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Self-Assessment • 20 min read

How Good Is Your Problem Solving?

Use a systematic approach..

By the Mind Tools Content Team

problem solving skills test with answers

Good problem solving skills are fundamentally important if you're going to be successful in your career.

But problems are something that we don't particularly like.

They're time-consuming.

They muscle their way into already packed schedules.

They force us to think about an uncertain future.

And they never seem to go away!

That's why, when faced with problems, most of us try to eliminate them as quickly as possible. But have you ever chosen the easiest or most obvious solution – and then realized that you have entirely missed a much better solution? Or have you found yourself fixing just the symptoms of a problem, only for the situation to get much worse?

To be an effective problem-solver, you need to be systematic and logical in your approach. This quiz helps you assess your current approach to problem solving. By improving this, you'll make better overall decisions. And as you increase your confidence with solving problems, you'll be less likely to rush to the first solution – which may not necessarily be the best one.

Once you've completed the quiz, we'll direct you to tools and resources that can help you make the most of your problem-solving skills.

How Good Are You at Solving Problems?


For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Please answer questions as you actually are (rather than how you think you should be), and don't worry if some questions seem to score in the 'wrong direction'. When you are finished, please click the 'Calculate My Total' button at the bottom of the test.

Answering these questions should have helped you recognize the key steps associated with effective problem solving.

This quiz is based on Dr Min Basadur's Simplexity Thinking problem-solving model. This eight-step process follows the circular pattern shown below, within which current problems are solved and new problems are identified on an ongoing basis. This assessment has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only.

Below, we outline the tools and strategies you can use for each stage of the problem-solving process. Enjoy exploring these stages!

Step 1: Find the Problem (Questions 7, 12)

Some problems are very obvious, however others are not so easily identified. As part of an effective problem-solving process, you need to look actively for problems – even when things seem to be running fine. Proactive problem solving helps you avoid emergencies and allows you to be calm and in control when issues arise.

These techniques can help you do this:

PEST Analysis helps you pick up changes to your environment that you should be paying attention to. Make sure too that you're watching changes in customer needs and market dynamics, and that you're monitoring trends that are relevant to your industry.

Risk Analysis helps you identify significant business risks.

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis helps you identify possible points of failure in your business process, so that you can fix these before problems arise.

After Action Reviews help you scan recent performance to identify things that can be done better in the future.

Where you have several problems to solve, our articles on Prioritization and Pareto Analysis help you think about which ones you should focus on first.

Step 2: Find the Facts (Questions 10, 14)

After identifying a potential problem, you need information. What factors contribute to the problem? Who is involved with it? What solutions have been tried before? What do others think about the problem?

If you move forward to find a solution too quickly, you risk relying on imperfect information that's based on assumptions and limited perspectives, so make sure that you research the problem thoroughly.

Step 3: Define the Problem (Questions 3, 9)

Now that you understand the problem, define it clearly and completely. Writing a clear problem definition forces you to establish specific boundaries for the problem. This keeps the scope from growing too large, and it helps you stay focused on the main issues.

A great tool to use at this stage is CATWOE . With this process, you analyze potential problems by looking at them from six perspectives, those of its Customers; Actors (people within the organization); the Transformation, or business process; the World-view, or top-down view of what's going on; the Owner; and the wider organizational Environment. By looking at a situation from these perspectives, you can open your mind and come to a much sharper and more comprehensive definition of the problem.

Cause and Effect Analysis is another good tool to use here, as it helps you think about the many different factors that can contribute to a problem. This helps you separate the symptoms of a problem from its fundamental causes.

Step 4: Find Ideas (Questions 4, 13)

With a clear problem definition, start generating ideas for a solution. The key here is to be flexible in the way you approach a problem. You want to be able to see it from as many perspectives as possible. Looking for patterns or common elements in different parts of the problem can sometimes help. You can also use metaphors and analogies to help analyze the problem, discover similarities to other issues, and think of solutions based on those similarities.

Traditional brainstorming and reverse brainstorming are very useful here. By taking the time to generate a range of creative solutions to the problem, you'll significantly increase the likelihood that you'll find the best possible solution, not just a semi-adequate one. Where appropriate, involve people with different viewpoints to expand the volume of ideas generated.

Tip: Don't evaluate your ideas until step 5. If you do, this will limit your creativity at too early a stage.

