Aptitude Tests – What are they used for?

Aptitude Tests

In the context of Career Guidance, Aptitude tests are designed to measure ability across a range of areas including Verbal Reasoning and Numerical Reasoning. They are run so that the young person can identify their abilities and strengths and set career and educational goals to match. The tests measure ability. This is different to Junior or Leaving Cert exams which measure performance and achievement.  Results are used to help enhance the young person’s chances of success in school and beyond.

Aptitude tests are important for the following reasons:

  1. They help the young person focus on their academic strengths and recognise subject areas where they may be struggling
  2. They can work to encourage your child because they focus on aptitude rather than results.
  3. Aptitude tests are good predictors of exam performance and achievement.
  4. They deliver very accurate, reliable and objective results for each individual.
  5. Guidance counsellors and teachers use the results to help and advise students and their parents as they prepare to make important life and career decisions.
  6. They can uncover hidden talents.
  7. They are useful for highlighting discrepancies between ability and school performance.
  8. Aptitude tests play an important role in encouraging young people to focus on realistic and achievable goals.

The results of aptitude tests have good accuracy. Tests used in Irish schools have been standardised for use in post-primary schools here with separate norms according to age and gender. The tests do not measure knowledge and students are not required to prepare for them.

Any drawbacks?

Although accurate in measuring raw ability, aptitude tests do not take into account your child’s more personal attributes such as drive, perseverance or determination. They also won’t measure the effects of illness, bereavement, uncertainty in relation to emotional or psychological well-being or any kind of trauma. They are an important stage in the assessment of your child and are best used along with other assessment methods and career guidance interventions as a guideline.

Schools have different policies about discussing exact aptitude test scores and giving feedback to students and parents. One reason for reluctance to give out exact scores is that people sometimes mix up test scores with IQ tests. This is inaccurate and can be damaging to the young person’s development of self-concept. Feedback tends to focus on the young person’s likely progress in the immediate future, and what supports can be put in place by both school and parents to assist them in achieving their goals.



Better known as the DATs, these are a battery of cognitive tests, usually carried out in Transition year or 5th year and they measure the following:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Numerical Reasoning
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Perceptual Speed & Accuracy
  • Mechanical Reasoning
  • Space Relations
  • Spelling
  • Language Usage

Feedback from the DATs is accurately worked out with the help of norms to calculate raw scores into an accurate snapshot of your child’s ability compared to others of his/her age.

Generally administered over a day or two half days, and taking up a total of about three and a half hours actual testing, the DATs can be hand or machine scored. They can only be given by someone qualified and trained in the administration and interpretation of psychological tests. In schools this is most often the Guidance Counsellor. A DATs report will include your child’s scores for each test, their percentile ranking by age group, and an Educational or Scholastic Ability Indicator which is calculated on the basis of Verbal and Numerical Reasoning scores. Used in tandem with the Career Interest Inventory or the Self Directed Search or Careersportal Interest Profiler the DATs are useful for identifying educational strengths and weaknesses and helping to generate appropriate career options for your child.


The CAT3 test assesses an individual’s ability to reason with symbols representing

  • Words (Verbal Reasoning)
  • Quantities (Numerical or Quantitative Reasoning)
  • Non-verbal (spatial, geometric or figural patterns)

They are similar to the DATs and have Standard Age Score Norms. They test the following:

  • Verbal Classification
  • Sentence Completion
  • Verbal Analogies
  • Number Analogies
  • Number Series
  • Equation Building
  • Figure Classification
  • Figure Analogies
  • Figure Analysis

How you can help

Aptitude tests measure Developed Abilities and your child’s response to a series of tests on the day. Though designed to be as accurate as possible, any test can only measure a sample of behaviour. All forms of measurement contain some error. Encourage your child to recognise the importance of testing as a means of helping them with career choice.

It’s best to view test results as a guide and something that will help your child to focus on the most suitable options for them. Though recognised aptitude tests are extremely well researched and constructed to give maximum accuracy for the individual student, they can never provide a complete picture of your child.  Encourage your son or daughter to see aptitude tests as one element in a process enabling them to get the true measure of themselves.

Take a look at some sample tests online to get an idea of what is involved – click here 


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