Numerical reasoning tests demonstrate your ability to deal with numbers quickly and accurately. These tests contain questions that assess your knowledge of ratios, percentages, number sequences, data interpretation, financial analysis and currency conversion.
What is a numerical reasoning test?
A numerical reasoning test is a psychometric assessment that measures a candidate’s numerical aptitude and their ability to interpret, analyse and draw conclusions from data sets. The test is usually timed with multiple-choice questions based on charts, tables or graphs.
Unlike standardised maths tests, which demonstrate a student’s ability to learn and apply mathematical techniques based on a set syllabus, numerical reasoning tests reflect how successfully a candidate can apply numerical understanding in a realistic context.
General arithmetic, percentages, fractions and averages are all common elements of a numerical reasoning test, but its main focus is statistical information. Candidates are required to work with graphs, tables and charts to identify key facts and figures, and apply the correct logic to form an answer in response to a worded question.
You may be required to sit a numerical reasoning test if you’re applying for a job in a numeracy-based sector, such as finance or insurance. That said, they are increasingly common for any role that involves a level of data interpretation or numerical analysis, including marketing and HR.
Why do employers use numerical tests?
In a competitive job market, employers of all shapes and sizes use a range of methods to narrow down their pool of candidates for any given opening. Numerical reasoning tests are one such method.
The questions posed in these tests are based on the particulars of a given job function, such as determining profit margin or estimating material quantities. As such, they give employers a good indication of how an applicant would perform in the role in question, allowing them to separate those with promise from those who would struggle with their daily tasks.
Numerical reasoning tests are also a good measure of how well an individual works under pressure. Employers want to know that you can perform well in any given circumstance, and since these assessments are timed, they demonstrate your ability to interpret data and draw accurate conclusions at speed.
How numerical reasoning tests work
Numerical reasoning tests are not standardised. They can vary in duration, complexity and format depending on a number of factors, including:
- The test provider – there are several publishers of numerical reasoning tests, each with its own slight variation on the assessment, so the exact nature of your test will depend on which provider the employer uses.
- The occupation in question – since numerical reasoning tests are used to predict your workplace performance, they vary in relation to the role for which you’ve applied. For example, the questions posed to an aspiring engineer will differ from those presented for a financial post.
- The level of the position – typically, the higher up the ladder you climb, the more complex the numerical reasoning test, so the difficulty rating of your assessment will increase as you progress from graduate, to professional, to managerial level.
That said, there are commonalities across the board which can help you prepare for your numerical reasoning test.
Generally speaking, numerical reasoning tests are short, timed assessments presented in a multiple choice format. Their exact length can vary from roughly 10 to 45 minutes, and the number of questions will be relevant to their duration. As a guide, one question for every minute is a reasonable expectation, but some of the more difficult tests require more speed.
If you have the right skill set, the questions themselves would not be too difficult to answer under normal circumstances. However, these tests aren’t designed to be straightforward, and the time limit isn’t the only added complication.
Many test publishers use what are known as distractors – answer options purposefully similar to the correct answer, or that could be achieved if a common mistake was made.
In addition, numerical reasoning tests for graduate level positions can be quite complex in their nature. The data given may include information that’s not relevant to the question posed but is there to distract you. It’s also likely that you’ll need to apply a number of processes to draw the right conclusion, not just a single action.
Common Question Types
You can expect a range of questions that cover various aspects of numerical understanding.
These are likely to include general arithmetic, or numerical computation, where you’ll work with addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, as well as dealing with things like percentage change and simplified ratios.
Currency conversion questions are also a common occurrence.
Numerical reasoning questions often take the form of a number series, where your numerical logic will be tested, rather than your ability to perform basic calculations.
You’ll also encounter numerical estimation questions. Here, you’ll be asked to give an approximation as opposed to an exact answer, usually through graph interpretation.
The last common question type is data interpretation. With these, you may be presented with numerical data in the form of graphs, charts and tables, or in a paragraph of written text, and asked to make an inference based on the information provided.
How well you’ve performed in your numerical reasoning test will usually be assessed comparatively. Your prospective employer will receive your raw score, that is the number of correct answers, which will then be measured against a benchmark score.
This benchmark score will either be based on the performance of other candidates for the role, or the historical scores of employees in a similar position of comparative level.
There is no differential or negative scoring in a numerical reasoning test. You’ll get one point for every correct response and won’t be marked down for an incorrect answer.