Step 5: Select and Evaluate (Questions 6, 15)

After finding ideas, you'll have many options that must be evaluated. It's tempting at this stage to charge in and start discarding ideas immediately. However, if you do this without first determining the criteria for a good solution, you risk rejecting an alternative that has real potential.

Decide what elements are needed for a realistic and practical solution, and think about the criteria you'll use to choose between potential solutions.

Paired Comparison Analysis , Decision Matrix Analysis and Risk Analysis are useful techniques here, as are many of the specialist resources available within our Decision-Making section . Enjoy exploring these!

Step 6: Plan (Questions 1, 16)

You might think that choosing a solution is the end of a problem-solving process. In fact, it's simply the start of the next phase in problem solving: implementation. This involves lots of planning and preparation. If you haven't already developed a full Risk Analysis in the evaluation phase, do so now. It's important to know what to be prepared for as you begin to roll out your proposed solution.

The type of planning that you need to do depends on the size of the implementation project that you need to set up. For small projects, all you'll often need are Action Plans that outline who will do what, when, and how. Larger projects need more sophisticated approaches – you'll find out more about these in the article What is Project Management? And for projects that affect many other people, you'll need to think about Change Management as well.

Here, it can be useful to conduct an Impact Analysis to help you identify potential resistance as well as alert you to problems you may not have anticipated. Force Field Analysis will also help you uncover the various pressures for and against your proposed solution. Once you've done the detailed planning, it can also be useful at this stage to make a final Go/No-Go Decision , making sure that it's actually worth going ahead with the selected option.

Step 7: Sell the Idea (Questions 5, 8)

As part of the planning process, you must convince other stakeholders that your solution is the best one. You'll likely meet with resistance, so before you try to “sell” your idea, make sure you've considered all the consequences.

As you begin communicating your plan, listen to what people say, and make changes as necessary. The better the overall solution meets everyone's needs, the greater its positive impact will be! For more tips on selling your idea, read our article on Creating a Value Proposition and use our Sell Your Idea Skillbook.

Step 8: Act (Questions 2, 11)

Finally, once you've convinced your key stakeholders that your proposed solution is worth running with, you can move on to the implementation stage. This is the exciting and rewarding part of problem solving, which makes the whole process seem worthwhile.

This action stage is an end, but it's also a beginning: once you've completed your implementation, it's time to move into the next cycle of problem solving by returning to the scanning stage. By doing this, you'll continue improving your organization as you move into the future.

Problem solving is an exceptionally important workplace skill.

Being a competent and confident problem solver will create many opportunities for you. By using a well-developed model like Simplexity Thinking for solving problems, you can approach the process systematically, and be comfortable that the decisions you make are solid.

Given the unpredictable nature of problems, it's very reassuring to know that, by following a structured plan, you've done everything you can to resolve the problem to the best of your ability.

This assessment has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only. It is just one of many Mind Tool quizzes that can help you to evaluate your abilities in a wide range of important career skills.

If you want to reproduce this quiz, you can purchase downloadable copies in our Store .

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Comprehensive Interview Guide: 60+ Professions Explored in Detail

26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

By Biron Clark

Published: October 31, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication , listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

About the Author

Read more articles by Biron Clark

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15 Common Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Ebook: How to Build a Tech Talent Brand: The Definitive Guide

In an interview for a big tech company, I was asked if I’d ever resolved a fight — and the exact way I went about handling it. I felt blindsided, and I stammered my way through an excuse of an answer.

It’s a familiar scenario to fellow technical job seekers — and one that risks leaving a sour taste in our mouths. As candidate experience becomes an increasingly critical component of the hiring process, recruiters need to ensure the problem-solving interview questions they prepare don’t dissuade talent in the first place. 

Interview questions designed to gauge a candidate’s problem-solving skills are more often than not challenging and vague. Assessing a multifaceted skill like problem solving is tricky — a good problem solver owns the full solution and result, researches well, solves creatively and takes action proactively. 

It’s hard to establish an effective way to measure such a skill. But it’s not impossible.

We recommend taking an informed and prepared approach to testing candidates’ problem-solving skills . With that in mind, here’s a list of a few common problem-solving interview questions, the science behind them — and how you can go about administering your own problem-solving questions with the unique challenges of your organization in mind.

