Everything you Need to Know About Cognitive Aptitude Tests

‘Cognitive Aptitude Test’… three scary words that can really get in the way of your dream job or course, right?

Wrong! A cognitive aptitude test is a fantastic opportunity to show that you can succeed in the role or course you’re applying for.  

If you receive a request to complete a CAT, don’t panic – here’s everything you need to know. 

What is a Cognitive Aptitude Test?

The name ‘Cognitive Aptitude Test’ (CAT) seems a bit fancy and complicated, but it’s just a test that measures your general mental ability. 

‘Cognitive’ means anything related to mental activities, such as thinking, imagining, using language, remembering, displaying judgement and reasoning.

A CAT test usually takes about 10-30 minutes, and you can complete it digitally or using a pen and paper. The test is used to show your abilities in the following areas:

  • Short-term memory: Your ability to retain information to complete new tasks.
  • Information processing: How well you process information to make decisions. 
  • Processing speed: How quickly you make decisions about the information in front of you.
  • Numerical ability and reasoning: Your ability to work with numbers and simple maths (like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and use this data to make decisions and reach conclusions. 
  • Spatial awareness and space visualisation: Your ability to visualise and manipulate space by working with 2D and 3D shapes. 
  • Logical ability: Your problem-solving and analytical skills. 
  • Verbal and reading ability: Your reading comprehension and communication skills, and your ability to express thoughts in the form of words. 

Why Would you Need to do a Cognitive Aptitude Test?

An employer/college/university might ask you to do a cognitive aptitude test to help them judge your suitability for the position. It helps them to understand things about you, such as:

  • General intelligence
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Decision-making skills
  • Time management skills 

Keep in mind that a CAT isn’t the end of the world, and it won’t necessarily make or break your chances of getting accepted. There are many other factors that make up your application, including:

  • CV
  • Cover letter
  • Interview
  • Soft skills
  • Hard skills
  • Personality and traits
  • Work experience
  • Academic experience

What Does a Cognitive Aptitude Test Include?

A CAT includes approximately 20-50 questions with different types of questions in a random order. Although the types of questions vary depending on the test provider, you can expect to see:

  • Numerical reasoning questions: You need to calculate the right answer using maths formulae and operations like addition and division. 
  • Spatial reasoning questions: You will use skills like identifying sequences and recognising patterns, shapes and colours. 
  • Verbal reasoning questions: These questions involve reading sentences or passages and extracting the correct information, figuring out what a word means, or understanding how words relate to one another. 
  • Logical reasoning questions: You will be presented with information or data. You’ll need to read, understand and interpret it to find the correct answers. Logical reasoning questions often involve verbal and numerical reasoning skills. 

Are Cognitive Ability Tests Hard?

The short answer is… yes!

CATs are designed to be challenging within a short time limit. These tests include multiple topics, each requiring you to demonstrate different skills. You’ll jump between subjects and skills frequently, which really puts your brain to work!

How to Prepare for a Cognitive Ability Test

Luckily, a quick Google search reveals loads of free CAT resources and example questions online for you to practice. Before you begin, read these tips.

Research the Exact Type of Test

Different companies use different cognitive aptitude tests. Don’t assume they’re all the same – research the exact type of test to find out:

  • What is the format of the test?
  • Are you expected to finish all the questions?
  • Is there a penalty for skipping questions?
  • How many questions are there?
  • What’s the time limit?
  • How many of each type of question appear on the test, e.g., verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, logical reasoning, etc?

Research and Understand Each Type of Question

We listed some of the types of CAT questions above. Research the test provider’s website to find out what types of questions appear on the CAT and how they recommend navigating them. Ensure you fully understand which skills you are expected to demonstrate for each type of question and familiarise yourself with the formats the questions will be in.   

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you know exactly what type of test you’ll be doing and what it includes, you should be able to find example questions on the test provider’s website or other sites. Here are some tips for effective practice:

  1. Practice some questions untimed. 
  2. Practice plenty of questions with a timer – be strict!
  3. Review your work and mark the test after to find out what you did wrong. 
  4. Practice in real test conditions, e.g., in a quiet room. 

Identify your Strengths and Weaknesses

Great at numerical reasoning but have a terrible memory? Don’t worry about it – everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and practicing plenty of tests will help you identify yours. Many CATs allow you to skip questions without penalties, so you can play to your strengths, skip the questions you’re not so good at, and focus on the ones you’re most likely to get right.

Don’t Stress Too Much

The cognitive ability test isn’t the only thing an employer/college/university will look at. However, it might be the deciding factor between advancing to the next stage of the application process. It’s extremely important to prepare appropriately for a CAT if you’re asked to take one, but remember that a 30-minute test doesn’t define you, your capabilities or your potential. If you miss the mark this time, it doesn’t mark the end of the road – there are loads of other jobs and courses out there that don’t require CAT tests. Plus, you can always start practicing again and have another go!

Jump Into Other Options

Got cold feet about completing a CAT? Most apprenticeship programmes don’t require applicants to complete a CAT, and you can accelerate your career path and earn while you learn. Why not check out a degree apprenticeship instead?