personality tests, behavioral tests, etc., for gaining 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.
Cognitive tests can help organizations identify agile learners who can recalibrate their skillset against the future’s rapid, unforeseen technological advancements, primarily when unprecedented advances (such as artificial intelligence and automation) profoundly affect how we work. Individuals with higher cognitive capabilities organize, arrange and assimilate information more quickly, which is why they acquire new skills and grasp new concepts in a significantly lesser time, which later translates into higher organizational output.
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. Why? Because high-quality cognitive assessment tests can be sourced from a leading service provider with the expertise and unmatched technical prowess in administering and evaluating the results against thousands of other candidates the world over.
Cognitive tests provide actionable insights that help recruiters to include more objectivity in the hiring process. Unconscious biases often creep while recruiting candidates that can impact the effectiveness of the decision-making process. By using cognitive assessments, employers can hire applicants for their actual intelligence rather than seeing them through the lens of implicit bias. In addition, with data-driven and objective information about candidates at hand, organizations can build a diverse workforce of stronger recruits to build a more inclusive company culture.
Cognitive tests assess a candidate’s thinking abilities such as perception, reasoning, memory, verbal, and problem-solving ability. Such tests are designed to 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 mind-intensive questions that determine 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 are a measure of the general mental ability of the person under consideration. When an individual score is attributed against each specific type of skill (verbal, reasoning, problem-solving), then the resulting scores measure specific cognitive abilities of that person.
People with high cognitive ranks are more likely to:
The purpose of cognitive assessment is to determine an individual’s cognitive abilities on three main attributes: information processing, solution generation, and decision-making competencies. A high-quality cognitive assessment test will evaluate candidates’ aptitude for critical, numerical, and analytical reasoning, among other cognitive skills, to provide insights into their mental capabilities. Not to mention, the tests also intend to measure a person’s out-of-box creative approach and abstract reasoning competencies. Besides, cognitive ability tests even decide if a candidate is a problem solver and can effectively carry out rational, well-thought-out, and accurate decisions.
A cognitive assessment focuses on the two most important competencies required to perform 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. A cognitive test includes a set of intriguing questions to measure a candidate’s ability to be on the ball, disambiguate a puzzle, and unlock new concepts when presented with further information. The test also determines a person’s ability to question their assumptions, make fair evaluations, and identify relevant information when coming to conclusions.
The roots of cognitive science date back to Charles Spearman, who proposed the g-factor theory. He asserted his firm belief that general intelligence forms the core of all mental abilities. The concept of cognitive skills stems from the idea that general intelligence is the bedrock of mental development. This example, in which we compare general intelligence with athleticism, will suffice.
A person might be an exceptionally gifted runner, yet this does not imply that he will likewise be a fantastic figure skater. Because this individual is an athlete, he will most likely perform better comparatively on other physically demanding tasks.
In the early 1990s, Charles Spearman used a numerical way to measure human intelligence. He was the one who helped develop a statistical technique known as factor analysis, which enables researchers to run through a variety of test items that can evaluate a candidate’s cognitive abilities. For example, a person who scores well on vocabulary questions might also perform better on reading comprehension questions.
So, he invented factor analysis, a mathematical approach to measure human intelligence, to explain the relationship between apparently varied cognitive abilities and understand the correlation between scores on different tests.
One of his students, Raymond Cattell, unconvinced by Spearman’s theory, developed the concept of fluid and crystallized intelligence.
It refers to the mind’s ability to use prior knowledge and experience to make informed decisions. For example, solving a mathematical problem becomes easy with formula or applying grammatical rules to form correct sentences are all examples of crystallized intelligence.
It is the innate ability to solve unfamiliar problems through logical reasoning. This intelligence refers to the human capacity to think and act dynamically with precision. Fluid intelligence is independent of previous experience, practice, or education. For example, early men relied on their instincts and abilities to solve complex, life-threatening problems in the Stone Age.
Conducting a holistic cognitive evaluation won’t be an easy task if not for a cognitive assessment test. The cognitive test checks for the essential competencies required to perform any job efficiently. Such a test can assess a person’s mental construct in terms of their ability to think quickly, solve ambiguous problems, and devise new concepts when presented with novel information. So, here’s a rundown of the different types of cognitive tests that assess candidates on various cognitive aspects and are commonly used in the recruitment process:
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, high potential employees are agile learners. Therefore, they are fit for assuming leadership positions, for they actively respond to unfamiliar situations and get the most out of experiential learning. Learning agility assessment is designed to get hold of such individuals who are agile learners and are also best suited for leadership positions in any organization.
It’s Useful In:
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 to the problem, and offer the best solution. Such tests work wonders for 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 Useful in the Selection of:
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 get an accurate idea of a candidate’s analytical approach and problem-solving skills. 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 which the candidate needs to solve and finish in time.
As the name suggests, 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, along with a knack for learning automated processes that include understanding mechanical set-ups and more.
Such an assessment can offer questions of varying difficulty levels in the English language. The questions are interactively structured to map a candidate’s ability to solve engineering tasks, decode technical drawings, and understand technical devices with 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 Useful In:
Hiring candidates with past work experience, preferably in aircraft mechanics, maintenance and repair, automotive, etc.
