Developing numerical ability

Modern day numerical reasoning tests are used as part of recruitment and training processes to measure your ability to understand, manipulate and make decisions based on numerical information.

While answering questions of a numerical nature may come naturally to some, for others it will instil a sense of fear and anxiety. If you belong to the latter category and are expecting to take a numerical reasoning test then it might serve you well to brush up on your numerical ability.

But just how exactly do you develop your numerical ability?


Developing your numerical ability 

Your numerical ability is like a muscle – and like any muscle it will respond to consistent and regular exercise. Regularly exercising your numerical ability ‘muscles’ will help it to grow stronger, and if you do not, it will become weaker.

Completing practice questions will help you to ‘exercise’ and therefore develop your raw numerical ability, but the benefits are limited. To build your raw ability to its maximum strength you need to combine regular practice with regular use of that ability. This will encourage your numerical ability to become stronger and more well-rounded.

Your raw numerical ability can be exercised and developed through any activity that requires you to use it, such as:

  • Completing number puzzles (like Sudoku), word games and problem solving challenges.
  • Adding things up in your head – such as prices when you go to the supermarket or pub (although the latter becomes increasingly difficult the longer you’re there!).
  • Reconciling your current account at the end of each month.
  • Reviewing and interpreting more complex sets of numerical data, such as a set of accounts, financial reports or website analytics data at work.
  • Analysing numerical information to identify and pull out key themes, trends and changes. Or looking at where the biggest differences occur between values, such as income vs outgoings.
  • Taking part in discussions about numerical information.


Like any form of exercise these activities will be most successful when you integrate them into normal life. If you can perform exercises in a way that becomes habitual, your raw numerical ability will grow steadily. It is often much easier to introduce small changes on a daily basis, such as a daily Sudoku puzzle, than attempt infrequent or overly demanding numerical exercises.

Remember that there is an upper limit to your numerical ability!

Just as we can’t all grow our muscles to the same size as Mr Universe, we can’t all grow our numerical ability to the level of Pythagoras. What you can do however, is combine knowledge of the test, your test-taking strategies and practice to develop your numerical ability to its maximum – this will help you achieve your personal best score.


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