Ten tips for tackling online application tests

More and more employers are relying upon online tests to help them sift through the thousands of applicants and select the best and the brightest. The type of online test will vary depending on the employer, from relatively straight-forward competency-based questions to more esoteric personality tests.

Often, the key to success in these tests is having an awareness of what to expect. Thankfully, we're here to offer our ten best tips to ensure you don't put a foot wrong...

1. Know what to expect

Prospective employers should provide you with fairly extensive information about what each online test will involve so make sure you go over this information before you start. If you're still unsure what the test will be asking you, get in touch with a HR contact at the employer and politely ask for more information.

2. Don't pester or panic

While it is a wise move to gain as much information about the tests as possible from the employer, don't go overboard and ask so many questions your actions verge on harassment. Similarly, don't take to the internet in search for advice from other people who have taken the test and repeatedly message them for information. Behaviour like this reflects poorly on you and will also increase your stress levels.

3. Do your research

Depending on the test you're taking, it might be possible to revise particular concepts ahead of time which may prove to be useful. Even if you feel there isn't any obvious revision you can do, it's a good idea to read up on the employer and be aware of their philosophy and values. Having this information in mind means you can tackle any "problem-solving" questions from the perspective of an employee rather than an applicant.

4. Give the test all your attention

Students can multitask on a computer like nobody else. It might be tempting to take the online test while listening to music, checking Facebook, reading your favourite Buzzfeed articles and playing a video game but chances are all those distractions are going to have a negative impact on your test performance. It's boring but impose test conditions on yourself and work your way through the questions in silence.

5. Be somewhere comfortable

As well as cutting yourself off from external distractions, make sure when you start the test you're in a location you're happy to stay in for the next couple of hours. Taking the test in a university library or on an unplugged laptop with only one hour of battery life might mean you have to cut the test short, potentially damaging your score.

6. Have a sense of timing

Most online tests will give you an allocated amount of time to complete the test and let you know how many questions you'll face. Use this information to calculate how long you should be spending on each question to ensure you don't have to rush towards the end. If your test is untimed, it's still important not to dwell too long on particular questions as the employer will still be able to see how long you took on each question and being overly hesitant is unlikely to impress.

7. Don't over-think things

Not every question you face will have a clear right or wrong answer, particularly on personality tests. In these instances, avoid falling into the trap of answering how you think the employer wants you to answer and just be honest to yourself. Recruiters tend to be pretty good at telling when someone is trying to game the system.

8. Nothing wrong with guessing

If you find a particular question too tough to tackle, have the courage to guess an answer. Even if you're way off-base, it will still be better than not putting an answer at all, particularly if you can demonstrate your reasoning. However, there is an exception to this: if incorrect answers are negatively marked, it's probably best to err on the side of caution and not give an answer.

9. Maintain focus

Completing an online test can be a long and arduous process, but whatever you do, don't let your attention wander towards the end. As you approach the final questions the temptation to race through them as quickly as possible and return to the outside world can be overwhelming. Resist this, and ensure you apply yourself to every question as if it's the first one you've faced.

10. Check your answers!

This really should have been drummed into you by now, especially as you've probably been taking exams since you were seven years old. It's extra-important when writing your answers online as all too often a stray keystroke can alter an answer, throwing an extra zero in where it's unwanted or turning a sentence into incomprehensible gobbledygook. Error-strewn answers are unlikely to impress recruiters.

Recommended reading

Don't forget you have free, expert advice on hand at university in the form of your careers service. We've put together these five tips to help you make the most of this underused resource.

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