How to tackle numerical reasoning tests

Numerical reasoning tests can seem pretty daunting if you haven't done maths in a while, so here's how you can prepare to ensure you get the best score.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich
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Based on students’ fear of them, you’d think numerical reasoning tests were the devil himself. But I promise you, they aren’t so scary and you’ll be better prepared than you think.

The reason they’re feared so much is because (unless your degree directly involves maths) you likely won’t have done any maths calculations for years. Percentages, what are those again? The important thing to remember is that, even if your maths is a little rusty, you’ll pick it up again quickly. Plus, this is maths in context. Not random equations and square roots, but analysing graphs and data as you would in the workplace.

And there’s no better time to brush up on your number skills than for the launch of Debut’s very own in-app Numerical Reasoning assessment. Just head on over to the Abilities tab to take the test – and start getting Talent Spotted for more than your degree. Before you begin, take a look at some of our top tips to help you get the best score possible.

Read the question

read the question in numerical reasoning

I know I know, I sound like your year 8 maths teacher. But honestly, as soon as you’re faced with graphs and tables and data, it’s really difficult to resist the urge to immediately start plugging numbers into your calculator before you even know what you’re supposed to be doing.

Just remember to take a deep breath, read the question slowly, and be absolutely sure of exactly what it is you’re trying to work out.

And the answers

If it’s a multiple choice question, read the potential answers first. This will help guide you when you’re working out the actual answer. You won’t just be taking a stab in the dark, you know it’s one of 3 or 4 options, so allow these to direct you towards the right one.

Top Tip: Always be careful when it comes to units. You might be presented with two similar options, say, 473 and 473,000, which might catch you out if you don’t know the units of data in a table or graph. Look out for the small print which says that the data is actually ‘in hundreds of thousands’.

Don’t forget your calculator – and your notepad

calculator for numerical reasoning

Most numerical reasoning tests will encourage you to use a calculator and notepad, so don’t forget to make use of them. It can seem silly, but try and use your calculator as much as possible, even for the little sums. Human error can happen, and you don’t want to lose points on silly mistakes.

Top tip: Also, make sure you’re using a calculator you’re familiar with. The last thing you want is to press the wrong button on that scientific calculator you borrowed and not have a clue what you’ve done. Make sure you’re using something you’ve used plenty of times before.

Learn the jargon

Numerical reasoning tests place numbers in business contexts and often use language that you might not have come across before, if you’re not studying a business related subject at uni. You’ll likely see things like ‘Market Share’, ‘Market Growth’ ‘Capital Reserves’ ‘Revenue Reserves’ etc. and although it might be possible to complete the question without knowing exactly what these all mean, it’ll help if you at least have a bit of understanding.

Do some practice tests online, and read some business publications like the Financial Times or The Economist to get yourself comfortable with the language.

Refresh yourself on percentages

maths for a career in business

If there’s one thing that I can *almost* guarantee you’re going to come across, it’s percentage increase and decrease. And unless your degree asks you to, it’s unlikely you’ve done a lot of this recently.

So find some practice questions online and set some time aside to complete them. Once you’ve got the process down, and you can calculate a percentage increase in double quick time, you’re ready to go.

Get comfortable with graphs and tables

Along with the jargon, if you haven’t set your peepers on a graph since year 9 SATS, you might want to refresh your memory of X and Y axis. Get used to reading data from tables and graphs, and you’re a lot less likely to freak out when you see them in a numerical reasoning test. Remember, a large part of your overall result will be determined by how quick you are. You can drastically increase your speed simply by being accustomed to reading and understanding data in this way.

Get your timings right

As I mentioned, Numerical Reasoning test results are most often divided between speed and accuracy (As is the test on Debut). This means you need to be quick – but there’s no point in being quick if you’re going to get all the questions wrong. You want to aim to spend around one minute on each question.

This can be roughly broken down into:

10 seconds reading and understanding the question

15 seconds reading and analysing the data presented

30 seconds answering the question

10 seconds to check your answer

Don’t worry if you can’t keep track of your timings during the test (you should be focusing on the question anyway). As long as you know you’re able to hit these speed roughly, you should be fine.

And there you have it! Doesn’t seem so scary now right? As long as you’re prepared and know what to expect, you’ll absolutely smash it and make yourself super employable in the process. And if you haven’t already, head on over to the Debut app to complete our numerical reasoning test – and get more Talent Spots!

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