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Tests at interview can be divided into two broad categories: written and verbal. Written tests are generally either mathematical or linguistic - that is to say they test your numeracy or your ability to process written information. Verbal tests may measure your ability to think logically under pressure or your capacity to interact effectively with others in a group.
In interviews for law, consultancy and investment banks, it is fairly common to encounter a 'problem question'. This may come in the form of a few sheets of information for you to digest and process, or it may simply be a one or two sentence problem for you to untangle. These questions often derive from real situations encountered by your prospective firm, that have been distilled and sanitised for the purposes of interview, and you are expected to handle them verbally as a group exercise or alone in the presence of your interviewer.
Group exercises test your capacity to listen, co-operate and contribute as well as your powers of analysis. To this end make sure you are neither overly dominant, nor too shy. Be the first to ask for other people's views, support and build upon good ideas expressed by others, and aim to introduce structure to the debate by recapping points in logical order. Never interrupt, never be dismissive, and don't shout!
Problem questions ask you to identify variables and to construct rational methods of solution. An example of a problem that tests strategy and numeracy is: Estimate the average weekly gross profit of a London video store. The key to this dauntingly vague question lies in breaking it down into small, manageable chunks, and talking through your thought process at each stage. Begin by identifying variables - what are the costs, what are the main sources of income (rental, fines, sales of sweets, popcorn...), what is the population of the local catchment area, will there be a difference between weekend and weekday sales, etc. These tests aim to establish whether or not you can build your own framework in order to reach an answer.
Other problem questions give you a great deal of information, much of which may prove to be extraneous, and require you to summarise and draw appropriate conclusions from it in order to advise your client. Still others require you to process as much as 40 pages of information and transmit it to your interviewers as a five minute presentation. Whatever the format, the test is designed to measure your approach to an answer as much as your ability to get the right response.
Linguistic tests usually last about one hour and ask you to perform a number of different tasks - drawing conclusions, identifying assumptions, and evaluating the relative strength of arguments. Mathematical tests are often sat online as a filtering process for applicants before interview, and require candidates to interpret data and statistics as well as working out percentages and performing other basic numerical feats. These tests are generally timed multiple choice exercises. Sites like www.shldirect.com will give you access to practice papers so you can brush up your skills prior to taking the test. Jobs in commercial and investment banking, the civil service, and many other businesses now apply such filters, and several employers supplement online testing with their own mini exams sat without calculators at interview.
The bad news is that standardised tests are becoming more and more common as a hurdle in the applications process. The good news for quick candidates is that almost all the tests set require no outside knowledge of the subject, ultimately these tests are simply a means by which those with the most appropriate aptitudes for the job get it - make sure that you do not undersell your aptitudes through lack of preparation.
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