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Problem Solving and Thinking Skills Assessments

21 Oct 2022

Questionmark published the Thinking Skills assessment to help customers identify high-potential candidates regardless of their educational and professional background. The test puts the candidates through a time-bound challenge that will probe their problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to reflect critically on complex statements. They must answer 50 multiple-choice questions that illustrate typical problems that may arise in a business environment within 90 minutes.

Thinking Skills

What is included in our Cambridge Assessment?

The test was designed to evaluate the critical thinking and problem-solving facets of general mental ability. Every item exposes the candidate to a new context. The questions designed to test critical thinking are more likely to be long-winded in nature; those targeting problem-solving tend to rely on visual displays of information, such as diagrams, tables, and graphs. The difficulty varies across items, with the more accessible ones being presented at the beginning of the test.

Thanks to being hosted on the Questionmark platform, the delivery process can benefit from exclusive features that are tailored to each organization’s needs. The candidate profiles can be set up in the system to reflect the hierarchy and attributes that the test administrator wants to keep track of and report on. Where the stakes are high, the organization may enable security and/or monitoring options, such as locking down the device or having the candidates proctored while taking the test. Customers may also design their own report templates, drawing upon the filters, parameters, and data that’s most relevant to them.

How can you use the problem-solving test?


One of the most obvious applications of the Thinking Skills assessment pertains to employment. In a crowded, chaotic labor market, assessments become an indispensable tool that cuts through the noise to reveal aspects of people’s thinking and behavior that are otherwise hidden until a much later and less appropriate time. The Thinking Skills assessment in particular, helps identify top performers among a large pool of candidates.

When is the best time in the recruitment process to use this test?

Due to its length and difficulty, the Thinking Skills test is best applied during the later stages of recruitment. It requires a fairly strong commitment to finish (i.e., maintaining attention for 90 minutes,) therefore it may be best suited for candidates who have already demonstrated high motivation for the job throughout the previous stages of screening. The test will likely be a reliable tool for identifying fine differences in thinking of otherwise similar candidates, though it is highly recommended that this not be the only factor contributing to hiring or firing decisions.

Selecting applicants for university courses

For the same reasons expressed above, the Thinking Skills test is an equally powerful device for screening applicants in higher education settings. It has been successfully implemented both as an entrance exam for popular courses, as well as a selection tool for scholarship applicants. Cognitive ability has been consistently shown through research to predict both academic and job performance[i], though it’s not the only factor to be taken into consideration when institutions are looking to predict academic drop-out.

Upskilling your workforce

Since general cognitive ability is a strong predictor of success, it is reasonable to expect it to be valuable for internal recruitment and upskilling. Candidates for positions that require new responsibilities are expected to have a fair degree of flexibility, which translates into the ability to learn quickly and act confidently in their new roles. A new environment will inevitably bring about new challenges, and a candidate’s capacity to navigate these challenges successfully can be tested competently by simulating complex problems under pressure, such as those exposed by the Thinking Skills assessment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I tailor the assessment to include my company logo and color palette?

Yes, our platform comprises a great range of tools that enable you to customize the experience to reflect the look and feel of your organization’s brand.

How are the tests designed?

The test items have been created by subject matter experts and calibrated over the years based on feedback from applicants and careful review of the psychometric performance of each item. Its theoretical foundation is underpinned by robust and rigorous research into the psychological factors associated with cognitive performance.

Can I customize the assessment with my own questions?

If the current format does not conform fully to your expectations, please let us know. However, making unauthorized changes to the test, including but not limited to adding/removing questions, may reduce the overall validity of the tool and conflict with the intellectual rights protecting it.

What support can I expect?

Questionmark can support you throughout the entire process of purchasing and delivering the assessment. You can find answers to your questions by navigating our knowledge base and support site, or by asking your account manager. If you face more complex issues, our technical support representatives will be at hand by LiveChat, email, or by phone.

What is a problem-solving test?

