If your college doesn't have placements, look for standardised tests such as NACTECH that the industry has come to accept.

The word ‘aptitude' is a rather loaded term. Students, who are gearing up for the all-important job recruitment process, and candidates who have been through the rigmarole know that the aptitude test is a make-or-break section for any recruitment process.

While candidates pay a lot of attention to interviews, technical tests and even group discussions, experts say that often they undermine the importance of the simple aptitude test. Moreover, the term ‘aptitude' is mis-interpreted as one that refers to an inherent ability that has nothing to do with practice or preparation. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Students often get out of aptitude test and throw their hands up in the air, exclaiming “What could I have done? I clearly don't have the aptitude.” Madan Padaki, CEO of MeritTrac, a skills assessment company, insists that the word ‘aptitude' does not absolve candidates from preparing hard for the exam. “It's like any other exam. There might be an inherent limit, but it is up to the candidate to push that limit.” Mr. Padaki says that aptitude tests need tonnes of preparation, and the most important part is to attempt several papers to train your brain to think in the way the test requires you to. Mr. Padaki points out that something as seemingly insignificant as playing with numbers you see in every-day life, like for instance on number plates, and performing three or four mathematical operations on that number can tune your brain to think on its feet. It's all about moving from an unpractised ability to a practised ability, experts say.

Firstly, there is no single formula that every aptitude test follows. Tests vary from company to company and also depends on what the job expects from you. The four broad categories, that most questions generally fall under, are verbal ability, analytical thinking, numerical ability and attention to detail. Under analytical ability, there are 15 different types, points out Mr. Padaki. A test for a software product developer will differ a lot from the test pattern for a software tester, or for a job in the banking sector.

Only way out

So, there is only one way out: practice. There is tonnes of content available on the world wide web. You must start on general aptitude tests: solve puzzles, do a few online verbal ability tests. If you are not connected to the web, there are plenty of sites such as freshersworld.com or placementpapers.com, where you can download papers for free. Like everything else, even aptitude needs a grounding, and familiarity with the language of the test is that grounding.

Mr. Padaki, who works with NASSCOM on the NACTECH examination, used as a yardstick for employment in the engineering sector, says that standardised tests like these are a good bet. NACTECH, for instance, is accepted by scores of companies in the technology sector including Infosys, Patny and Cognizant Technology Solutions. So, if your college does not have a vibrant placement scene, then getting a standardised test like this will be your best bet. Given that recruiters today visit less than 20 per cent of the engineering campuses, and even fewer management colleges, these tests could make a world of difference to students in the ‘less fortunate' colleges. In the management sector, Trackskills is one of the certifications gaining popularity among students and potential employers.

So, candidates should look out for standardised exams like these, one to get practice and the other to get on board, Mr. Padaki says. Besides providing a window of opportunity, such tests also give you practice and detailed feedback that can help you improve your performance. He says that the concept called ‘Diagnastic' allows students to assess themselves. Unlike online tests that only give you just your score, such tools give granular feedback even at the sub-topic level.

For the late birds

Another way of getting your brain to think for an aptitude test, for students who do not have enough time to prepare with exams and placement round the corner, is to solve puzzles. Mathematic puzzles, space-orientation puzzles, word puzzles and just about anything you can lay your hands on will help, says a professor from a Bangalore engineering college, who is also a member of the placement cell. Some colleges provide students with such training. “The importance of doing well in aptitude cannot be stressed enough. After all, it's the elimination round. If you do not clear that, neither your academics nor your personality can get you anywhere as you will not even appear in front of the employer,” the professor points out. Students should do puzzles, time themselves and even use online tools. If nothing else, this will improve your confidence level.

If you are unsure what types of question to expect, ask the human resources people at the organisation you are applying to. This will not count against you; they should be only too happy to tell you.