Assessing Your Aptitude in Policing
Assessment centres and psychometric assessment tests are used to determine your aptitude and suitability when applying for a new job, or as part of the selection processes in management roles and leadership positions. These aptitude tests include verbal/numerical reasoning tests, written exercises, Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs) and many more across the landscape of UK police promotion. They are all used to recruit, assess or sift candidates who possess the necessary skills, abilities and potential.
This blog summarises some widely used assessment and aptitude tests, plus job test preparation tips for police promotion and signposting to where you can get further support.
“What I have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career.” – Bryan Mills
Assessment tests have long been utilised for police recruitment and increasingly for promotion processes. They are also used for assessing aptitude and eligibility for roles in other public sector organisations; importantly, all can be practiced by aspiring applicants to develop skills ahead of the real thing. For example, the Civil Service, the NHS, MI5 and many more all use some form of bespoke aptitude or psychometric tests. We will cover the details of each test later, but let’s start with the basics of what are assessment centres and tests…
What Is An Assessment Centre?
What are assessment centres? Put simply, an assessment centre organises a combination of tasks and activities to evaluate your suitability and aptitude when applying for a job. They can include a range of psychometric/aptitude tests, role plays and written assessments, along with more traditional assessment methods like a competency-based interview.
Assessment centres are often organised as an in-person event, assessing you along with a cohort of other potential candidates through a day of scheduled testing and interviews. More recently and in light of Covid-related government restrictions on in-person activities, assessment centres and their associated tests are run online. For example, the College of Policing moved the whole police recruitment process online during 2020.
Assessment centres have long been used in UK policing for initial officer recruitment. For example, ‘SEARCH’ assessment centre, ‘Day One’ and the newer College of Policing virtual assessment centre for England & Wales; Police Scotland’s Assessment Day; and the PSNI recruitment assessment centre. They are being increasingly used also for police promotion through the ranks.
What Are Psychometric & Aptitude Tests?
Psychometric tests, also known as ‘aptitude tests’, are a means of objectively assessing your cognitive skills, behaviours or personality tendencies. ‘Aptitude’ is defined as one’s natural abilities, tendencies or skills. ‘Psychometrics’ is defined as the science of measuring mental abilities and cognitive attributes. These aptitude tests are then used to sift candidates against relevant criteria, before onward progression through to interview and other stages of a selection process. Aptitude tests can form part of a distinct assessment centre as defined above, or as discrete steps of a longer-term application process.
Using aptitude and other tests allows applicants to demonstrate their strengths, critical thinking skills and leadership qualities. It provides recruiters with objective assessments against relevant criteria in the job profile and can identify where candidates could develop their skills.
What Assessment Tests Are Used In Police Promotion?
“You have to learn the rules of the game and then you have to play them better than anyone else.” – Albert Einstein
With 50+ different UK forces, there are different combinations of aptitude tests for different ranks at different times; some will be online, some not. That’s quite a range of options, in addition to the ‘pick & mix’ of promotion processes used across the UK! Choosing to become familiar with them is an option at any time! Choosing otherwise may mean that there is ‘clear blue sea’ between candidates who have made the commitment to develop their abilities in readiness for a selection process and those who wait until a process is advertised before doing so.
A growing assortment of assessment tests are used in police promotion competitions, to help ‘sort the wheat from the chaff’ on objective scoring frameworks. I will cover each of these in more detail on subsequent blogs, but for now here are the main types used in forces and links where you can practice the specific test or gain more free information. You may query the relevance of some of them for policing, but you could easily encounter one or more of them as part of your promotion selection process…
Situational Judgement Tests: SJTs are aptitude tests used to assess your behaviour and decision-making (an important aspect of policing) in relation to different work-related scenarios. In essence, you choose the most appropriate action in response to the hypothetical situation presented, from a choice of four or five. Here’s where you can practice SJTs for free to become an expert before your assessment centre.
Briefings & Presentations: Whether it’s Police Scotland’s media briefing exercise, the Met Police briefing to senior stakeholders, or presenting on specific scenarios, there’s a range of resources to help right now. For example, see these useful briefing models (e.g. SAFCOM) and some tips for presentations.
Role-Plays: Role-plays are used to ‘act out’ different scenarios relevant to the role of Sergeant, Inspector, or Chief Inspector, then score you (usually against the CVF competencies and values) based on your responses. Role-play scenarios will often be around people management or operational leadership. You can practice role-play exercises in advance, with this comprehensive rundown of what to expect and how to successfully deal with any scenario you are given. The Rank Success promotion interview guide also provides detailed guidance and preparation support on role-play exercises.
Written Exercises: Written exercises are designed to assess a candidate’s written communication, comprehension skills and attention to detail. Generally administered at assessment centres, you may need to process copious amounts of information in a short time frame, analyse the importance of each piece of information, assess and decide on solutions for problems, while of course expressing yourself in a clear manner. Familiarise yourself by practicing written exercises here.
In-Tray/E-Tray Exercises: In-tray/E-tray exercises measure different work-related skills by providing a list of hypothetical tasks, often with insufficient time to effectively deal with them all. These aptitude tests assess skills such as time management, organisation of workload, prioritisation, sound decision making, management ability (delegation, taking responsibility, decision making, etc.), office relationships, and understanding of organisational culture and structure. Practice free in-tray exercises here.
Verbal Reasoning Tests: VRTs assess your logical abilities and capability to understand written information. You will be asked to read a passage of text, then asked questions to determine whether statements about that text can be logically defined as ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘cannot say’. Here’s some free practice VRTs to get your teeth into.
