Are Numerical Reasoning Tests Hard?

The difficulty level of numerical reasoning tests often varies between test providers and is also position-based. In this article, you’ll learn how hard a numerical reasoning test can be.

Are numerical reasoning tests hard?

The difficulty level of numerical reasoning tests depends on two main factors, which are job levels, and occupations. Aptitude testing companies design numerical reasoning tests in different difficulty levels and use corresponding benchmarks to ensure that the test is appropriate to specific occupations and levels and accurately measures candidates’ capabilities and potential against these.

Higher job levels mean increasing difficulty levels

Numerical reasoning tests are designed to assess candidates at different organizational levels (such as graduates, professionals, and managers) to see whether a person possesses the necessary capabilities to meet the requirements of a job at a particular grade.

For example, employers will expect you to demonstrate more competent numerical reasoning abilities as a graduate than a non-graduate. Similarly, if you apply for any management role, you are expected to present stronger numerical reasoning skills than someone at a graduate level.

Different occupations mean different difficulty levels

Hiring companies can ask test providers to customize numerical reasoning tests for specific roles. This means it depends on certain occupations that the difficulty level varies. In occupations requiring stronger numerical reasoning competencies, numerical reasoning tests can be more complex and difficult than others that don’t require excellent numerical reasoning abilities.

For example, if you are applying as a graduate for an engineering role, you will be expected to demonstrate stronger numerical reasoning abilities than an individual applying as a graduate for a marketing role.

Sometimes different test providers mean different difficult levels

Difficulty levels among test providers don’t differentiate much. Nevertheless, it depends on the types of questions each test provider has that numerical reasoning tests from certain test providers are slightly more hard to deal with.

There are four commonly seen types of questions in a numerical reasoning test, but not all test providers have all of these four types. Among the four types, number/letter sequence seems to be more complicated than other types since it often doesn’t follow any easily-recognized pattern and you’ll also need inductive reasoning skills to tackle it. This means if the test providers only produce tests with number/letter sequence questions, their numerical reasoning tests can be more difficult than others that don’t.

Misconceiving math expressions

You may have good knowledge of math but in terms of solving math questions in numerical reasoning tests, you may struggle. It happens as a result of a lack of practice, and unfamiliarity with word expression used in numerical reasoning questions.

Here’s an example:

If the profit increased from last year to this year by 45% then what was the profit last year providing that the profit this year amounted to $80,000?

In most cases, candidates who don’t have extensive practice on numerical reasoning questions often calculate the above as follows:

80,000 x (1+0.45) = 116,000.

But in fact, the calculation should be reversed, which is

80,000 (1+0.45) 55,172.


How difficult are numerical reasoning tests?

Types of questions and time constraints are the main factors that make numerical reasoning tests challenging.

Read more

Can You Fail a Numerical Reasoning Test?

Types of question

Calculation questions are commonly seen in gamified recruiting tests where applicants must do calculations of two to three digits quickly. Therefore, the most challenging aspect of calculation questions is how you strike a balance between speed and accuracy. To tackle this, you’ll need to practice mental math on a regular basis to familiarize yourself with the actual test.

Below are a few calculation question examples that you can take a look at. 

Questions Answers
1934 + 24555 – 18 = ? 26471
(16 x 3 ) 8 = ? 6
-15 + 9 = ? -6
7 – 8 – 4 = ? -5
3 + 17 – (15 x 3) = ? -25
250 x 7 = ? 1750
(274 – 84) x 16 = ? 3040
1090 + 75 – 19 = ? 1146
(88 : 2) – 18 = ? 26
(28 x 3) 12 = ? 7

For math problems within a context (or Word problem), the questions solely emphasize fundamental arithmetic concepts, such as the four basic operations, percentages, ratios, etc. The complexity of a problem often depends on the terms and level of computations used to answer it. Candidates must get familiar with three different contexts (daily, business, and financial), ranging from simple calculations to complex calculations with several layers.

Here are some examples for you to practice.

Example 1: Last year’s revenue was $265000. This year’s is $375000. By what percentage has this year’s revenue increased over last year’s?


To find the what percentage this year’s revenue has increased over last year’s, we need to look for the amount of increased revenue, which is

$375000 – $265000 = $110000;

and see that amount accounts for how many percentages of last year’s revenue, which is

$110000/$265000 x 100% 41.51%

So, the correct answer is C.

Example 2: A total of 7600 analyses last month required 25460 hours of computer time. How many computer hours would it take to perform an additional 450 analyses if all contributing factors remain unchanged?


Since all contributing factors remain unchanged, we calculate how many hours one analysis takes and then find how many hours the additional 450 hours take, which is

(25460 7600) x 450 = 1507.5 hours.

So, the correct answer is A.

Example 3: The average price of a London apartment in 2003 was £120,000. By the end of 2007, the price had risen by 87%. By the end of 2009, house prices fell dramatically due to the global economic and eurozone crisis. The price of the same London apartment now fell by 35% from the December 2007 price. At how much more or less is the apartment valued in 2009 than in 2007?