Key Takeaways for Effective Problem-Solving Interview Questions

  • Problem solving lies at the heart of programming. 
  • Testing a candidate’s problem-solving skills goes beyond the IDE. Problem-solving interview questions should test both technical skills and soft skills.
  • STAR, SOAR and PREP are methods a candidate can use to answer some non-technical problem-solving interview questions.
  • Generic problem-solving interview questions go a long way in gauging a candidate’s fit. But you can go one step further by customizing them according to your company’s service, product, vision, and culture. 

Technical Problem-Solving Interview Question Examples

Evaluating a candidates’ problem-solving skills while using coding challenges might seem intimidating. The secret is that coding challenges test many things at the same time — like the candidate’s knowledge of data structures and algorithms, clean code practices, and proficiency in specific programming languages, to name a few examples.

Problem solving itself might at first seem like it’s taking a back seat. But technical problem solving lies at the heart of programming, and most coding questions are designed to test a candidate’s problem-solving abilities.

Here are a few examples of technical problem-solving questions:

1. Mini-Max Sum  

This well-known challenge, which asks the interviewee to find the maximum and minimum sum among an array of given numbers, is based on a basic but important programming concept called sorting, as well as integer overflow. It tests the candidate’s observational skills, and the answer should elicit a logical, ad-hoc solution.

2. Organizing Containers of Balls  

This problem tests the candidate’s knowledge of a variety of programming concepts, like 2D arrays, sorting and iteration. Organizing colored balls in containers based on various conditions is a common question asked in competitive examinations and job interviews, because it’s an effective way to test multiple facets of a candidate’s problem-solving skills.

3. Build a Palindrome

This is a tough problem to crack, and the candidate’s knowledge of concepts like strings and dynamic programming plays a significant role in solving this challenge. This problem-solving example tests the candidate’s ability to think on their feet as well as their ability to write clean, optimized code.

4. Subarray Division

Based on a technique used for searching pairs in a sorted array ( called the “two pointers” technique ), this problem can be solved in just a few lines and judges the candidate’s ability to optimize (as well as basic mathematical skills).

5. The Grid Search 

This is a problem of moderate difficulty and tests the candidate’s knowledge of strings and searching algorithms, the latter of which is regularly tested in developer interviews across all levels.

Common Non-Technical Problem-Solving Interview Questions 

Testing a candidate’s problem-solving skills goes beyond the IDE . Everyday situations can help illustrate competency, so here are a few questions that focus on past experiences and hypothetical situations to help interviewers gauge problem-solving skills.

1. Given the problem of selecting a new tool to invest in, where and how would you begin this task? 

Key Insight : This question offers insight into the candidate’s research skills. Ideally, they would begin by identifying the problem, interviewing stakeholders, gathering insights from the team, and researching what tools exist to best solve for the team’s challenges and goals. 

2. Have you ever recognized a potential problem and addressed it before it occurred? 

Key Insight: Prevention is often better than cure. The ability to recognize a problem before it occurs takes intuition and an understanding of business needs. 

3. A teammate on a time-sensitive project confesses that he’s made a mistake, and it’s putting your team at risk of missing key deadlines. How would you respond?

Key Insight: Sometimes, all the preparation in the world still won’t stop a mishap. Thinking on your feet and managing stress are skills that this question attempts to unearth. Like any other skill, they can be cultivated through practice.

4. Tell me about a time you used a unique problem-solving approach. 

Key Insight: Creativity can manifest in many ways, including original or novel ways to tackle a problem. Methods like the 10X approach and reverse brainstorming are a couple of unique approaches to problem solving. 

5. Have you ever broken rules for the “greater good?” If yes, can you walk me through the situation?

Key Insight: “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission.” It’s unconventional, but in some situations, it may be the mindset needed to drive a solution to a problem.

6. Tell me about a weakness you overcame at work, and the approach you took. 

Key Insight: According to Compass Partnership , “self-awareness allows us to understand how and why we respond in certain situations, giving us the opportunity to take charge of these responses.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with a problem. Candidates showing high levels of self-awareness are positioned to handle it well.

7. Have you ever owned up to a mistake at work? Can you tell me about it?

Key Insight: Everybody makes mistakes. But owning up to them can be tough, especially at a workplace. Not only does it take courage, but it also requires honesty and a willingness to improve, all signs of 1) a reliable employee and 2) an effective problem solver.