Numerical Reasoning Tests: NRTs are used to assess your ability to analyse and interpret numerical data, be it in tables or graphs. These aptitude test are more common at the more strategic Inspecting ranks, who will be dealing with more strategic performance or similar reports. Like most tests, these are timed and in a multiple-choice format. Practice NRTs here…
Inductive Reasoning Tests: IRTs assess your ability to recognise patterns or rules in a sequence of visual diagrams and abstract shapes. Based on the sequence, you may be asked to decide from the options which is the odd one out or what comes next in the sequence. These can be tricky to get the hang of, so practicing IRTs in advance is a must!
Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Test: This is often used for more senior ranks, but is essentially a combination of SJTs and various reasoning and critical thinking tests. As usual, practice makes perfect for Watson-Glaser!
Fast Track: Fast Track candidates have a bespoke suite of assessments. You can practice fast track assessments here. This free blog on fast track police promotion will also get you in the right mindset!
Why Are These Additional Tests in Use?
“They all have excellent CVs, so what I’m trying to find out is how they will behave under pressure.” – Hyman Rickover
Some organisations (e.g. the Civil Service) assert that these assessments testing your general mental abilities and aptitude are the strongest predictor of future job performance. In any case, like traditional interviews and application forms, assessment tests provide an additional indicator of a candidate’s competence.
Competencies are HOW organisations communicate HOW they want people to behave. The College of Policing states that any new assessment tests for use in promotion selection processes by forces should be competence-based. The main UK competency framework used by police forces is the Competency & Values Framework (CVF). I discuss more on this in my free YouTube videos and detailed digital promotion guides. You can read my ‘Learning to Love the CVF’ blog for more free info about the CVF used to assess promotion candidates.
The College of Policing (COP) Leadership Review recommended that existing police leaders drive change by demonstrating their own commitment to self-development. Acknowledging personal development needs and being willing to take action to address them is a desired behaviour of aspiring leaders in the police service. These tests provide a way to identify not just job suitability but also competency-related strengths and skills gaps.
Being able to assimilate information quickly and understand what is being asked without needing much direction is also a desirable ability. Including additional assessment tests as part of a broader promotion selection process can also help in addressing fairness issues e.g., reliability/validity of results.
Regardless of why these additional tests have been introduced, the important thing is to prepare. This is articulated and advised by successful officers who have been there, done it and succeeded, e.g.:
“I purchased some of your electronic products including the interview guide and honestly believe this made the difference between pass or fail… It does appear that processes are becoming more about ability to get through these extra tests away from the application and board and would urge any candidate to really do their homework on these. Many thanks for your products and support.” – Paul, Passed Sergeants Promotion First Time
How Can I Prepare for Assessment Tests?
“Practice doesn’t make perfect. It reduces the imperfection.” – Toba Beta
Assessment centres and tests are becoming increasingly relevant for UK police promotion candidates. Assessment centres previously only associated with promotion to Chief Inspector rank and above are now a common feature for Sergeant and Inspector ranks. This can prolong the overall promotion process, additionally testing personal resilience and mental toughness!
The psychometric tests can be challenging if new to you, so some smart preparation through practice tests really help, ideally well ahead of a selection process. Practicing these tests helps develop your cognitive skills, familiarity with the tests, help you feel more in control, and so in turn your confidence for the real tests ahead. Lacking knowledge about a process can lower your morale and affect your mental approach, consistency and resilience towards tackling the challenge. Individuals who practice are therefore simply more likely to succeed.
“It’s not the will to succeed that matters, everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to succeed that matters.” – Paul Bryant
With limited vacancies and increasing competition, forces can select promotion candidates from the very best. That’s you by the way! Practicing and therefore knowing exactly what to expect ahead of an opportunity is a clear choice, which may just put you ahead of the curve.
At first glance these tests can seem challenging, especially if they are new to you.
Negative thinking can easily kick in at this point and ’it’ can become the big bad ‘It’; e.g. It’s too much, it’s too difficult, it’s too complex, it’s a waste of time, and so on. That’s an understandable reaction. But it’s not a constructive one. Once you’ve acknowledged such initial feelings, you can choose more constructive self-talk, thoughts and messages for some quick self-coaching. For example:
- I take responsibility for my part in this
- There is a way through
- I can start moving forward now by taking action now
- I can do this
- In the circumstances, the best step is… (preparation, practice)
You need not pay a fortune practice these tests either; many are free! They are currently being used by officers to get ‘match fit’ and to develop their skill set to achieve promotion success in the Sergeant and Inspecting ranks.
When you prepare effectively, here’s what success can look like from one of many satisfied Rank Success customers:
“After completing an online assessment, an interview, a presentation and a briefing exercise, I have made the grade for promotion and am waiting for my posting date! This is in no small part down to your inspiring material which gave me the drive and determination to succeed so thank you. Until next time for Inspectors!” – James, Passed Sergeants Promotion Board first time
“I passed my Inspectors promotion board! I achieved very high marks on my presentation, situational judgement test and my interview. I had a good understanding of what was required but just needed a more structured approach in delivering my answers. The ‘Masterclass’ and ‘Interview Success’ download greatly assisted me with all aspects of the assessment. Our one-to-one conversations filled me with confidence and positive thinking. I’m glad I came to you and will certainly recommend you to my colleagues and friends. Tim also passed the process.” – Scott, passed Inspector promotion process
If you face any of these tests as part of a promotion selection process now or in future, I hope you find this blog informative, and I wish you the best of luck. Watch out for subsequent blogs on assessment tests, where I will provide more detail on each specific type of test to further help you on your way to promotion.
For more support on your UK police promotion journey in the meantime, here’s more free blog content, regular YouTube videos plus the in-depth Rank Success digital toolkit which covers the role at Level 2 of the CVF, providing example evidence, including all stages of the promotion process and much, much more! You can also use code POLICEHOUR20 at checkout, to save 20% on any Rank Success digital promotion toolkits or bundles.
Kind Regards, Steve