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Speed vs Accuracy - Which is the best approach?

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Joshua Hancock Updated:

To help you to understand whether speed or accuracy is more important for your test.

The 'speed is king' approach

Finishing first is normally a positive thing (in competitions, at least), it shows you're a quick-worker. Often in an aptitude test it is not the nature of the questions themselves that cause people to struggle, but rather the time limits imposed on the candidates taking part in the assessment. It can really pay off to practice your speed, however, high speed is only impressive if it is accompanied by high accuracy.

Lets go over some of the advantages of being a speed demon:

  • If it's a time limit test, like numerical or logical where they don't expect you to answer all the questions, being super fast allows you to get further in the test and answer more questions than other candidates.
  • Speed can be important in certain sectors and in certain roles, and so displaying high speed in tackling tasks can be a great advantage.

However, there are some disadvantages to a 'speed-above-all' tactic:

  • A lot of employers want candidate's that are methodical and more careful in their approach, so as they do not make mistakes. Speed, when not coupled with accuracy, can be very damning. Remember who won the race between the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady can be better than quick and careless.
  • Most tests aren't scored on how many questions you answered, but how many correct answers you gave, if you're prioritising speed at the expense of accuracy then this will likely go against you. Someone who answers 12 out of the 15 questions they managed to reach, may be viewed more favourably than someone who scored 13 out of 20 questions.

The 'slow and steady' approach

Slowness is generally associated with a lack of ability or seen as boringly risk-averse. However, deciding to slow things down and take a more measured approach can usually result in reducing mistakes which in the long-run can help you. If you had all day to take a test, focusing at length on each question, you may well make very few mistakes - however, with the timer counting down, you may find your ability to focus your mind wavering.

So let's go over some of the advantages of focusing on accuracy:

  • Tests are scored on correct answers, so focusing on getting answers correct is generally a good approach!
  • You can easily misread graphs and tables, or even a certain part of the question. If you spend that extra time double checking things then it can save you from some costly errors.
  • Many employers want someone who doesn't make avoidable mistakes and won't need their work double-checked by someone. A few errors on a test may not look so bad, but a few small errors in someone's business could cost a lot of money.

However, there are some disadvantages to a slow and measured tactic:

  • Sometimes there are questions that you just find very difficult. These questions can be really time consuming and you may have used up a lot of time trying to work through a question that you still may not find the answer for - that time could have been better utilised on other, easier, questions.
  • Double checking your answer can use up valuable time. Imagine you double check 10 of the answers you submit, all that time could have added up to you being able to answer two more questions.

So what's the best approach?

You may have realised this from the advantages and disadvantages, but unfortunately, neither one of these two are the sole winners. You actually need to be as fast and as accurate as possible.

The best approach to taking aptitude tests is a combination of speed and accuracy - taking into account various factors which should alter your approach in different situations.

Let me list some of the things to consider, that will determine whether you speed up or slow down your approach:

Type of test

The type of test will have a big impact on what your strategy should be.

Firstly, let's get the obvious one out of the way, with non-timed tests you should take as much time as you need - there's no need to rush.

There are some tests that are all about speed (and accuracy) - you can tell if this is the case by looking up the number of questions and the time limit. If the time per question seems unreasonable then it's fair to assume you are expected to be fast and it is likely many candidates will not reach the final questions.

In these cases, it's best to practise so you are sharp in answering these types of questions and you can get to the final portion of the test with high accuracy.

Your strengths and weaknesses

Ideally, you should practise enough that you can eliminate any true weaknesses, but if after ample practise you are still struggling then you may need to adopt a contingency plan.

If you encounter any questions you know you will struggle with, it could be worth guessing them. A quick assessment of the question should help you evaluate whether you think this may be a time consuming question and whether your time would be best spent on questions you can answer more efficiently.

We don't generally advise skipping questions, but if after a minute of trying to work it out you're still not sure of the answer, you'll have wished you used that time on a question you're more likely to get the correct answer on.

Your in-test pace

Whilst practising you should be using timed tests, like the ones on our platform, as this is the best way to get a feel of the test experience and to understand your performance levels.

As you're practising you should evaluate your pace - How far do you get through the test? How long are you taking on each question? Is there a certain area you're struggling/slowing down on? Are you rushing through and making mistakes?

The reality is that with your back against the wall and time running out, you might well find your logic deserts you and you fail to show your true abilities. This is why it can pay off to practise such questions in advance of the real test.

You should aim for a good, steady and consistent pace throughout your practise tests and pay attention to the timer.

You may encounter a couple questions that slow you down, if you feel you're behind your desired pace, it's worth trying to speed up to get back on track. Conversely, if you're firing on all cylinders and breezing through the test, it would be advisable to take a few more seconds per question to double check - finishing with ample time left over isn't worth it if you've made avoidable mistakes.

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