The question asks you to find a new value following a percentage increase and then a percentage decrease. Increase the original number (£120,000) by 87% (which is 1 + 0.87) to find the December 2007 value:

120,000 × 1.85 = £222,000

New value = £222,000

As the new number (£222,000) decreased by 75% (which is 1 – 0.55), we can work out the December 2009 value:

£222,000 × (1 – 0.35)

= £222,000 × 0.65

= £144,300

Now you can find the value difference between the apartment’s 2009 price and its price in 2007, which is

£222,000 – £144,300 = £77,700.

So, the correct answer is D.

Example 4: The ratio of bowls to plates on a table is 3 : 7. If 1/3 of the bowls and 4/5 of the plates are filled with salads, and all the other bowls and plates are filled with spaghetti, what is the ratio of spaghetti to all the dishes on the table?


Assuming that the number of bowls is 3X, then the number of plates is 7X. The total number of dishes on the table is

3X + 7X = 10X

Since 1/3 the bowls and 4/5 the plates are filled with salads, the number of salad containers are

1/3 x 3X + 4/5 x 7X

= X + 28X/5

= 33X/5

Then we can work out the quantity of spaghetti, which is

10X – 33X/5 = 17X/5

The ratio of spaghetti to all the dishes on the table is

17X/5 10X = 17/50

So the correct answer is D.

Example 5: In a race, for every woman, there are 8 men. If an additional 200 men were to join the race, the number of men would be 12 times more than the number of women in the race. How many men and women are there at the beginning of the race?


Let the number of women = M, then the number of road men = 8M. This satisfies the ratio of 1:8.

The total number of bikes in the race = M + 8M.

If 200 men were to join the race, the total number of men would be 8M + 200.

When 200 men have joined the race, there will be 12 times as many men as women:

12M = 8M + 200

Now you can solve for M:

12M – 8M = 200

4M = 200

M = 50

50 is the constant number of women in the race. Recall the ratio, women to men = 1 : 8. If there are 50 women, you can find the number of men by setting up a proportion:

1/8 = 50/X

Cross-multiply and solve for X:

1X = 8 × 50

R = 400

The number of women = 40 and the number of men = 400.

So, the correct answer is C.

For data interpretation types, filtering data among multiple distractions is the most challenging factor. During pre-test preparation, you need to get familiar with a variety of charts, including table, bar, line, pie, caselet, and compound charts (more than 2 charts are mixed) to excel at reading and extracting data for whatever types of question that you might be asked in the real test.

Here are some examples that you can practice. 

Example 1:

Question 1: Approximately what percentage of all Vifay Instant Noodles sales were made to females?

Answer: B

Question 2: Which type of instant noodle has the lowest ratio of male-to-female sales?

Answer: D

Question 3: In 2009, sales projections indicate that sales of Kolee Instant Noodle will decline by 20%. Sales made to males and females are projected to decline proportionately. How many Kolee Instant Noodle packets are predicted to be sold to females in 2009?

Answer: A

Example 2:

Question 1: Which group had the lowest ratio of job offers to applicants in 2004?

Answer: A

Question 2: Which group showed the largest percentage change in applications between 2004 and 2005?

Answer: C

Question 3: Of those MBA postgraduates who received an interview offer in 2005, how many were financial services specialists? 

Answer: B

Question 4: In which of the following groups was the greatest number of interview offers made per applicant?

Answer: D

Time constraints

When taking numerical reasoning tests, you will face such an intensive pressure of time. You are given less than one minute to solve each question, and a test at a higher level of difficulty might allow you even less time for each test question.

You’ll need to figure out how to have enough time to work out all the questions in the test. A numerical reasoning test can include different types of questions at the same time, with different difficulty questions. You should work on the easier questions in a short amount of time, to save up more time for the complex questions. 


What to prepare for numerical reasoning tests?

Three key skills you will need for your upcoming numerical reasoning tests are

  • Processing math in multiple-word contexts
  • Scanning for data in different data forms  
  • Making quick and accurate math operations.

You need to excel at processing math in multiple contexts since, besides straightforward calculations, you might also encounter math operations within contexts. It depends on your job levels and test providers that you see different math contexts such as daily, business, and finance. In addition to memorizing common formulas for each type of math context, you’ll have to practice on a regular basis to enhance your problem-solving speed.

Scanning for data is also important in preparation for your numerical reasoning tests since there’re a variety of forms of data presentation in the test. Some possible types of data forms include tables, charts, bars, lines, and even mixed charts. You can train yourself to quickly read and get the necessary information from these types of data presentations can by practicing data interpretation questions, and recording your progress.

The last thing on the list is the skill to make quick and accurate math operations. This helps you make time for complicated questions that require a great amount of reasoning. You can practice mental math calculations and learn common mental math tips for better performance on your calculation questions.


Common mistakes to avoid

In addition to practicing, you should also watch out for mistakes. For better preparation, here’re several mistakes that can affect your numerical reasoning test result.

Not adopting mental math 

Less experienced test-takers have a tendency not to adopt mental math in doing math operations, due to their lack of mental math knowledge and practice. This is also because these candidates often think of numerical reasoning tests as normal math tests when these tests are completely different. Numerical reasoning tests assess your numerical reasoning skill rather than your calculating ability. You should always use mental math to work quickly on calculations so you can save up time for the reasoning process – the process in which you analyze data and arrive at the final answer.

The practicing process is, therefore, necessary if you want to pass your numerical reasoning test. 

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