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Numerical Reasoning Ability & Mathematics: Are they the same thing?

What does a numerical reasoning test measure? How is it different from a math test? Why do they matter in predicting work performance?

Most people readily recognise a cognitive ability test or an intelligence test, as an abstract assessment of mental reasoning
ability, based on solving multiple-choice problems in the form of abstract patterns or written text. Numerical reasoning tests falls very well within this domain of psychometric tests but are often seen as more of a dressed-up maths test.


There are certainly some similarities between a mathematics test and a numerical reasoning test. Both tests involve numbers and require knowledge of arithmetic calculations, i.e. addition, subtraction, division, multiplication. Mathematics as an academic subject goes beyond basic calculations and often involves the ability to learn, retain and apply complex mathematical techniques and formulae such as algebra, calculus, trigonometry, etc.

While a numerical reasoning test contains some parts of mathematics that is taught in the classroom, it also involves reasoning skills which may not have been as well covered, but are critically important in the workplace. Measuring one’s ability to interpret, manipulate and draw meaning from information presented in a numerical form, numerical reasoning tests assess the effective application of numeracy in a work context.

Critical to this distinction is also the idea that numerical reasoning is about more than computation power. Instead, numerical reasoning tests require respondents to demonstrate essential logical reasoning skills required in the workplace such as:

  • Drawing appropriate inferences from data
  • Calculating values using basic arithmetic operators and work with decimals and fractions
  • Understanding information presented in tables, charts and graphs
  • Identifying when additional data is required to draw certain conclusions

Because of this difference in assessment focus, people can obtain different score levels on a maths test and on numerical reasoning tests. Moreover, grades on Calculus 101 are not always a good reflection of how well people will perform on a numerical reasoning test.


For job applicants who have been asked to take a numerical reasoning test, the spectre of classroom math classes may lead to unnecessary anxiety. Being asked to take any assessment as part of your job application would naturally be a slightly stress-inducing event but numerical reasoning tests are not the same as algebra examinations. Yes, you can expect to do some basic arithmetic, but no, you would not need to memorise equations or perform complex math manipulations. No pre-test preparation is required, as all the information needed to complete a numerical reasoning assessment is provided in the test itself.

Numerical-Reasoning-ExampleFor the hiring manager looking at the results, this distinction can make a difference to how candidates’ test results are interpreted. Math grades tell you about subject matter mastery and technical knowledge.

In contrast, numerical reasoning test scores tell you about one’s ability to reason effectively with data that you would expect to find in the modern workplace. Academic grades and test scores can each give unique insight on someone’s likelihood of succeeding at work and they should not be seen as replacements for each other.

For organisations looking at its selection process, the lack of distinction between a numerical reasoning test and a math test may lead to an underestimate of the power and importance of the former. Performance in academic mathematics can tell you a lot about their subject matter expertise, but can miss out on the important practical aspect of analysing and making sense of dara and figures at work. Numerical reasoning tests fill this gap, giving your organisation the ability to assess work-relevant numeracy ability at a low cost.

So, bear in mind these differences when you next encounter a numerical reasoning test. Numerical reasoning is not just about math and can matter more than you realise when it comes to assessing for workplace performance. Do your job roles require people to plan a budget, review pricing, work with charts and figures, use data to draw conclusions? A numerical reasoning test may be just what you need.

Pearson TalentLens publishes a fixed-form numerical reasoning test, RANRA, for supervised administration, as well as an item-banked numerical reasoning test, Athena, for online, unsupervised administration. Both assessments take 30 minutes to complete. Developed to assess reasoning with numerical data frequently encountered in today’s workplace, our assessments are suitable for sifting of general and high ability populations such as graduates, supervisors and managers.

For more information on our numerical reasoning tests, contact us at or visit our website at