Spatial reasoning test is a form of 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. Most importantly, identifying the best of the lot through spatial reasoning can reduce downtime in the hiring process. The candidates who have fared remarkably well in the test are believed to be 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 Useful 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. If you consider hiring a candidate with 0-2 years of work experience, this test will come in handy.
This logical reasoning test tests a person’s ability to analyze any given 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 test checks for a candidate’s ability to analyze the clarity of thoughts while skipping irrelevant aspects in the process. Those candidates with strong reasoning skills are good at arriving at the right conclusion. They use a steady and consistent approach to solve problems and structure problems and situations accordingly. These assessments identify such talented individuals through a set of questions that challenge their logical reasoning skills.
It’s Useful In:
Hiring fresher candidates across all education levels for various job roles from team lead and managerial positions to executive-level functions. If you consider hiring a candidate with 0-2 years of work experience, this test will suit your needs.
This cognitive test helps identify if candidates have the aptitude to earn 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 skillsets of the candidate taking the test, especially in such areas as number learning, linking speech sounds and phonetic symbols together, word formation, spelling, and vocabulary.
It’s Useful For:
The test measures a candidate’s lateral thinking abilities that help define logical rules, trends, and patterns to present the right solution 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 coming up with innovative solutions. Such tests can effectively test candidates’ aptitude to solve problems through logic and creative thinking.
It’s Useful In:
Hiring candidates worldwide for various job roles across the industries, mainly suited for entry-level or senior-most positions. The test works wonders for assessing people for sales and marketing roles, creative designing, writing, and analytics, among others.
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 that perform exceedingly well in these tests are likely to absorb information faster, interpret it more correctly, and implement them in making rational business decisions than others. The test consists of questions including a passage meant to be comprehended by the candidate and after which the candidate would have to answer questions related to the passage. The format of questions can either be direct or inferential.
It’s Useful In:
Hiring fresher candidates with work experience of 0-1 year for various job roles across industries.
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 of time, ensuring quality and timelines for completing work. Such 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 out the best 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 on various comparison-based questions based on numbers, texts, images, and visuals.
It’s useful for organizations seeking an effective screening and recruitment of entry-level professionals for various roles across industries. It is, however, most suitable for data processing and administrative tasks
Organizations need candidates who can solve complex problems through logical thinking. This test helps companies assess individuals for finding 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 aptitude test measures the person’s tendency to perform well across various functions. Moreover, these tests help managers in identifying 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. Using the test, employers can zero in on such responsible employees.
It’s Useful in the Hiring For:
Quantitative aptitude assessment 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 doing 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’s Useful In:
The 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.
Candidates with strong verbal abilities can express their ideas and thoughts using correct sentence structure, proper words, and grammar. Such candidates can put themselves across very 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’s Useful In:
Finding candidates for different job roles across industries with 0-1 years of work experience
Candidates with strong numerical reasoning are good at analyzing 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’s Useful 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.
Most organizations grapple with the problem of finding talented software engineers, given the scarcity of talent. However, software development is an area where relying merely on one aspect will not suffice. 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 help determine if a candidate follows a structured approach when solving problems. Most importantly, employers can measure candidates on essential competencies to ensure that only deserving candidates make it to the final interview round.
It’s Useful In:
Hiring candidates from 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.
Communication is at the core of every business, given the fast-paced corporate world. As a result, gaining fluency in oral and written communication has become a norm for professional behavior. Such cognitive tests evaluate basic principles of grammar spelling and assess candidates’ knowledge in the areas of parts of speech, common words and abbreviations, and punctuation, etc. This test measures a candidate’s proficiency in English for many different professional roles.
It’s Useful In:
Finding and hiring candidates proficient in English, mainly for such job profiles as sales, marketing, technical support, and more roles.
Cognitive assessment tests provided by Mercer | Mettl assists 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 best talent that possesses high cognitive intelligence. Mercer | Mettl offers the most comprehensive suite of cognitive assessments applicable for 2,000+ job roles across 45+ industries in 90+ countries.
The widest range of cognitive tests from Mercer | Mettl can become an integral part of every recruiter’s toolkit. Why? Because these tests are role-specific and measure proficiency level requirements at different organizational functions such as entry-level, middle-level, and executive-level roles. Moreover, organizations can get these assessments customized based on their versatile needs. Backed by data-driven, easy-to-use reports, organizations can leverage actionable insights to make well-informed and instant decisions. Most importantly, Mercer| Mettl’s all-in-one virtual assessment platform accommodates all kinds of talent assessment requirements to efficiently and effectively assess the skills, personality, and ability. This cutting-edge platform also houses world-class proctoring technology that enables test administrators to conduct cheating-free online tests.
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 would be for the overall growth. Useful cognitive screening tools provide companies with the power to determine, sort, differentiate, and bring the best talent to the forefront.
If implemented correctly, cognitive assessments could be an excellent tool for hiring and recruitment. Using it early in the process may substantially improve the quality of hire and employee engagement in totality. And if you want to leverage cognitive assessments to their fullest potential in your organization, you must skillfully consider the kind of tests that best meet your hiring needs. That being said, this HR handbook guide is your ready reckoner should you wish to gain a comprehensive overview of cognitive ability assessments.
Originally published April 1 2018, Updated December 28 2021
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.
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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