8. How would you approach working with an upset customer?

Key Insight: With the rise of empathy-driven development and more companies choosing to bridge the gap between users and engineers, today’s tech teams speak directly with customers more frequently than ever before. This question brings to light the candidate’s interpersonal skills in a client-facing environment.

9. Have you ever had to solve a problem on your own, but needed to ask for additional help? How did you go about it? 

Key Insight: Knowing when you need assistance to complete a task or address a situation is an important quality to have while problem solving. This questions helps the interviewer get a sense of the candidate’s ability to navigate those waters. 

10. Let’s say you disagree with your colleague on how to move forward with a project. How would you go about resolving the disagreement?

Key Insight: Conflict resolution is an extremely handy skill for any employee to have; an ideal answer to this question might contain a brief explanation of the conflict or situation, the role played by the candidate and the steps taken by them to arrive at a positive resolution or outcome. 

Strategies for Answering Problem-Solving Questions

If you’re a job seeker, chances are you’ll encounter this style of question in your various interview experiences. While problem-solving interview questions may appear simple, they can be easy to fumble — leaving the interviewer without a clear solution or outcome. 

It’s important to approach such questions in a structured manner. Here are a few tried-and-true methods to employ in your next problem-solving interview.

1. Shine in Interviews With the STAR Method

S ituation, T ask, A ction, and R esult is a great method that can be employed to answer a problem-solving or behavioral interview question. Here’s a breakdown of these steps:

  • Situation : A good way to address almost any interview question is to lay out and define the situation and circumstances. 
  • Task : Define the problem or goal that needs to be addressed. Coding questions are often multifaceted, so this step is particularly important when answering technical problem-solving questions.
  • Action : How did you go about solving the problem? Try to be as specific as possible, and state your plan in steps if you can.
  • Result : Wrap it up by stating the outcome achieved. 

2. Rise above difficult questions using the SOAR method

A very similar approach to the STAR method, SOAR stands for S ituation, O bstacle, A ction, and R esults .

  • Situation: Explain the state of affairs. It’s important to steer clear of stating any personal opinions in this step; focus on the facts.
  • Obstacle: State the challenge or problem you faced.
  • Action: Detail carefully how you went about overcoming this obstacle.
  • Result: What was the end result? Apart from overcoming the obstacle, did you achieve anything else? What did you learn in the process? 

3. Do It the PREP Way

Traditionally used as a method to make effective presentations, the P oint, R eason, E xample, P oint method can also be used to answer problem-solving interview questions.  

  • Point : State the solution in plain terms. 
  • Reasons: Follow up the solution by detailing your case — and include any data or insights that support your solution. 
  • Example: In addition to objective data and insights, drive your answer home by contextualizing the solution in a real-world example.
  • Point : Reiterate the solution to make it come full circle.

How to Customize Problem-Solving Interview Questions 

Generic problem-solving interview questions go a long way in gauging a candidate’s skill level, but recruiters can go one step further by customizing these problem-solving questions according to their company’s service, product, vision, or culture. 

Here are some tips to do so:

  • Break down the job’s responsibilities into smaller tasks. Job descriptions may contain ambiguous responsibilities like “manage team projects effectively.” To formulate an effective problem-solving question, envision what this task might look like in a real-world context and develop a question around it.  
  • Tailor questions to the role at hand. Apart from making for an effective problem-solving question, it gives the candidate the impression you’re an informed technical recruiter. For example, an engineer will likely have attended many scrums. So, a good question to ask is: “Suppose you notice your scrums are turning unproductive. How would you go about addressing this?” 
  • Consider the tools and technologies the candidate will use on the job. For example, if Jira is the primary project management tool, a good problem-solving interview question might be: “Can you tell me about a time you simplified a complex workflow — and the tools you used to do so?”
  • If you don’t know where to start, your company’s core values can often provide direction. If one of the core values is “ownership,” for example, consider asking a question like: “Can you walk us through a project you owned from start to finish?” 
  • Sometimes, developing custom content can be difficult even with all these tips considered. Our platform has a vast selection of problem-solving examples that are designed to help recruiters ask the right questions to help nail their next technical interview.

