section one

What is Cognitive Ability?

Lead consultant at Test Partnership, Ben Schwencke, explains what is cognitive ability.

1:03 Quickly understand cognitive ability.

Cognitive ability, also known as general cognitive ability, can be defined as “a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience.” Cognitive ability is the primary driving force behind learning, problem solving, and decision making, and is thus associated with a wide range of important life outcomes.

As a psychological construct, cognitive ability is underpinned by a wide range of specific aptitudes, which collectively measure general cognitive ability. For example, cognitive ability tests may include specific aptitude assessments focusing on verbal, numerical, logical, spatial, and mechanical reasoning. In the educational / clinical space, an even wider range of aptitudes could be measured, including general knowledge, working memory, reaction times, and object assembly. This allows cognitive ability tests to capture the essence of general cognitive ability, maximising content validity and presenting a more holistic picture of a person’s cognitive potential.

Research shows that cognitive ability ranks among the strongest predictors of performance in the workplace comparable to well-designed structured interviews..

Schmidt & Hunter

Moreover, because cognitive ability tests are easily administered online, they are commonly used as early-stage sifting tools, helping to create high-quality short-lists. Due to their ease of use and their significant predictive validity, cognitive ability tests are often used at the very first stage of the recruitment process, minimising the administrative burden placed on HR staff and hiring managers.