Verbal reasoning tests essentially measure comprehension – how well an individual can understand the key points in a passage of written text.
In terms of format, they’re often set out in a similar way to tests you might’ve done in English classes at school. Candidates get a passage of text, and will be asked to answer several questions about it. Verbal reasoning tests are usually multiple choice, with the common answers being simply “true”, “false”, and “cannot say”. This last one indicates that there’s not enough information in the passage to make a call either way.
Historically, verbal reasoning tests were completed on paper. But now, they’re mostly online – at least for recruitment purposes. They will always be timed. Candidates will get a set window to read a given passage, and will then need to answer the questions as quickly as possible.
An example of a verbal reasoning question:
Here’s a shorter version of a passage you might find in a verbal reasoning test:
“The snow leopard, or ounce, is a big cat in the panthera family that inhabits mountain ranges in both Central and South Asia. With mature individuals numbering at under 10,000 – and further decline of 10% expected by 2040 – they are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.”
And here’s a few statements a candidate might be given:
“Ounce” is not another name for the snow leopard
The snow leopard is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because there are fewer than 10,000 mature individuals
Habitat decline is causing their numbers to decline
Candidates would be expected to answer “true”, “false”, or “cannot say” to these statements.
Why are verbal reasoning tests used in recruitment?
Employers use verbal reasoning tests because they can uncover candidates’ language skills – a key part of most jobs. It’s another data point to add to more traditional selection tools like a CV or interview, meaning they can see a more rounded picture of every candidate’s potential.
Are verbal reasoning tests fair?
The short answer is: kind of. Here’s why…
On the surface, they’re completely fair. Every candidate answers the same questions and, barring reasonable adjustments, gets the same amount of time. Also, because it’s clear when an answer is correct, and when it isn’t, there’s little room for a recruiter or hiring manager to interpret candidates’ answers in a biased way.
But there is evidence to suggest that these types of tests favour candidates from more privileged socio-economic groups. That’s because these groups tend to have more exposure to verbal reasoning tests – through private tutoring, for example. That means they’re less likely to feel the negative effects of test anxiety (where candidates get stressed in a high stakes test scenario).
On the other hand, those from less privileged backgrounds, who won’t have had that same exposure, will be more severely affected by test anxiety on average. That means verbal reasoning tests can make it harder for these groups to show their potential, leading them to underperform. And, in the UK, because less privileged socio-economic groups often overlap with minority ethnic groups, these tests can also impact ethnic diversity too.
If “kind of” fair isn’t quite good enough, and you’re looking for a truly fair way to see your candidates’ potential, take a look into psychometric assessments. Marcelle Foxcroft, Head of Talent Acquisition at AXA UK, called ours “phenomenal”. So did the Group Resourcing Director at Capita. Click here, and arrange to see it for yourself.