Situational Judgement Test

By Rob Williams Assessment Ltd, November 2020

What is a situational judgement test?

Situational judgment tests (SJTs) are popular in the US and Western Europe to assess decision-making capabilities. Participants are presented with work-specific situations and asked to judge how they would respond to a potential work dilemma. Respondents review a range of multiple-choice answer options to determine which is their preferred solution. Which of the proposed actions would be more or less likely to result in the desired work outcome?

How are situational judgement tests used?

SJTs can be applied to any situation that involves making a judgement to be successful – whether that’s on an individual level or in a situation involving other people.

Many graduate professions and managerial roles will use a situational judgement test as an early sift in their recruitment process. Medical schools in certain countries also use many types of psychometric test, including the SJT, to select the complex array of capabilities and thinking skills required to train to become a doctor.

The UK’s Foundation Program, which provides post-graduate training for medics, utilize SJTs as a core part of its selection process. This is because ethics, professionalism, decision-making, resilience and being interpersonally skilled are all key requirements for doctors – and can all be effectively measured using SJTs.

What do situational judgment tests measure?

Organizational SJTs are usually used to assess specific sets of job competencies. Typically, these are four to eight competencies taken from the job description. Competencies which are amenable to the SJT format include: Leadership, Resilience, Planning and Organizing, Communicating, Influencing and Decision-Making.

SJTs can also measure an overall score of ‘judgment’ capability – as their name suggests. The SJT is a flexible assessment format that can also be applied to the assessment of values and personality.

While some SJTs are bespoke to a particular organization or business, there are also several types of generic situational judgement tests. These can be based on a specific generic job function – for example, a sales role SJT assesses typical sales skills relevant to many sales roles. Likewise, there are also generic SJTs based on job levels, such as graduate SJTs, or managerial SJTs. One widely used example of the latter is SHL’s Scenarios series of senior managerial situational judgement tests.

What are the situational judgement test benefits?

There are many SJT benefits, in particular:

  • Can assess a broad range of competencies, values and personality traits.
  • Are easy to administer online to a large applicant pool.
  • Have relatively strong research support in terms of validity and being highly job-relevant.
  • Are a fairer assessment in terms of diversity issues, since there is minimal adverse impact due to gender or ethnic origin.

Furthermore, SJT’s offer considerable flexibility in how they can be applied within the typical context of the selection and recruitment. Increasingly, online situational judgment tests are being used as recruitment sift in place of a more traditional verbal reasoning test and personality questionnaire.

What does an SJT look like?

Typically, these tests present a description of a short scenario, followed by a few questions or choices. Correctly answering such scenarios does NOT require specialist knowledge. Each SJT scenario presents at least one challenge, often with multiple aspects to consider, reflecting the realities of performing the role.

The candidate is usually asked to select the best answer option, although occasionally they will also need to select the worst option. Another common SJT format, for example the situation judgement tests for Foundation Entry to become a doctor, asks candidates to choose which of the answer options are appropriate.

What is the process for answering an SJT?

The typical process for answering an SJT looks like this:

  • Complete practice example(s) as part of the initial instructions. The realistic scenarios should be of the job you’ve applied for.
  • You must “judge” what to do next in this “real-life situation”.
  • Your answer response gives your potential employer a better understanding of how you would probably perform if you worked there.
  • 15-25 well-crafted, bespoke scenarios will follow the same process as above.
  • So now, you have answered the most common, critical incidents which are most frequently encountered.

Top ten tips for passing a situational judgment test

  1. As with any challenging psychometric, always start by answering the easiest questions first.
  2. Next, as you review which of the challenging questions to do next, start by asking yourself, which answer options are inappropriate, and so can be eliminated. This way, you can easily remove all the answer options you know must be incorrect. Sometimes this may leave only one answer option, which you then know is correct.
  3. Prioritize those aspects of the scenario which are most important to fix first.
  4. Any answer option that does not improve the scenario situation forward will not be the correct “Best” action to take.
  5. Always remember that the “Worst” answer option will be one that makes the situation even worse.
  6. While several answer options may seem like a sufficient solution in the short-term, you should not be looking for a quick and easy stop-gap solution. The “Best” solution will always be the one that solves the problem.
  7. You must find a ‘permanent’ or semi-permanent solution that has lasting benefits.
  8. Look for unique answer options.
  9. Select what an individual should do in the circumstances described.
  10. Avoid answering with what you think is most likely to happen.

How can I prepare for a situational judgment test?

There are many practice aptitude test websites available to help individuals prepare for taking an SJT. Completing practice tests will help you get familiar with popular test formats. You can also find more useful situational judgment test tips and strategies at the Rob Williams Assessment site.

Why are situational judgement tests so popular?

In summary, there is considerable research in support of SJTs, demonstrating their suitability for predicting real-world outcomes. Plus, they are widely accepted by specific audiences as a realistic proxy for work performance, for example, graduates, entrants to specialist training courses like the Police, Fire and UK Civil Services.

Decision-making capacity and effective judgement skills will both draw upon each respondent’s ‘life experience’ of managing such situations. In other words, SJTs assess your experience of managing complex, multi-faceted work tasks and projects requiring individual judgment. This role-specific nature sets SJTs apart from many, more generic psychometrics. For example, verbal aptitude tests are often biased towards female respondents.

Other poorly designed sift psychometrics may discriminate against one gender and race. Precise cut-off(s) can remove any adverse impact due to gender, age (and any other protected group). However, it should be calculated by an experienced psychometrician – typically as the final part of an expert situational judgement test design process. Such bespoke design and scoring ensure your SJT will be fair (to all protected groups) and not open to claims of discrimination.

About the author; Rob Williams Assessment Ltd

Rob Williams Assessment Ltd, led by published psychometric author Rob Williams, are specialists in designing bespoke situational judgement tests, personality test and aptitude test design. Well-designed SJTs are widely considered to be fairer than other assessment formats and to have higher engagement with their target audiences.