Cognitive Ability vs. Basic Skills

Are you confused about the difference between a cognitive abilities test and a basic skills test? This short video will help you understand what each assessment measures and what you can use them for.

Hello! My name is Jen and I’m the Consulting Services Manager here at Wonderlic. In my daily job, I answer a lot of questions about our tests, from how to use them to what they measure. Today I’m going to talk about a phone call I handle a lot – the difference between cognitive ability and basic skills.

Many people have the mistaken notion that they’re the same thing. In reality, these tests measure two completely different things and should not be confused with one another.

Let’s talk about cognitive ability tests first. To start with, a cognitive ability test measures a person’s ability to learn, adapt, solve problems, and follow instructions – it’s not measuring whether or not they can read or do multiplication. Of course a person has to be able to read and do math to be able to answer the questions – but we are not MEASURING that.

Questions on a cognitive ability test include logical analogies, math, spatial relationships, and verbal.

In essence, these questions help us determine things like:

How quickly can he learn the job tasks?

Can she think outside the box?

Will he be able to come up with solutions to problems that pop up?

Can she understand my customer’s needs and offer ideas to help them?

These are all very valuable things to know about a candidate – and very different than knowing about an existing skill set the person might have.

In contrast, basic skills tests measure a person’s math and verbal skills, great for entry level jobs. Questions on a basic skills test include reading comprehension and lower level math problems.

We are measuring their degree of existing skill in these areas – not their ability to learn those skills.

Other types of skills tests include

  • Keyboarding and data entry
  • Writing
  • Software such as PowerPoint and Excel
  • Call center scenarios

Skills like these might be vital to a position, especially if you want to get up and running right away.

So to summarize: skills tests measure the skills and proficiencies a person already has. A cognitive abilities test measures their ability to LEARN new skills, as well as adapt to situations, solve problems, and follow instructions.

Thanks for watching! I hope you have a better understanding of the difference between cognitive ability and skills. Make sure you visit our blog for more videos and helpful articles, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news and information on workplace and human resource issues, student achievement, and more!


Amazing video of maiking others understand about cognitive skills and basic skills. Sharing with all makes a great sense. Thanks for sharing.

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