The wretched Watson Glaser test and why I think it should be scrapped

By Site Administrator on

Why do grad recruiters still use the 85-year-old test?


The Watson Glaser is an aptitude test designed to assesses job candidates’ understanding and analytical abilities. It is used by a number of law firms in their training contract recruitment process. Today, we hear from one law student aspiring solicitor who thinks law firms should ditch the test altogether.

The Watson Glaser test, which claims to measure critical thinking and be an accurate indicator of performance as a lawyer, is an unnecessary hurdle for future lawyers and an inaccurate indicator of a candidate’s potential career success.

Students who have applied for training contracts and vacation schemes are all too aware that the 85-year-old test is an essential form of assessment for a number of magic circle and silver circle firms. However, whether this test is effective is another issue all together.

Having applied for numerous City-based training contracts and vacation schemes myself, this is an honest account of why I feel the test is ineffective. I believe — despite what it might claim — that the Watson Glaser is surplus to requirements.

A bit about the test. Essentially, it is used to measure cognitive abilities in professionals. This is tested through a series of statement-based questions and accounts via a written exam. A candidate is told not to use their knowledge but rather to read the given scenario and answer the questions without applying any current knowledge. This therefore allows an individual to apply their reasoning.

The test covers four key areas of ability that wannabe lawyers should have: to recognise assumptions, to make deductions, to come to conclusions and to interpret and evaluate arguments.

However most if not all of these abilities are already tested in various other assessment day activities, like group exercises, presentations and interviews. Focusing more heavily on these methods would allow individuals to have confidence in the recruitment process because decisions are not based on the outcome of a test but rather an individual’s ability to impress with their personality and interpersonal skills.

Conversely, there are essential lawyer skills which are not tested in the Watson Glaser. Sure, graduate recruiters could argue that’s why there are other assessment day activities in place to do that — but that argument does not work where a student has performed well overall but is not offered a training contract or vacation scheme because they failed the test.

I have personal experience of this. Having done several of these tests myself, I had on a number of occasions passed the online test but failed it when having a second go at the assessment days. This shows the test is somewhat unreliable because at one point my potential success is rated highly while at other times it isn’t. I was even rejected from a vacation scheme at a top international firm solely based on the outcome of the Watson Glaser test. It felt like a massive blow, and ultimately led to my disbelief in the assessment method.

When we spoke to a graduate recruiter about this law student discontent, she told us:

The thing to remember is that this sort of test should never be used as a sole measurement of success. Watson Glaser tests a person’s ability for analytical thinking. Clearly analytical thinking is an important part of any lawyer’s role. It tests how quickly and competently a person can analyse statements and deduce facts or make accurate assumptions. Clearly a lawyer has to be competent in a range of other skills including effective communication, for commercial law a keen understanding and interest in business and also to be good in team situations so they can work efficiently and effectively with colleagues and clients.

When asked specifically about how the firm would handle a situation where a candidate has performed really well in other forms of assessment but does not pass the test, she added:

When looking for candidates who most accurately match what is required for the role you are recruiting for a candidate has to be strong in all aspects of the assessment process.

While law firms continue to use this test as a good indicator of who would make it as a top lawyer, I really hope that they become more reliant on other mechanisms of assessments. Graduate recruiters should make decisions on the entire assessment day and not just one element of it, especially not the Watson Glaser, which seems to return inconsistent results. Surely, this cannot be the test that decides a person’s success in the law profession; a lawyer’s skills are not limited to how they respond to a critical thinking test.

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