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Top 20 Problem Solving Interview Questions (Example Answers Included)

Mike Simpson 0 Comments

problem solving skills test with answers

By Mike Simpson

When candidates prepare for interviews, they usually focus on highlighting their leadership, communication, teamwork, and similar crucial soft skills . However, not everyone gets ready for problem-solving interview questions. And that can be a big mistake.

Problem-solving is relevant to nearly any job on the planet. Yes, it’s more prevalent in certain industries, but it’s helpful almost everywhere.

Regardless of the role you want to land, you may be asked to provide problem-solving examples or describe how you would deal with specific situations. That’s why being ready to showcase your problem-solving skills is so vital.

If you aren’t sure who to tackle problem-solving questions, don’t worry, we have your back. Come with us as we explore this exciting part of the interview process, as well as some problem-solving interview questions and example answers.

What Is Problem-Solving?

When you’re trying to land a position, there’s a good chance you’ll face some problem-solving interview questions. But what exactly is problem-solving? And why is it so important to hiring managers?

Well, the good folks at Merriam-Webster define problem-solving as “the process or act of finding a solution to a problem.” While that may seem like common sense, there’s a critical part to that definition that should catch your eye.

What part is that? The word “process.”

In the end, problem-solving is an activity. It’s your ability to take appropriate steps to find answers, determine how to proceed, or otherwise overcome the challenge.

Being great at it usually means having a range of helpful problem-solving skills and traits. Research, diligence, patience, attention-to-detail , collaboration… they can all play a role. So can analytical thinking , creativity, and open-mindedness.

But why do hiring managers worry about your problem-solving skills? Well, mainly, because every job comes with its fair share of problems.

While problem-solving is relevant to scientific, technical, legal, medical, and a whole slew of other careers. It helps you overcome challenges and deal with the unexpected. It plays a role in troubleshooting and innovation. That’s why it matters to hiring managers.

How to Answer Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Okay, before we get to our examples, let’s take a quick second to talk about strategy. Knowing how to answer problem-solving interview questions is crucial. Why? Because the hiring manager might ask you something that you don’t anticipate.

Problem-solving interview questions are all about seeing how you think. As a result, they can be a bit… unconventional.

These aren’t your run-of-the-mill job interview questions . Instead, they are tricky behavioral interview questions . After all, the goal is to find out how you approach problem-solving, so most are going to feature scenarios, brainteasers, or something similar.

So, having a great strategy means knowing how to deal with behavioral questions. Luckily, there are a couple of tools that can help.

First, when it comes to the classic approach to behavioral interview questions, look no further than the STAR Method . With the STAR method, you learn how to turn your answers into captivating stories. This makes your responses tons more engaging, ensuring you keep the hiring manager’s attention from beginning to end.

Now, should you stop with the STAR Method? Of course not. If you want to take your answers to the next level, spend some time with the Tailoring Method , too.

With the Tailoring Method, it’s all about relevance. So, if you get a chance to choose an example that demonstrates your problem-solving skills, this is really the way to go.

We also wanted to let you know that we created an amazing free cheat sheet that will give you word-for-word answers for some of the toughest interview questions you are going to face in your upcoming interview. After all, hiring managers will often ask you more generalized interview questions!

Click below to get your free PDF now:

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FREE BONUS PDF CHEAT SHEET: Get our " Job Interview Questions & Answers PDF Cheat Sheet " that gives you " word-word sample answers to the most common job interview questions you'll face at your next interview .


Top 3 Problem-Solving-Based Interview Questions

Alright, here is what you’ve been waiting for: the problem-solving questions and sample answers.

While many questions in this category are job-specific, these tend to apply to nearly any job. That means there’s a good chance you’ll come across them at some point in your career, making them a great starting point when you’re practicing for an interview.

So, let’s dive in, shall we? Here’s a look at the top three problem-solving interview questions and example responses.

1. Can you tell me about a time when you had to solve a challenging problem?

In the land of problem-solving questions, this one might be your best-case scenario. It lets you choose your own problem-solving examples to highlight, putting you in complete control.

When you choose an example, go with one that is relevant to what you’ll face in the role. The closer the match, the better the answer is in the eyes of the hiring manager.


