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What is a Good Candidate Test Score?

We’ve been around for a while at ISV. Candidate testing is not a new thing in recruitment, it’s been around since we used paper based assessments and faxed results to clients, but some things never change.

When you’ve been involved in a subject for many years, you begin to anticipate the sort of questions people will ask. One that comes up on a regular basis with candidate testing is, “what is a good test score?” We’re often asked about what the pass mark is, or who is above or below average.

Our answer to this question is always the same. We don’t set pass or benchmarks for skills tests because who are we to say what is acceptable or what is normal?

In basic terms, what is appropriate for you (and your client) could vary from someone else. It totally depends on the job role in question. To put that in context, one day you could be recruiting for an Office Administrator or Exec. Assistant. In these roles, candidates need to have strong prioritisation skills, good literacy and a solid grasp of Microsoft programs like Word. The next week, you might be trying to place a Management Accountant. This person has a more numerical focus and needs advanced Excel skills, their prowess with PowerPoint or work with Word can be relatively basic.

The scale of a pass mark or ‘good score’ changes.

You might be recruiting for a contact centre and they require a data entry test with measurements of speed and accuracy. An ambulance service or emergency response team require spot-on accuracy, speed is important to them of course but the need to capture exact information is paramount.

In contrast, an insurance or communications provider could have a lower benchmark for accuracy and prefer a higher productivity rating, especially if they have high volume call levels.

Assessing candidates is still the best way to get a steer of their capabilities but beware not to overload them. There is nothing worse for a candidate or colleague to be assessed in a skill set that is irrelevant to them and the job role. 1) They will most likely generate a low score and 2) being labelled as a poor performer or not making the grade is a knock to their confidence.

Handled poorly, it’s a low point in the candidate journey and when candidates are tricky enough to find, you need to be building them up not tearing them down.

Only test your candidates on what is relevant. If they’ve done well and you can genuinely say, “hey candidate, you scored in the top 10% of everyone who has taken that test”, you are giving them an injection of confidence. Not only are you reassured that they make the grade, you can share this with your clients, proving you only put forward the best people. Both candidate and client have confidence going into the interview, a solid first step on the journey to a successful placement.

Of course, all candidate testing can provide some guide to average scores. This could be a straight percentage of what the mean average is or, for psychometric profiling, based on ‘norm’ groups. For example, the average for our basic bookkeeping test is 63%, for our basic numeracy it’s 64%, the mixed ability Excel test comes in at 53%.

Keep in mind that thousands of these tests are taken on a weekly basis, by candidates whose skill level varies. In short, an average score doesn’t mean much. The results are skewed to a very middling (average) number.

For assessments where Health & Safety is key, then yes, a pass mark is often set. The message here is slightly different though. It’s a case of knowing your facts or someone might get hurt, think about food hygiene or commercial driving test for example.

Whoever you use for candidate testing, be wary of companies who set out benchmarks for you. It’s up to you to decide what’s appropriate. However, do seek advice by working with your provider or benchmarking existing employees. Handled correctly, testing builds the candidate up ready to take on that interview and secure their job, and your placement.


Amanda Davies, Managing Director – ISV Software Ltd

Tel: 02380 816600, e: