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It’s no secret that employers are increasingly looking for candidates with strong numeracy skills. Numeracy skills are critical for making informed decisions, solving problems, and effectively managing resources in a wide range of industries, from finance and engineering to data analysis and science.

However, HR practitioners and hiring managers simply can’t rely on interviews alone to measure numerical reasoning, and instead require more specialised assessments. As such, pre-employment maths tests have become a popular tool for screening candidates and identifying those with the necessary skills and abilities to succeed in these roles.

In this article, we will explore the importance of numeracy skills in the workplace and why pre-employment maths tests have become an increasingly important tool for HR practitioners.

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What are Numeracy Skills?

Numeracy skills, also known as numerical reasoning, refer to an individual's ability to understand, analyse, and use numbers in real-world situations. In the context of the workplace, numeracy skills are essential for making informed decisions, solving problems, and effectively managing resources. A lack of numeracy skills can lead to poor financial decision-making, inaccurate record-keeping, and costly mistakes.

Numeracy skills are particularly important in industries that require the use of numbers, such as finance, engineering, manufacturing, and data analysis. In these fields, professionals must have a solid understanding of mathematics, including basic arithmetic, percentages, fractions, and decimals. They must also be able to interpret data and communicate numerical information to others in a clear and concise manner.

Numeracy skills are particularly important in industries that require the use of numbers, such as finance, engineering, manufacturing, and data analysis.

One of the key components of numeracy skills is financial literacy. This refers to an individual's understanding of financial concepts, such as budgeting, saving, investing, and debt management. In the workplace, financial literacy is critical for making informed decisions about investments, pricing strategies, and budget allocations. It is also important for individuals to be able to read and understand financial statements, such as balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements.

Numerical reasoning is also essential for solving problems. In the workplace, employees are often faced with complex problems that require analytical thinking and mathematical reasoning. Individuals with strong numeracy skills are able to break down complex problems into smaller components, identify patterns, and develop solutions using quantitative methods.

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Why Numerical Reasoning Matters in Recruitment

In the context of recruitment, numerical reasoning is important because it helps employers identify candidates who possess the skills and abilities necessary to perform well in a role that requires a strong understanding of mathematics. Numerical reasoning is particularly important in industries where individuals must be able to work with numerical data and make informed decisions based on that data. As a result, employers often use pre-employment maths tests, also known as numerical reasoning tests, to screen candidates for these types of roles.

These maths tests are designed to assess an individual's ability to work with numbers in a variety of contexts. Using maths tests to screen candidates can be an effective way for employers to ensure that they are hiring individuals with the necessary skills and abilities to succeed in a particular role. For example, a company that is looking to hire a financial analyst might use a maths test to assess candidates' likely ability to perform financial calculations, analyse financial data, and make informed decisions based on that data.

"Maths tests can also help to level the playing field for candidates from diverse backgrounds."

- Ben Schwencke

Candidates who have not had the same educational opportunities as others may have a harder time demonstrating their abilities in an interview setting. However, a maths test can provide a more objective assessment of their skills and abilities, allowing them to showcase their strengths and potentially secure a role they may have otherwise been overlooked for.

Lastly, numerical reasoning is a powerful indicator of a person's overall cognitive ability.Numerical reasoning, alongside verbal reasoning and inductive reasoning, are essential facets of overall cognitive ability which are commonly used in employee selection. Research shows that cognitive ability is the strongest predictor of job performance known, and although numerical reasoning tests are useful predictors of performance in their own right, their inclusion in a test battery enhances their predictive validity.

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What roles require numeracy skills?