“While working as a mobile telecom support specialist for a large organization, we had to transition our MDM service from one vendor to another within 45 days. This personally physically handling 500 devices within the agency. Devices had to be gathered from the headquarters and satellite offices, which were located all across the state, something that was challenging even without the tight deadline. I approached the situation by identifying the location assignment of all personnel within the organization, enabling me to estimate transit times for receiving the devices. Next, I timed out how many devices I could personally update in a day. Together, this allowed me to create a general timeline. After that, I coordinated with each location, both expressing the urgency of adhering to deadlines and scheduling bulk shipping options. While there were occasional bouts of resistance, I worked with location leaders to calm concerns and facilitate action. While performing all of the updates was daunting, my approach to organizing the event made it a success. Ultimately, the entire transition was finished five days before the deadline, exceeding the expectations of many.”

2. Describe a time where you made a mistake. What did you do to fix it?

While this might not look like it’s based on problem-solving on the surface, it actually is. When you make a mistake, it creates a challenge, one you have to work your way through. At a minimum, it’s an opportunity to highlight problem-solving skills, even if you don’t address the topic directly.

When you choose an example, you want to go with a situation where the end was positive. However, the issue still has to be significant, causing something negative to happen in the moment that you, ideally, overcame.

“When I first began in a supervisory role, I had trouble setting down my individual contributor hat. I tried to keep up with my past duties while also taking on the responsibilities of my new role. As a result, I began rushing and introduced an error into the code of the software my team was updating. The error led to a memory leak. We became aware of the issue when the performance was hindered, though we didn’t immediately know the cause. I dove back into the code, reviewing recent changes, and, ultimately, determined the issue was a mistake on my end. When I made that discovery, I took several steps. First, I let my team know that the error was mine and let them know its nature. Second, I worked with my team to correct the issue, resolving the memory leak. Finally, I took this as a lesson about delegation. I began assigning work to my team more effectively, a move that allowed me to excel as a manager and help them thrive as contributors. It was a crucial learning moment, one that I have valued every day since.”

3. If you identify a potential risk in a project, what steps do you take to prevent it?

Yes, this is also a problem-solving question. The difference is, with this one, it’s not about fixing an issue; it’s about stopping it from happening. Still, you use problem-solving skills along the way, so it falls in this question category.

If you can, use an example of a moment when you mitigated risk in the past. If you haven’t had that opportunity, approach it theoretically, discussing the steps you would take to prevent an issue from developing.

“If I identify a potential risk in a project, my first step is to assess the various factors that could lead to a poor outcome. Prevention requires analysis. Ensuring I fully understand what can trigger the undesired event creates the right foundation, allowing me to figure out how to reduce the likelihood of those events occurring. Once I have the right level of understanding, I come up with a mitigation plan. Exactly what this includes varies depending on the nature of the issue, though it usually involves various steps and checks designed to monitor the project as it progresses to spot paths that may make the problem more likely to happen. I find this approach effective as it combines knowledge and ongoing vigilance. That way, if the project begins to head into risky territory, I can correct its trajectory.”

17 More Problem-Solving-Based Interview Questions

In the world of problem-solving questions, some apply to a wide range of jobs, while others are more niche. For example, customer service reps and IT helpdesk professionals both encounter challenges, but not usually the same kind.

As a result, some of the questions in this list may be more relevant to certain careers than others. However, they all give you insights into what this kind of question looks like, making them worth reviewing.

Here are 17 more problem-solving interview questions you might face off against during your job search:

  • How would you describe your problem-solving skills?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to use creativity to deal with an obstacle?
  • Describe a time when you discovered an unmet customer need while assisting a customer and found a way to meet it.
  • If you were faced with an upset customer, how would you diffuse the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to troubleshoot a complex issue.
  • Imagine you were overseeing a project and needed a particular item. You have two choices of vendors: one that can deliver on time but would be over budget, and one that’s under budget but would deliver one week later than you need it. How do you figure out which approach to use?
  • Your manager wants to upgrade a tool you regularly use for your job and wants your recommendation. How do you formulate one?
  • A supplier has said that an item you need for a project isn’t going to be delivered as scheduled, something that would cause your project to fall behind schedule. What do you do to try and keep the timeline on target?
  • Can you share an example of a moment where you encountered a unique problem you and your colleagues had never seen before? How did you figure out what to do?
  • Imagine you were scheduled to give a presentation with a colleague, and your colleague called in sick right before it was set to begin. What would you do?
  • If you are given two urgent tasks from different members of the leadership team, both with the same tight deadline, how do you choose which to tackle first?
  • Tell me about a time you and a colleague didn’t see eye-to-eye. How did you decide what to do?
  • Describe your troubleshooting process.
  • Tell me about a time where there was a problem that you weren’t able to solve. What happened?
  • In your opening, what skills or traits make a person an exceptional problem-solver?
  • When you face a problem that requires action, do you usually jump in or take a moment to carefully assess the situation?
  • When you encounter a new problem you’ve never seen before, what is the first step that you take?

