• Purpose
  • Types of test
  • Relevance to the selection criteria
  • Validation
  • Assessing test results
  • Preparing for, and carrying out, tests
  • Making the selection decision

Selection tests that help assess a candidate’s ability to perform specific tasks are often called ‘work sample’ tests. These types of tests aim to replicate actual job tasks or situations to assess if the candidate has the skills, experience or qualifications to carry out the work. Certain types of skills (such as IT skills) can be more readily measured by tests than by interview. Work-samples tests can also give candidates an idea of what they may be required to do in the job.

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Types of test

Possible work-sample tests include:

  • Prioritisation or ‘in-tray’ exercises which ask candidates to prioritise a list of tasks (which would be actual/similar tasks required for the post) and explain why they would carryout tasks in a specific order
  • Drafting a report, letter, memo or briefing.
  • Correcting a document to check proof-reading and attention to detail
  • Computer based tests – which could range from technical tests for IT staff to tests for administrative staff in using specific computer packages required by the role
  • Typing test or audio-typing tests
  • Numerical tests
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Relevance to the selection criteria

Tests must only be used if they actually measure abilities or skills that are relevant to the actual job and selection criteria. If you are considering using a selection test, you will need to analysis the job tasks and criteria to determine what will be appropriate for a selection test, possibly in consultation with colleagues or the former post-holder.

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Tests should normally be validated before being used in the selection process. A key method of validation is to ask a colleague (preferably someone who has carried out the role) to carryout the test under the conditions that candidates will have to perform under. Assessing their results and obtaining feedback from them, will help you to determine the validity of the test.

Sometimes candidates may be given a time-limit to complete the task, depending on the circumstances and whether this related to the selection-criteria for the role. Any time-limit must be reasonable and should normally be validated.

Validation will also help ensure that tests do not discriminate against one particular group and ensure that the test is relevant to the selection criteria and role. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the School is required to ensure that tests do not disadvantage any disabled person and make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled candidates during the selection process.

Examples of reasonable adjustments could include allowing additional test time, letting a reader or scribe assist the candidate with the test. Adjustments may also need to be made for candidates for whom English is not a first language.

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Assessing test results

It is important that the results of tests can be fairly and objectively measured. You should determine how the tests will be scored or assessed in advance. Whilst some tests may have ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers (such as numerical tests), other tests such as producing a letter may need to be assessed against how well the candidate has followed the instructions, whether key information is included, the style and presentation of the letter etc. If the test results, cannot be easily and consistently measured, the test may be unfair and invalid. You will also need to consider how the test results will be considered or weighted with interview outcomes when making the selection decision. Using a scoring system for both interview and test results can help facilitate this.

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Preparing for, and carrying out, tests

When using tests, you will need to ensure that all candidates are given clear instructions and the same equipment (pens, paper, calculator, PC, floppy disk) and conditions to carryout the test. If possible, book a quiet office or room for the test. Candidates will need to be supervised and the supervisor will need to ensure that candidates receive the same instructions, are given the same time (if applicable) and that test answers are collected. When carrying out computer-based tests, you will need to make arrangements to ensure that candidates cannot access previous candidates’ test responses or confidential data.

You will need to consider what information the candidates should be given in advance about the test. This should include the type of test (i.e. typing, written exercise etc), timescales etc. For some times of test, you may want candidates to prepare information or know the test topic in advance; interview invitations could ask candidates to write a management briefing on a specific topic or to prepare a presentation or lesson plan. You should include any details of the test to be given to candidates on the R6 form : Interview Arrangements form for Academic (Teaching and Research) vacancies, or R7 Interview Arrangements Form for Support Staff, Research-only and Teaching-only vacancies.

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Making the selection decision

Test results and scores will need to be fed back to the Interview Selection Panel for consideration when making the selection decision. Finally, candidate’s tests, scores, notes or associated documents should be returned to the HR Directorate for storage with other recruitment documents.

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