Numeracy skills are required in a wide range of roles across various industries, from entry-level positions to senior executive roles. Some specific roles that require high numeracy skills include:

  • 1. Accountant: Accountants must be able to work with financial data, analyse financial statements, and understand tax laws and regulations.
  • 2. Engineer: Engineers must be able to apply mathematical principles and calculations to design and analyse structures, systems, and processes.
  • 3. Data Analyst: Data analysts must be able to collect and analyse large data sets using statistical methods and software tools.
  • 4. Actuary: Actuaries must be able to analyse statistical data to calculate risk and predict future events, particularly in the insurance industry.
  • 5. Research Scientist: Scientists must be able to use mathematical and statistical methods to analyse and interpret data from experiments, observations, and simulations.
  • 6. Economist: Economists must be able to use mathematical and statistical models to analyse and forecast economic trends and behaviour.

While these roles require a high level of numeracy skills, it is important to note that numeracy skills are required in virtually all roles to some extent. For example, even in a role such as a customer service representative, an individual may need to perform basic calculations, such as calculating discounts or processing payments. In a marketing role, individuals may need to analyse sales data or calculate return on investment. Furthermore, numeracy skills are essential for many aspects of everyday life, from managing personal finances to understanding health information. As such, it is important for individuals to develop and maintain their numeracy skills throughout their lives.

Maths tests, which are designed to measure numeracy skills, can be used to predict job performance to some extent in any role.This is because numeracy skills are fundamental to many aspects of work, from interpreting data to making informed decisions. While maths tests may be more predictive in roles that require a high level of numeracy skills, they can still provide valuable information for any role. Additionally, as partial measures of overall cognitive ability, pre-employment maths tests should predict performance in roles that require no numeracy skills at all. However, HR practitioners may struggle to justify the inclusion of a maths test when recruiting for these roles, and are therefore more likely to measure other cognitive abilities instead.

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How do Pre-Employment Maths Tests Work?

From a candidate's perspective, pre-employment maths tests typically involve a timed online assessment that includes a series of multiple-choice questions related to numerical reasoning. The test may be administered at an assessment centre or remotely, depending on the company's requirements. Candidates will need to read and interpret data presented in various formats, such as tables, graphs, and charts, and use numerical calculations to solve problems.

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It is important for candidates to prepare for these tests by reviewing basic mathematical concepts such as percentages, ratios, and fractions, and practicing working with data sets and interpreting graphs and charts. Practice tests are also available online, which can help candidates to familiarise themselves with the format and types of questions that they may encounter in the real test.

From an HR practitioner's perspective, pre-employment maths tests can be used to screen large numbers of candidates efficiently and objectively.

The tests can be tailored to the specific job requirements, allowing employers to assess candidates' ability to work with numerical data in the context of the role. Additionally, the tests can provide an objective and standardised measure of candidates' abilities, allowing for fair and equitable assessments across the applicant pool.

Pre-employment maths tests are almost always administered online via a third-party psychometric testing platform. Using these platforms, HR practitioners can send out invitations, monitor candidates' progress, and access results upon completion. These platforms are commonly integrated with applicant tracking systems (ATSs), further increasing the ease of use. Therefore, when choosing a psychometric testing provider, HR practitioners should consider both the quality of the assessments and the platform itself, along with any potential integrations available with ATSs.

Lastly, to ensure that these tests are valid and reliable measures of numerical reasoning, it is important for HR practitioners to choose tests that have been validated and standardised for use in the relevant industry or job role. It is also important to ensure that the tests are administered fairly and equitably, and that candidates are given appropriate support and accommodations if needed. They should also avoid negatively impacting legally protected groups via bias or adverse impact, and the assessment provider should provide research evidence supporting this. If they are unable to provide evidence of fairness, you should strongly consider seeking a new provider, protecting the organisation from accusations of bias or unfair hiring practices.

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Best Practices for using Pre-Employment Maths Tests

When using pre-employment maths tests in the recruitment process, there are several best practices that HR practitioners should follow to ensure fair and effective use of these tests.

