Placement Search – Lewis Nicholas

Trying to get an industrial placement is a challenging, yet highly rewarding journey that many students at LUMS will choose to go on during the course of their studies. The first step in this journey is, of course, doing your research and submitting some applications. Once you’ve successfully completed this stage – and congratulations if you have – you’re highly likely to be asked to undergo some form of online aptitude testing. This can be one of the most daunting and unfamiliar aspects of the application process, with tough questions requiring you to re-engage with skills you may not have used for some time, and the pressure of time limits looming over you. I’m happy to say I’ve made it through this process- very much alive, and with placement offers to boot. With that in mind, in this blog, I’ll be offering some tips on how to tackle those all-important online tests and get through to the next stage of the application process.

Aptitude tests come in many forms but are generally composed of some combination of numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, and situational judgement. You’re likely to be given a set time-frame in which to complete these tests, becoming familiar with the type of questions you’re likely to be asked is an extremely useful way of preparing for them.

Numerical reasoning was by far the most difficult type of testing for me. Numbers aren’t my strong point – but knowing how to interpret and manipulate them is a skill that will be required to some extent in any industrial placement. Although you’ll never know quite what sort of questions you’ll be asked until you bite the bullet and take the test, two particular subject areas were present in all the numerical reasoning tests I undertook: ratios and percentages. If you’re anything like me, GSCE Maths will be but a distant memory: so it’s vital that you re-familiarise yourself with how to interpret and calculate percentages and ratios. Time limits are generally tough, so practicing these kinds of questions to improve your efficiency is advisable. Fortunately, there are countless online resources – many of them are free – that will allow you to do just this. One more piece of advice which goes without saying: have a pen, paper, and a calculator to hand when you’re attempting them!

Verbal reasoning and situational judgement tests may seem less technical than their numerical counterparts, but preparation here won’t go amiss. Often employers will present you with a set of information and data relating to a problem that could arise on the job you’re applying for. For example, making recommendations on how to market a new product, or how best to deal with a workplace dispute. Again, the time you take to provide a response is likely to be monitored – so the key skill with these questions is to be able to sort through which information is relevant and important, and which is superfluous and can be discarded. Don’t let time limits spook you, however, what is equally important is that you read and understand the question properly. Take your time to understand what specifically you are meant to be looking for. This will save you from traipsing aimlessly through reams of graphs and description, allowing you to zero in on the relevant points. Look for nuances in the language used to properly understand what is being communicated: looking out for subtleties and nuances in wording is key.

Typically, you may be asked to rank possible courses of action from most to least desirable. Again, picking up on subtleties in wording is essential. Two courses of action may seem on the surface to be the same: but does one of them more closely conform to the language of the organisation’s aims and values? This too is a key point: what is being tested here is not just your reasoning and communication skills, but your knowledge of how the company operates and what it’s trying to achieve. As ever, research and preparation is the order of the day, and doing that extra bit of Googling beforehand may be what pushes you over the line.

Finally, employers are increasingly choosing to eschew traditional testing techniques in favour of ‘gamification’ approaches. Such tests are exactly as they sound: taking the form of games rather than the dryer, more traditional methods. In this sense, they’re more like Mario Kart than maths exams. Sadly, the similarities to Mario Kart end there: you are still being tested and monitored. Unlike the other forms of testing, gamified tests are constructed deliberately to be tough to prepare for. Indeed, it’s often unclear when you’re taking such tests what exactly you’re being tested on. The only possible approach is to just be yourself and play the games how you would play them if you weren’t being tested. Looking to play them in the ‘right’ way is a fruitless exercise. This is supposed to make the tests fairer: with your performance giving a clear indication of what sort of person you are and how you’d respond in any given situation. The profile of you, attained from your results will then be measured against the profile of the ideal employee the company is looking for. Personally, I found these approaches somewhat frustrating: not least because the companies’ assessments of my character didn’t seem to match up with the reality (having a computer call you ‘irrational’ can be hurtful you know), but gamification is increasingly the norm amongst large employers, so it’s useful to familiarise yourself with it.

The general advice I’d offer for all of the various types and combinations of tests is the same as for any other aspect of the application process: research and prepare as much as you possibly can beforehand – both in terms of the company and the content of the tests. Make sure you’re awake, alert, and free of distraction before taking the tests. Time is of the essence and losing sight of this will result in failure. Equally, however, don’t rush or panic: only by remaining calm will you make sound judgements and properly understand what the question is asking of you.

Aptitude tests can be stressful, but with practice, you’ll soon get the hang of them. They’re designed to be challenging, and this shouldn’t be disheartening: I can safely say that I thought I failed most of the tests I undertook, due to being unsure about answers and even skipping some questions. Most of the time, I was wrong about this! Total perfection and a 100% pass rate won’t be required. Tests and exams are inherently daunting, but they’re not impossible: after all, it’s only by passing tests in the past that you will have gotten into university. Try and bear that in mind, and don’t take it to heart if the computer programme assessing your performance says that there are things you could improve on!

Read Lewis’s first placement blog here.