Putting It All Together

At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to approach problem-solving interview questions. Use the tips above to your advantage. That way, you can thrive during your next interview.

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His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes , Entrepreneur , CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan , Penn State , Northeastern and others.

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problem solving skills test with answers


Problem-Solving Assessment for Finding and Hiring the Best Problem Solvers

A problem-solving test is an assessment to determine whether a candidate has problem-solving skills and whether they can contemplate positive and negative solutions to a problem. It measures the ability to use logic, creativity, and analytical skills to assess and respond to complex situations. 


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Inside This Problem Solving Assessment

Problem-solving is an essential skill for individuals, teams and managers to progress toward achieving goals. It involves the ability to identify ways and means to solve various problems that come up as a challenge in any job/task. Problem-solving skills influence our career, whether we are solving a problem for a client or assisting those who are solving problems. 

A problem-solving test evaluates the candidate's ability to outline a problem, deconstruct it, develop the most appropriate solution, and assess the effectiveness of the solution. It allows employers to find candidates who possess such abilities. The test assesses problem-solving ability through questions that evaluate someone's numerical knowledge, critical thinking, analytical ability and problem-solving skills. 

The problem-solving assessment requires test-takers to respond correctly to the questions within the decided time. Qualified candidates can define the nature of a problem, are proactive in seeking the optimal solution for the problem, and consider all possible outcomes before settling on the best solution.  

Employers can glean actionable insights from the problem-solving skills test to identify the best talent from a pool of resumes, which eventually translates to objective hiring decisions backed by data. In addition, since these tests are to be administered online, the administrative overhead of conducting too many interviews gets reduced, enabling the employers and recruiters to save more time and resources by screening out unqualified participants. This way, it becomes significantly easy to find the best candidates. 

Why should you use this problem-solving ability test? 

The problem-solving skills test is meticulously designed to successfully test a candidate's problem-solving skills that are essential for carrying out business and even maintaining interpersonal relationships. This test is planned and structured in such a way that it will effectively test a candidate’s ability to identify and address a problem. Moreover, it helps measure decision-making, reasoning, and numerical reasoning skills. 

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Use this problem-solving aptitude test for: 

This test is suitable for all the profiles in the workplace. The test is planned and structured to assess problem-solving ability in fresher (for entry-level roles) and experienced candidates. 

Key profiles the test is helpful for: 

  • All profiles in a workplace 

Note: If required, we can also provide the problem-solving skills assessment in other languages. Please connect with us at [email protected] for any such requirements. 

Problems never knock before entering our lives, be it professional or personal, and are not avoidable. An unexpected issue will likely surface, and we must have a plan to address it. The skill of solving problems is needed in all facets of life. People with problem-solving aptitude tend to forge challenges into lucrative opportunities. Employees with these highly coveted personality traits are indispensable for organizations. They understand that problems are there to help us grow and transform into a better person who undertakes every project with confidence and conviction. 

Such people are favorably disposed toward handling unexpected/difficult situations calmly. This aptitude empowers them to use logic, creativity, and creative thinking to propose practical solutions to their problems. Undoubtedly, employers regard those people highly and want them placed in essential roles in the organization. That is where the part of the problem-solving test comes into play and helps employers to identify the right talent with the desired skills. 

From an organizational viewpoint, problem-solving hinges on the employee's ability to devise processes that eliminate or circumvent obstacles that keep a company from accomplishing its goals. If not appropriately addressed, such blocks can create a divide between expected results and actual outcomes. Hence, problem-solving is a crucial skill in the workplace that dictates how any particular challenge can be undertaken and overcome. Roles such as project management, data analyst, programmers, customer service assistance, etc., entail working on strict deadlines and demanding tasks on a day-to-day basis. Hence, problem-solving skills become critical when finding talent for these roles in assessing job fit and matching the best person to the proper position. 

