Deep and devious tips for getting through the numerical tests

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If you want to get onto a graduate scheme in a bank, the numerical test is in your way like rude rhino: you need to kill it, or you'll be going nowhere.

These days, most banks have tests. You fill out the application form. You upload your CV and are invited to complete one online. Sometimes the invite comes immediately, sometimes it comes later. Sometimes you'll need to wait for a full month before it happens.

The tests usually last 20-25 minutes and involve 18-25 questions. Time is the biggest issue: the questions are tough; completing them in a maximum of 25 minutes can be impossible.

There are elements of commonality: expect a table of data and a graph or chart. Expect to be asked up to four questions based on that data set. For example: "Which company has the greatest profit to assets ratio?"

Ensure you know this basic maths in advance

If you're going to succeed, you'll need to know the basics: ratios, percentages, averages and how to perform seemingly simple mathematical operations with large numbers. If you don't, don't bother.

Linear vs. non-linear and time management

When you start your test, the first thing you need to establish is whether you have to work through the questions in a linear fashion, or whether you can choose which ones to complete first. In my experience, this varies: Kinexia's tests allow you to skip through the questions, SHL is more domineering - you complete the test in the given order no going back.

If you can determine the order in which you answer the questions, preview them and target the simple ones first. Usually two or three questions are asked from data shown in a table or a chart. Target the three questions from the table first: you will have to spend time familiarizing yourself with the data anyway.

If you unable to determine the order in which you answer the questions, you need to watch out. It is very difficult to complete all the questions in the allocated time and you need to be very strict with yourself. Divide the time equally between the questions and if you don't finish one within your time limit, move on.

Use your brain

The mathematical operations you encounter in the numerical tests aren't hard per se, but they're complex: you will probably need to perform more than one calculation to reach your answer. However, there can be instances when the number of calculations you need to do can be reduced with intelligence.

For example, when you're asked to identify the company with the greatest ratio of profits to assets, don't calculate the ratio for every single company provided - estimate the likely candidates and just calculate those. It will save you time.

Use Excel

Personally, I'd also suggest you keep a window of Excel open while you're doing the test. Yes, this can waste time, but it can also save time. And it's quicker than using a calculator and pencil.

Banks use the same test providers - seek out the similarities

There are only so many providers of numerical tests out there. The favorite test providers are SHL, PSL/Kenexa and Cubiks.

In my experience, Morgan Stanley, BofA Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan use Kenexa; BarCap uses SHL.

Because tests from the same provider tend to be similar, once you've done one you'll be better than the others. Therefore, if you really want to work for JP Morgan, sit the Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch tests first to get some real time practice. If you're lucky you might recognize a question or two.

Leave the convoluted question until last

Also on the subject of time management, you may come across questions so convoluted that you end up wasting a load of time trying to calculate a very specific answer. If you can, leave these until last.

Guess

At some stage your time will run out so make sure you answer all the questions and if you have to, guess. Most questions are multiple choice with 5 options. A 20% chance of success is better than nothing.

The author is a student who's taken multiple tests and been invited to continue his application, suggesting he did something right.

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