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Find out how to prepare for a selection test or assessment centre.

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What are selection tests and assessment centres?

Assessment centres and selection tests form part of the extended recruitment process for many graduate positions, placements and internships. 

Selection tests (also known as psychometric tests) may be used during the initial interview process. They enable recruiters to narrow down the volume of applicants or to test candidates as part of an assessment day.

Assessment centres give employers the opportunity to assess large groups of candidates, seeing how they behave individually and as part of a group.

Get extra support

We can help you get ready for selection tests and your assessment centre by going through scenarios and giving pointers on how to prepare. You can book an appointment with a careers consultant using CareerHub or find us on Canvas.

You can also log in to Graduates First where you can practise a range of free aptitude tests, prepare for e-tray exercises, presentations, group discussions and case studies. Log in with your Sussex email address. Graduates will need to contact us for access. You can also see more practice selection tests in CareerHub.

Selection tests

Selection tests can take a variety of forms depending on the job role, but often include the following types.

  • Ability tests

    These tests measure skills such as numerical and verbal reasoning, spatial awareness and diagrammatical reasoning. They can be either online or using paper and pencil. They are often multiple choice questions and marked by a trained person or computer program and scored against norms. Tests are normally bought from specialist companies and the recruiter decides what the pass score is, depending on the role.

  • Personality questionnaires

    These provide information on an applicant’s personality style and assess whether a candidate has the personal qualities for the role. Different roles require different attributes. These tests are not timed and there are no right or wrong answers as companies are looking for a ‘fit’ in their candidates.

  • Situational judgement tests

    You’ll be asked questions about situations that might arise in the role and then marked against a set of responses that the ideal candidate would have. 

Tips for preparing for a selection test

Before the selection test, try to:

  • brush up on your maths like times tables, percentages, long multiplication
  • practise as much as you can under timed conditions to simulate the real thing – there are lots of examples online or in books
  • contact the employer beforehand if you require any special provisions or adjustments. 

During the test, try to:

  • work accurately and fast and be positive
  • avoid spending too long on questions you find difficult
  • go back to any blank answers (if you have time), but don’t worry if you don’t complete them all – it’s unlikely you will as many tests are designed not to be completed.

Assessment centres

Assessment centres are often held at an employer’s offices or at another location such as a training centre or conference centre. They usually last for one or two days. You will usually be asked to do the following while you are there: 

  • Social events

    This could be a lunch or a drinks reception. It’s often an opportunity to meet recent graduate recruits or senior staff members and ask them questions. While these social events are not formally assessed, the staff taking part will be asked for feedback on how you came across and how engaged you were. Think of some questions that you might like to ask during the social events. It’s a good opportunity to find out information about the company that isn’t obvious in the recruitment material.

  • Presentations

    You might be asked to prepare a presentation in advance on a given topic or one of your choice. Or you might be asked to create a presentation on the day, sometimes as feedback from a group exercise. If you have had advance notice of the presentation, make sure you practise your timings beforehand. Think about the content and pace of your presentation.

  • Group exercises

    Group exercises could include a discussion based on a current affairs issue, a career-related or organisational topic, or a case study. It’s important to remember that assessors are not assessing candidates against each other during group tasks, but against a set of criteria relating to the job. How you contribute is as important as what you contribute. Be involved in discussions. Try not to dominate unless you’ve been asked as a group to choose a leader, at which time you can volunteer if you feel this is a role you would like to take. Avoid interrupting other speakers, make your contributions short and relevant, and try not to speak over others.

  • Interviews

    Assessment centres might include an interview as part of the day. This could be a one-to-one interview with an HR representative or a senior member of staff, a panel interview or a technical interview. 

    Find out more about interviews and how to prepare.

  • In-tray or e-tray

    In-tray exercises are designed to simulate the situations you might encounter in the role. You’ll be given a pile of paperwork to read (or email correspondence for e-tray exercises) which might contain letters, phone messages, emails or internal documents. You’ll then be asked to prioritise and respond to the situation within a time limit.

Tips for preparing for an assessment centre 

Prepare well beforehand – research the organisation and role, and practise exercises you may be given.

On the day, try to:

  • demonstrate that you want the job and stay motivated throughout the day
  • be yourself and try to join in with activities as much as you can. During activities, try to ignore the observers and keep in mind that they’re assessing you against criteria and not other candidates
  • remember that you’re being observed from the moment you attend the centre until you leave, so be professional and engaged throughout your time there
  • speak clearly in interviews, presentations and group activities and maintain eye contact
  • dress as if you’re attending a formal interview
  • make sure you plan your journey and read instructions carefully.

Ask for reasonable adjustments if you need them

If you have a disability or long-term condition, you can request reasonable adjustments for an assessment centre so that you feel more comfortable and confident when attending.

Find out more about your disability rights.

More support

We have partnered with EmployAbility to provide students with disabilities and long-term health conditions with individualised advice and support. The EmployAbility team will also advocate for you with an employer to ensure you receive the adjustments you need.

See more from How to apply for a job