Career Development

Skills Test (Definition and Examples)

June 10, 2021

When you are applying for a job, you may need to sit a skills test. Employers often set skills tests to assess the aptitude of their job applicants. Understanding what skills tests are can help you feel more confident sitting them and give you the best chance of success. In this article, we define what skills tests are, explain how employers use them, note some examples of common skills tests and offer tips for performing well on a skills test.

What is a skills test?

A skills test is an assessment that objectively measures the test subject's aptitude and practical abilities. It is sometimes called a skill set test or a skills assessment test. Companies may administer this type of test in person or remotely online. Skills tests are usually used to evaluate job candidates. In some cases, employers may also use skills testing to evaluate the abilities of their existing workforce. For example, this could occur when employers consider promoting employees within their organisation.

Skills tests usually have questions testing how candidates would perform the tasks they'd complete in the vacant role. As skills tests evaluate how well people complete tasks, they are typically used to identify and evaluate candidate's hard skills. However, depending on the tests, they may also assess soft skills such as teamwork and time management.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Why do employers use skills tests?

Employers use skills tests to determine which candidates are the most likely to succeed in the vacant position. They usually use skills tests along with other assessment tools, such as resumes and interviews. Along with these other tools, skills tests help employers create a full picture of candidates and their abilities. A skills test can help employers see how job applicants apply their knowledge and experience to challenges like those they may face on the job.

Skills tests can help employers overcome unconscious bias and provide an objective way to rank candidates. Some employers naturally prefer candidates with certain qualities, such as degrees or experience. A skills test shows whether these candidates can perform as well as other applicants. Setting skills tests is a great way to streamline the hiring process for greater workplace efficiency.

By providing an objective way to rank candidates, skills tests help employers hire candidates based on their merit, rather than their backgrounds. This is important, because:

  • It helps companies identify people with the practical abilities required to succeed in their vacant roles.
  • Sometimes the best performers lack qualities companies view favourably, such as experience and educational qualifications.
  • It widens the talent pool by recognising the strengths of individual candidates beyond their resumes.
  • It reduces the risk of hiring an incompatible person, which costs the business time and money.
  • Employees hired on merit stay with their companies longer, report greater job satisfaction and perform better over the long term.
  • Hiring on merit helps create more diverse workplaces, which leads to innovation, improved reputation and greater profits.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume

Examples of types of skills tests

Employers can use a variety of different skills tests to evaluate their candidates, including the following:

Question-and-answer test

A question-and-answer test helps employers assess if candidates have a good knowledge of key topic areas and could apply it to the job. For example, a newspaper searching for an editor might set an English test that assesses whether candidates could pick misspelled words from a list of options, identify errors in passages of writing and make ambiguous sentences clearer. The publication would rank candidates based on the number of questions they answered correctly.

Problem-solving test

A problem-solving test presents one or more problems and asks candidates to provide solutions. For example, a software company may give job applicants some sample code with bugs and a description of what the program should achieve. They would then ask candidates to correct the bugs so the program runs as intended. The employer would judge candidates based on whether they found a working solution and how efficient the solution was.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Performance test

A performance test evaluates how well candidates can perform a given task. For example, a company seeking an administrative assistant might set a typing challenge for candidates. The company would rank its candidates according to how quickly and accurately they typed a page of text.

Work sample test

A work sample test asks applicants to submit original work that's similar to the work they would complete in the vacant position. For example, a magazine might ask job applicants to write a sample article on a given topic. They would use this sample to judge each applicant's writing quality and whether they can accurately capture the publication's voice.

Role-playing test

A role-playing test presents a real-world scenario to candidates and asks them to respond as they would in the role. For example, a store manager might play someone suspected of shoplifting and ask candidates to show how they would deal with the suspect. The manager would judge candidates on how effectively they apprehended the customer and confirmed whether they were shoplifting while maintaining respect for the customer.

In-tray test

An in-tray test asks applicants to assume the role of a company employee. They receive an in-tray with a pile of fictional correspondence to work with. Candidates read the correspondence, then answer questions about how they would respond to different items. The in-tray exercise tests a variety of job skills, including a candidate's communication and comprehension, analytical, prioritisation and delegation skills.

Panel discussion test

During a panel discussion test, job candidates get assessed with others vying for the position. The candidates may share their views on a topical issue or work together on a common task, for example. Employers judge the candidates on the content of their contributions. They also assess their soft skills, such as communication, leadership and willingness to listen to others.

Related: 5 Roles and Responsibilities of a Team Leader

Tips for performing well on skills tests

Performing well on a skills test can give you a competitive edge over other candidates that can help you secure work. Apply the following tips to give yourself the best chance of success:

Research the test

Most companies will tell you that you'll take a certain kind of skills test before you're required to sit one. Once you know you'll need to sit a skills test, research what these tests involve so you know what to expect. When tests seem more familiar to you, you'll feel more confident and less likely to let nerves impact your performance.

Take some practice tests

If possible, take some practice tests ahead of time. Some companies make practice tests available for job candidates. There are examples of other common skills tests, such as typing tests and coding tests, available online. Practicing can help you work more efficiently and accurately when you take the real skills test.

Take care of yourself before your test

Taking care of yourself by sleeping a full eight hours the night before the test, eating nutritious meals and staying well hydrated leading up to your test can help. Feeling tired, hungry or thirsty can distract you during your test. Ask whether you can take snacks and a water bottle into the test to make sure you feel your best during the exam.

Read all instructions carefully

Reading the skills test instructions carefully will help you provide the answers the employer is looking for. Pay attention to keywords and any time limits. Remember to refer back to the instructions at any time to make sure you stay on track.

Ask for clarification

If any instructions seem incomplete or unclear, ask the employer for clarification. This approach is much better than making incorrect assumptions. The employer will also appreciate that you've taken the initiative you make sure you're completing the skills test correctly.

Stay calm

Nerves can impact your test score, so try your best to stay calm. Your preparation should help, but if you still feel nerves rising, take a few deep breaths. Focusing on your breathing if you feel anxiety rising can help you minimise the impact of nervous feelings and perform at your best.

Complete all questions

Unless the skills test states you'll lose marks for incorrect answers, complete all the questions on your skills test to maximise your marks. You might receive partial marks for working out or for half-right answers. Especially in multiple-choice tests, you might even guess some correct answers.

Ask for feedback

Asking for feedback after your skills test can identify areas of weakness that you can work on. Focus your efforts on improving the skills you're less proficient in. This dedicated effort should help you improve your skills so you can do better next time you sit a skills test.


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