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Posted by Paula Baciu, Content Executive

There is no doubt that 2020 had many surprises prepared for the recruitment sector. The fact that unemployment rates and financial constraints are higher than the living memory has known is no news anymore. Additionally, the BLM movement adds further pressure on employers to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace. Is there a way you can make lemonade out of this?

Well, more applicants means access to more talent; and the pressure to ensure fair recruitment means that you’ll end up forming a more diverse team. This can be easily achieved with the right cognitive ability test, so read further to see how exactly this could save you money and time, while bringing in top talent to your organization.

What is cognitive ability?

Cognitive ability involves reasoning, planning, problem solving, learning pace, and abstract thinking. It has been consistently associated with better job performance, particularly on highly demanding positions,[1] thus measuring it provides a clear indicator of the candidates that will bring the most value to your organization, among a pool of highly skilled applicants.

Choosing the right assessment among the myriad available could affect your organization’s entire direction. When reviewing different assessment providers’ offerings, bear in mind that these should prove a palpable, defensible measure of candidates’ cognitive ability – and not a measure of their English language skills or numeric ability, for instance. Their question samples should give you a good idea of what to expect from the real assessment. You don’t have to be an assessment professional to evaluate an assessment provider’s professionalism. We’ve compiled a list of the factors you should consider, using a selected item from Questionmark’s cognitive ability test, QM Thinking Skills.

1. Do questions include all the information needed to answer correctly without being confusing?

Each well written question can be broken down into smaller parts. If you want to check that the assessment you’re reviewing has enough information for the candidate to obtain their best score, you should start by deconstructing questions as shown. It’s equally important that there’s not too muchinformation either. You also want to be able to demonstrate that there’s a clear logical path to reaching the correct answer, and that it is the only viable option. Not meeting these standards can jeopardize the validity, reliability, and defensibility of the entire assessment, which can turn against you.

Deconstructing a question

2. What degree of understanding is required from the candidate?

High-responsibility positions are not just about learning the right information, but also about being able to work with it and, crucially – to critically evaluate it. For example, if you were looking to employ an IT support representative, the ideal candidate should demonstrate complex problem-solving skills and be able to employ it at all levels of sophistication. Their job may involve new challenges where the solutions they’ve previously learned won’t work, in which case they’ll have to analyse the problem and its causes, create a new solution and apply it.

The question shown here tests critical thinking. In order to answer correctly, the candidate must carefully analyze the item stimulus and understand the rationale behind the argument contained in it. The question stimulus is clearly emphasizing a correlation between the use of social media and business revenue growth, but the test-taker must criticize the argument by outlining the flaw: Correlation does not imply causation. Have you identified the right answer yet?

3. Are they workplace relevant?

You are recruiting for real-life situations, so it only makes sense that your test should be realistic. Dozens of so-called IQ tests ask candidates to choose ‘the missing piece of the puzzle’ or to ‘continue the sequence’ in a string of numbers that looks rather random. What does it really mean to score highly on such a test?[2]

It’s a good idea to find an assessment that can be generalized. The question above doesn’t only test the candidate’s ability to identify flaws in an argument, but also their readiness to apply it in a debate on the efficiency of social media marketing. Other workplace-relevant skills you could evaluate through such a test include identifying similarities in patterns of data, assessing the impact of new or additional evidence, and finding the solution to a problem where there are no obvious answers. A well-rounded assessment will not test intelligence in isolation from the environment.[3] Cognitive ability is only valuable to your organization if it can be applied in a variety of tasks that a high-level position may involve.

The future of recruitment will see more automatized tasks that streamline work and provide decision-makers with appropriate data for making objective, well-informed judgments. This guide was compiled along the lines of our assessment development procedure, employed in creating Questionmark assessments. The question shown above was selected from QM Thinking Skills, a cognitive ability test published in partnership with Cambridge Assessment, the official examination provider of University of Cambridge.

If you’d like to learn more about how QM Thinking Skills could be the key to your recruitment process, please book a demo today.


[1] Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Why g matters: The complexity of everyday life. Intelligence24, 79-132.

[2] Richardson, K. (2002). What IQ tests test. Theory & Psychology12, 283-314.
Te Nijenhuis, J., Voskuijl, O.F. and Schijve, N.B. (2001), Practice and Coaching on IQ Tests: Quite a Lot of . International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 9, 302-308. doi:10.1111/1468-2389.00182
Martschenko, Daphne (30 January 2018). The IQ test wars: Why screening for intelligence is still so controversial, Independent. Retrieved from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/the-iq-test-wars-why-screening-for-intelligence-is-still-so-controversial-a8179176.html

[3] Ryan, A. M., Inceoglu, I., Bartram, D., Golubovich, J., Reeder, M., Derous, E., … & Yao, X. (2015). Trends in testing: Highlights of a global survey. In Employee recruitment, selection, and assessment: Contemporary issues for theory and practice (pp. 136-153). Psychology Press.

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