Problem-solving is a facet of what we commonly refer to as ‘intelligence’ – cognitive ability. It is cognitive processing directed at achieving a goal when no solution method is obvious to the problem solver[i]. The Thinking Skills assessment breaks down the problem-solving ability into numerical and spatial reasoning, presenting candidates with a set of unfamiliar situations that resemble common problems faced in a variety of work settings and prompting them to generate a solution. These come in one of three question types:

  1. Identifying a pattern and making the relevant selection that matches it.
  2. Finding the most appropriate procedures to navigate an abstract challenge.
  3. Identifying similarities across the information they are given.

Example of a problem-solving question:

What are some examples of problem-solving skills?

Complex problems come in all shapes and sizes in everyday life, as well as at work. A simple example from our daily lives is planning a holiday. We know roughly the result we want to derive from it – to recharge physically and mentally by disconnecting from our usual surroundings. But several factors need to be taken into consideration, some of which might even change along the way.

One needs to know first how to define the problem. As Einstein once famously said:

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

Defining questions might include things like -what is the holiday destination?’ or ‘what sort of experience would help us detach from our everyday worries most effectively?’ Next, you would consider the variables, taking into account who else is joining, and what they enjoy doing. There might also be some fixed parameters to take into account as well, including the dates available for holidays or budget constraints. Once all of this information has been collected and decided, the information would need to be organized in order to create something new: the holiday plan.

What is the format of the assessment?

The Thinking Skills assessment comes with 50 questions to be answered within 90 minutes. Before taking the test, the candidates are presented with an introductory screen and two sample questions to help accustom them to the test format. Half of the questions draw on critical thinking, and the other half solicit problem-solving skills. The critical-thinking part is largely based on text, while problem-solving questions would often present data as tables, charts, figures, and numbers.

At the end of the test, the test administrator has the option to allow the participants to see their results and have them compared with the results of other candidates. However, to prevent intellectual property leaks and infringes, the candidates won’t be allowed to see the items again and learn which questions they’ve answered wrongly. Only the test administrator may have access to this information.

What do candidates need to prepare for this test?

The Thinking Skills test draws upon knowledge and skills that the candidates already possess and have probably used extensively in school: number concepts, numerical operations, measuring quantities and space, spatial reasoning, generalization, and working with tables and graphs.

More exactly:

  • simple fractions
  • place value (for example, knowing that the ‘5’ in ‘7654’ indicates ’50’)
  • ideas about percentages (for example, the idea that 1% could be thought of as ‘1 in every 100’, and that if 20% of a group of adults are men, 80% must be women).
  • the four rules of numbers (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
  • percentage operations (for example, if something was sold at £10, and is now advertised at ‘20% off’, how much would the customer pay?)
  • calculations in everyday contexts (complex calculations with fractions and decimals are not required).
  • time and the calendar
  • money
  • measures as shown below:
LengthWeightAreaVolume (capacity)
Kilometer (km) Meter (m) Centimeter (cm) Millimeter (mm)Kilogram (kg) Gram (g)Centimeter square (cm2) Metre square (m2)Cubic centimeter Liter (l) Gallon

Can the test be done online?

The test can only be taken online. It is displayed in a digital format using the Questionmark platform, and the results are stored in Questionmark’s database unless otherwise agreed with the test administrator.

Delivering the test on our platform allows you to customize the experience to your organization’s requirements. Customizations include deciding the dates you’d like to make it available to participants, adjusting the number of attempts available to them, allowing additional time to complete it, or enabling them to pause it and resume later.

How does Questionmark prevent online candidates from cheating on tests?

Our platform also offers test administrators features that enhance the security of their test sessions. One step up from the typical delivery settings are the Questionmark Secure Browser options, which lock down any other online activities and programs during testing. An even further measure can be enabled through automated proctoring, where the testing session is recorded on video and analyzed by AI for potential anomalies that could indicate cheating attempts (e.g. unexpected sounds or a second person on the video frame). These issues are then flagged in the system, waiting to be reviewed by a real person appointed by the test administrator.

Can this test be combined with other assessments?

Yes, you can definitely deliver this test as part of a range of assessments. Without interrupting the testing session, once the candidate finishes one test, the system can branch them toward a new activity, such as an integrity test or a feedback survey.

i. Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. (2004). General mental ability in the world of work: occupational attainment and job performance. Journal of personality and social psychology86, 162.
ii. Alexander, P. A., & Winne, P. H. (2012). Handbook of educational psychology. Routledge.

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