Selection tests

The use of tests can help to compare the candidate with the requirements of the job in a fair and objective way.

Most candidates want to present themselves in a favourable light in the interview and as a consequence, may become nervous, or exaggerate or overact. It is therefore advisable to look for other sources of information to support the claims made by candidates in interviews. Examination or qualification certificates, or references may be useful sources, but the objectivity of references is often questioned. Selection tests or exercises can provide evidence of whether a candidate does display the required abilities.

Selection tests should not be used as an alternative to the interview, but only as a supplement to it. If they are to be used candidates must be given notice of the test information about the nature of the test and how long it will take an opportunity to let you know if they have special requirements (such as equipment, access requirements, or additional time to accommodate a disability). Tests can unfairly discriminate against people with certain disabilities and you are advised to contact the Disability Adviser if you have any questions before setting up or administering the test.

When tests are used notes and other documentation relating to the test must be kept with the interview notes for 6 months after the selection.


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Skills test are used where candidates need to possess a particular skill in order to perform the job, eg word processing, use of software packages, prioritising workloads, driving a motor vehicle, or operating a piece of machinery or laboratory equipment. Such skills may have already been taught and/or tested by outside bodies, in which case candidates are likely to hold certificates in proficiency, but it is recommended that competency is checked by use of appropriate short skills tests such as:

  • “In tray” exercises, where a candidate is given a list of tasks that the role holder might face in an average day, and asked to prioritise them appropriately
  • Drafting a response to a letter or email, to demonstrate both attention to detail, interpersonal/written skills, and ability to use initiative
  • Problem solving tests, where a candidate is given a typical scenario and asked to describe (orally or in writing) how they would  deal with this problem.

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Presentations are often used to assess the qualities of candidates applying for posts which require a complex set of skills, together with specific professional/academic knowledge. By asking candidates to prepare and deliver a presentation on a given subject, and in some cases to participate in a discussion afterwards, selectors can see an example of the individual's skills of written and oral presentation, analysis and reasoning, as well as gaining some evidence of their professional/academic knowledge and of their attitudes.

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As with presentations, case studies can be a valuable way of assessing candidates' knowledge of a particular subject area, and their likely approach to handling a particular situation. This selection method is sometimes used for candidates for managerial posts, or for posts requiring knowledge of specific procedures, regulations or legislation.

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There are three main types of psychometric test:
•    Tests of ability, aptitude or intelligence
•    Questionnaires to measure 'personality'
•    Questionnaires to establish interests and preferences.

This is a complex subject area, and it is not possible here to summarise information about specific tests and their uses. Psychometric tests should have been tested using appropriate control groups and should be clearly relevant to the post. They must only be administered by a person qualified in the use of the type of test in question. For these reasons, they should not be used unless prior clearance has been obtained from University HR.

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Group selection methods are most frequently used to assess candidates' leadership qualities and their ability to express themselves clearly and get on with and influence colleagues.
The types of exercise which are used include:
•    Leaderless group discussions
•    Command or executive exercises (eg outward bound)
•    Group problem solving

Group exercises are time consuming and, therefore, costly. However, they may be particularly useful for appointments requiring good leadership and communication skills.

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An assessment centre is a standardised selection method which uses a variety of different tests, interviews and exercises to evaluate a candidate's potential performance in a particular post. The assessment centre programme usually spans several days during which time the participants are observed, and at the end of which they are given feedback on their performance. This selection method is extremely effective but costly. It is generally used when large numbers of candidates are being assessed.

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