You can easily improve your score with practice, and by mastering some key formulas for success.
Key maths skills you’ll need – and how to improve
Although numerical reasoning tests focus more on your interpretation and analytical abilities, rather than your mathematical skills, there are a few key areas you’ll need to be confident in.
Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division should be revised as the very basics. Generally speaking, GCSE level understanding is sufficient.
You’ll also need to be able to work with percentages, fractions, ratios and averages. Here are a few key formulas to get you started.
To calculate a percentage increase, subtract the original number from the new number, divide this difference by the original number, and multiply by 100.
Example: find the percentage increase of 200 to 300
300 – 200 = 100
100 ÷ 200 = 0.5
0.5 x 100 = 50
To find a percentage decrease, subtract the new number from the original number, divide this difference by the original number, and multiply by 100.
Example: find the percentage decrease of 500 to 240
500 – 240 = 260
260 ÷ 500 = 0.52
0.52 x 100 = 52
To add two percentage increases together, first add 100 to each given percentage and convert into decimals. Multiply the base figure by the first decimal, and then multiply the resulting value by the second decimal.
Example: your phone bill is £42. It increases by 10% after 12 months, and a further 20% increase is applied six months later. What’s the price of your phone bill after 18 months?
10 + 100 = 110, expressed as 1.10 as a decimal
20 + 100 = 120, expressed as 1.20 as a decimal
42 x 1.10 = 46.2
46.2 x 1.20 = 55.44
Converting Percentages into Fractions
To convert a percentage into a fraction, simply write down the percentage as a proportion of 100, and simplify if necessary.
Example: Convert 75% into a fraction
75/100 simplified to 3/4
To find the mean average of a series of numbers, add them all together and divide the answer by the total amount of numbers present.
Example: find the mean average of 3, 15, 8 and 22
3 + 15 + 8 + 22 = 48
48 ÷ 4 = 12
To add two fractions together, first make sure the denominators are the same, then add the two numerators together and place over the denominator. Simplify the fraction if needed.
Example: 1/5 + 3/5
The denominators are the same, so 1 + 3 = 4
If your denominators are not the same, multiply one fraction by the required amount to get two equal denominators. You must multiply both the denominator and numerator to keep the value of the fraction.
Example: work out 2/3 + 1/6
To get a common denominator, multiply 2/3 by 2
2 x 2 = 4
3 x 2 = 6
Now work out 4/6 + 1/6
4 + 1 = 5
To subtract fractions, simply deduct one numerator from the other and place over the denominator.
Example: work out 3/7 – 2/7
3 – 2 = 1
If the denominators are not the same, follow the steps as above to first achieve a common denominator.
For multiplication, multiply the numerators, then multiply the denominators and write as your new fraction.
Example: 1/3 x 2/5
1 x 2 = 2
3 x 5 = 15
To divide fractions, find the reciprocal of the dividing fraction by turning it upside down, then multiply the first fraction by this reciprocal.
Example: 2/3 ÷ 1/4
1/4 becomes 4/1
2 x 4 = 8
3 x 1 = 3
First take the whole number of the mixed fraction and multiply it by the denominator of the fractional part. Add this result to the numerator and write above the existing denominator.
Example: convert 3 2/4 into an improper fraction
3 x 4 = 12
12 + 2 = 14
Answer: 14/4, simplified to 7/2
How best to prepare for a numerical test
Numerical reasoning tests aren’t easy. Even if you have an excellent grasp of basic arithmetic and years of experience working with data in its various forms, exam nerves, time constraints and intentional decoys can all impact your performance.
The good news is that with a bit of effort, and some tips to pass your numerical reasoning assessment, you can greatly improve your chances of a better than average score.
Make sure to take plenty of practice tests and time yourself as you do. Analyse your results, and if there’s an area you’re struggling with, make this a priority.
Don’t just push a test aside once completed. Read through the answer explanations in detail, regardless of whether you got it right or wrong. The more you do this, the better you’ll understand relevant processes and when to apply them.
If they’re willing to divulge the information, find out what test provider your prospective employer uses. It’s likely the publisher has practice tests of its own that you can take for a more realistic representation of what’s in store.
Finally, brush up on your mental arithmetic. The skills you need here are easily improved with practice, and the quicker you are at basic calculations, the more time you’ll have to interpret complex data.