  • 1. Choose cut-scores beforehand: When using maths tests to screen candidates, it is important to set clear pass marks or minimum scores for each test. This should be based on the specific job requirements and the level of numeracy skills required for the role. Alternatively, if you are expecting a high volume of candidates, or are conducting a high volume recruiting HR practitioners can set particularly high pass marks, ensuring only the highest potential candidates pass. By setting clear pass marks early in the process, HR practitioners can minimise the time and effort required to make selection decisions, while also minimising the potential for bias.
  • 2. Set a fixed deadline: It is important to set deadlines for candidates to complete the test, and to ensure that all candidates are given the same amount of time to complete the test. This ensures that all candidates are assessed under the same conditions, making the assessment process fair and objective. As a general rule, we advise against setting deadlines at weekends, allowing candidates to reach out during working hours if they have questions or concerns.
  • 3. Combine with other tests: It is important to combine maths tests with other types of assessments, such as verbal reasoning, logical reasoning, and behavioural assessments. This provides a more comprehensive evaluation of candidates' abilities and potential and allows HR practitioners to make well-informed recruitment decisions. Using multiple assessments also reduces the likelihood of bias or unfairness in the selection process.
  • 4. Use these assessments early: Pre-employment maths tests should be used as early in the recruitment process as possible, as this allows HR practitioners to screen a larger number of candidates efficiently and effectively. By using maths tests early in the process, HR practitioners can quickly identify candidates who do not meet the required standards, saving time and resources later in the recruitment process. This also saves considerable time for unsuccessful candidates, deselecting them before they can waste any more time on their application.
  • 5. Use item banked tests: When testing candidates remotely, it is essential that maths tests have item banks. When you give the exact same questions to every candidate, you almost guarantee that some candidates will cheat, downloading or uploading the questions in order to expose the content. Instead, by using assessments which employ item banks, you ensure each candidate gets a unique set of questions, minimising the risk of item exposure.
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Can Numerical Reasoning be Improved?

Numerical reasoning, like other cognitive skills, is a complex ability that involves a combination of innate abilities, learning experiences, and practice. While certain mathematical skills can be improved through practice and training, a person's overall ability in numerical reasoning is largely innate and unchangeable. This means that numerical reasoning itself is incredibly difficult to change and should be considered largely immutable.

Although changing a person's numerical reasoning may be extremely difficult, improving their scores on maths tests themselves is still possible. Practicing basic mathematical concepts, such as arithmetic, can help individuals to improve their speed and accuracy in numerical calculations, which can be beneficial for performance in numerical reasoning tests. This is particularly true if they struggled with mathematics at school or simply never invested the time to understand basic mathematical concepts.

Moreover, practicing numerical reasoning tests can help individuals to develop test-taking strategies and reduce test anxiety, which can help them to avoid silly mistakes and perform better overall. For example, learning to read and interpret data accurately, and practicing how to approach different types of questions can help to improve performance in numerical reasoning tests. Proper practice and preparation is therefore essential, particularly for anxious test-takers, helping to calm their nerves and allowing them to perform to the best of their abilities in the live assessment.

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Final Thoughts

Pre-employment maths tests are commonly used and highly effective selection tools, making them essential for HR practitioners and hiring leaders. However, not all maths tests are created equal, and many are simply not worth using, regardless of their cost. For example, maths tests that use a fixed set of questions, haven't undergone adverse impact analysis, or have no evidence of reliability or validity, should never be used in employee selection. Not only are they unlikely to identify top performers, but they could harbour bias against candidates from legally protected groups, putting the organisation at risk.

Test Partnership uses cutting-edge psychometric research to guarantee the reliability, validity, and fairness of our assessments.

Our numerical reasoning tests boast large item banks, ensuring that each candidate receives a unique set of questions. They have undergone extensive reliability, validity, and fairness testing, supporting their use in employee selection. Lastly, they are trusted by thousands of organisations worldwide, with thousands of candidates completing them every day. For more information on our numerical reasoning tests, feel free to check out our Insights Numerical Reasoning project page, or get in touch with us directly to arrange a consultation.

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