If you’re completing an online application you might be asked to answer a series of numerical reasoning questions as part of the process. Similarly, you could be asked to do so if you’re at an assessment centre. The Careers and Employability centre get asked frequently by students what they can do to improve in this area so they have put together some tips to share with you!

Before you even begin to apply, spend time practising and make sure you have access to all of the relevant practice resources you can manage.

Be aware that some employers use numerical reasoning questions where estimation is key, in other words, you don’t need to do an actual calculation for the question. If you choose to go with an estimation this will provide you with more time, the thing everyone is looking for with these tests!

When you’re practising try out different techniques, sometimes becoming faster will simply mean finding the right technique for you.

Here’s an example of a different technique when calculating a percentage increase – (new-old)/old x 100 – in certain situations, inspect the mantissa (this is the part following the decimal point) of new/old. For example, 9/7 = 1.29 = move the decimal point and you’ve got a 29% increase vs (9 minus 7) divided by 7. The second option equals more calculator steps and more time.

Sometimes the answer can be right in front of you, if you’ve got a graph question, the answer might be found by inspecting the graph itself rather than rushing into calculation mode. Take a bit of time to assess the situation first.

If you’ve got a multiple choice question, have a look at the variability of the options, if they’re all looking to be quite different then this could be an opportunity to use estimation and save time.

Be cautious if ‘none of the above’ is offered as an option, sometimes this could be the correct answer.

Try not to sit around too much prior to your test, a little bit of physical activity will help keep you relaxed and alert.

You may need to have a calculator, paper and pens handy. Also, consider if using MS Excel is going to be useful for the particular test you are going to take.

If you under perform in one practice test be aware that you are highly likely to improve next time round. It is reasonable to expect to be able to improve your score by 5 to 10 percent through practice alone.

Occasionally you might encounter a question that is best solved by using algebra and/or simultaneous equations. In this instance, save time and use letters to represent variables. For example, If purchasing five desks and ten computers costs £6, 500 and purchasing one desk and one computer costs £850, what is the cost of a desk?

Answer:

(1) 5D + 10C = 6500

(2) D + C = 850

Substituting D = 850-C into (1) = 5(850-C) + 10C = 6500

4250 -5C + 10C = 6500

5C = 6500-4250 = 2250

C = 2250/5 = £450

OR you could reason more intuitively that five desk/computer pairs cost 5 x £850 = £4250 so five computers must cost £6500-£4250 etc.

**Here’s some common question types and basic numeracy techniques to anticipate: **

Applying a Percentage Increase or Decrease

Calculate a 10% increase by multiplying by 1.1, a 15% increase by multiplying by 1.15 and so on. That is, a 10% increase = 110% of something = 110/100 = 1.1 since % percent means per hundred.

To decrease by 20% multiply by 100%-20% = 80% or 80/100 = 0.8 so a 20% reduction from £1000 would leave 0.8 x £1000 = 8/10 x £1000 = £800.

**Reversing a percentage increase**

If a director’s old salary has increased by 22% to £72,000 what was the old salary?

Answer: new = old x 122% => old = new/122%

BUT in the context of a test this is time consuming.

QUICKER if you can distil this to old = new/1.22 i.e. one step!

**Reversing a percentage decrease**

If a tutor’s take home salary has collapsed to £14,000 following a 60% pay cut, what was the tutor’s original salary?

Answer: new = 60% x old => old = new/60%

Again, quicker to jump straight to old = new/0.6

**Ratios: you need to be comfortable and familiar with treating ratios as fractions and using transposition to find unknowns**

For example, if the ratio of tables to chairs in an office is 2:7 how many chairs are needed for 12 tables?

Answer: 2/7 = 12/c => we need to use cross multiplication or transposition to find that c = 7×12/2 = 42

More intuitively, you could reason that if 2 tables require 7 chairs then 12 tables must require six times as many chairs.

**Learning Effect**

If you under perform in one practice test be aware that you are highly likely to improve next time round. It is reasonable to expect to be able to improve your score by 5 to 10 percent through practice alone.

Get some extra practice by going to the StudyWise workshop on Wednesday March 8th 1pm-2pm at room N339 in the Sir Ian Wood Building I’ll be asking participants to try a short test (in pairs or groups) and then I’ll run through a set of practice questions, looking at how about half of one provider’s sample questions can potentially be answered in a faster than expected way. Look out for sign-up details on flyers, on posters and on moodle.

John