While there are a wide variety of these tests, one of the more frequently used versions is the Professional Learning Indicator (PLI). According to their official website, the PLI is a "culturally neutral and dynamic cognitive test system, applicable on all levels."
Behind all the buzzwords is a fairly straightforward definition. The PLI is simply a tool that employers use to predict job performance. PLI test results measure an applicant's probability of success as well as their ability to 'pick up' knowledge on the job.
But what does this mean to the applicant? How is the test set up? And, more importantly, what kind of questions are on it?
The PLI generates 50 multiple choice questions of varying difficulty levels and subject topics. Here's how it works--
Questions are divided into categories based on numerical, verbal, or abstract reasoning. The questions given in each exam are evenly distributed based on their category and randomized using a computer program. Since the test is given online, questions are most often multiple choice. The candidate is given a time limit to complete the assessment-- the PLI time limit is 12 minutes.
Short & Sweet--candidates are given 12 minutes to take a test made up of 50 random questions that vary in terms of difficulty and subject matter.
Numerical reasoning questions may ask you to perform calculations based on charts and graphs. Verbal reasoning questions may involve reading comprehension: answering questions based on a short passage. Abstract reasoning questions may show a series of figures and test your recognition of patterns or your ability to apply newly learned rules. Personality questions pose hypothetical events or situations and ask you to agree or disagree.
While there is no guidebook of specific questions to study from, studying by topic and taking practice exams can improve your score. You can find practice questions online, and a quick brush up on your SAT material might be helpful for the math and verbal questions. It is important to note that the questions described above would likely be found on entry-level and associate pre-employment tests. Tests given at higher levels are usually tailored to more specific positions.
Regardless of the position, however, employers approach assessment results according to a fairly universal system. First, desired qualifications for the position are determined. Naturally, certain qualifications will be experience or knowledge based, while others will be attitude or personality based--think back to how assessments categorize their questions; make more sense now?
Employers have a rubric in mind when they study the results of an assessment--a checklist to help determine which qualifications each candidate has, and which they do not. Caliper Corporation--a well-known developer of employee assessments--provides a brief, yet excellent illustration of how these 'rubrics' come into play when employers view your assessment results.
Caliper's assessment results display in several forms, including numeric percentages and a variety of graphs. In order to choose the right candidate for the job described above, an employer would study these graphs, paying special attention to the candidate's scores in areas that relate to communication, multi-tasking, management skills, etc. If the graphs show positive results in these areas--results that align with the employer's 'mental rubric'--the candidate will get the job.
Now you know what to expect. Just remember, these tests help more than just employers--they can be great tools to help you identify areas you excel in, and areas you could improve in.
Further Reading & Some Practice Exam Questions:
Very Basic Sample Questions
Analysis & Sample Questions by Topic
Further Reading on Pre Employment Tests
Caliper Sample Assessment Reports
Rutgers University, Alumni