The problem-solving skills assessment helps organizations gain insights into the problem-solving competencies of candidates. Even before the company interviews, evaluating applicants' skills can help recruiters understand their level of proficiency. This way, only those candidates with the skills most suited to the role will be shortlisted for the subsequent round of interviews. 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. why do we use problem-solving tests.

Problem-solving tests can help employers identify the appropriate skills that can assist in selecting an individual with problem-solving abilities. These tests determine a candidate's problem-solving skills, trainability, and learning agility. 

2. How do you measure problem-solving skills?

Through expertly formulated problem-solving aptitude tests, it is easy to understand whether a candidate can demonstrate the ability to analyze the given information from different perspectives and solve complex problems.

3. How do you practice problem-solving skills?

Problem-solving is a systematic stepwise process, which includes some primary stages that you can consider when approaching a problem: 

  • Identify the nature of the problem. 
  • Research the intricacies and understand the nuances behind the problem. 
  • Visualization of the problem helps analyze data, break it down into manageable components, and arrive at a logical solution. 
  • Using active listening skills helps bring in a variety of opinions and inputs from others, which is crucial for solving problems. 
  • Identify the most viable solution from several available ideas by considering any potential risks involved in these solutions. 

4. How do you test problem-solving skills in an interview?

Interview questions aimed at problem-solving skills are used to understand a candidate's approach to complex and unusual scenarios. Listed below are some of the commonly used examples of interview questions focused on problem-solving: 

  • What is your best approach to solving any problem? 
  • What was the most taxing situation you encountered at work? How did you resolve it? 
  • Has there been a time when you faced a challenging problem at work and could not solve it? How did you respond? 
  • What is your typical decision-making approach? How do you weigh the pros and cons beforehand? 
  • In your opinion, what distinguishes you from others as far as problem-solving skills are concerned? 
  • Describe a past situation when your crisis-management skills have helped a problem from escalating? 
  • Give us an example of a situation when you solved a problem without substantial input? How did you approach the issue, and what was the outcome? 

5. How can one refine their problem-solving skills?

Here are some specifics about what aspects to consider when it comes to enhancing your problem-solving skills: 

  • Before seeking answers to a problem, define the problem, understand its nature and analyze it. 
  • Use mind map diagrams for an in-depth focus on the problem.  
  • Jot down all possible solutions as a result of brainstorming ideas with teams. 
  • Always be receptive to ideas, opinions, and feedback from the best people in your field. 
  • Riddles, logic puzzles, brain teasers, and other mental exercises are a surefire way to sharpen your problem-solving skills. 

6. How do you use problem-solving skills in the workplace?

Problem-solving is an essential life skill needed to solve our day-to-day problems. However, a collaborative and strategic approach is crucial to solving problems of diverse intensity when it comes to solving workplace problems. Here are some easy-peasy tips on how to improve your problem-solving abilities at work: 

  • Identify the root cause of a given problem. 
  • Use the creative problem-solving approach. 
  • Come up with potential solutions based on data. 
  • Collaboration and teamwork should be at the forefront of the problem-solving mindset. 
  • Choose the solution that resonates with you and implement it to check whether it works. 
  • Keep track of the success indicators. 
  • If the problem has been resolved, substantiate it using data highlighting the success of the efforts with your supervisor, coequals, and subordinates. 

10 Best Problem-Solving Therapy Worksheets & Activities

Problem solving therapy

Cognitive science tells us that we regularly face not only well-defined problems but, importantly, many that are ill defined (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).

Sometimes, we find ourselves unable to overcome our daily problems or the inevitable (though hopefully infrequent) life traumas we face.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce the incidence and impact of mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by helping clients face life’s difficulties (Dobson, 2011).

This article introduces Problem-Solving Therapy and offers techniques, activities, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use with clients.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free . These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

What is problem-solving therapy, 14 steps for problem-solving therapy, 3 best interventions and techniques, 7 activities and worksheets for your session, fascinating books on the topic, resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

Problem-Solving Therapy assumes that mental disorders arise in response to ineffective or maladaptive coping. By adopting a more realistic and optimistic view of coping, individuals can understand the role of emotions and develop actions to reduce distress and maintain mental wellbeing (Nezu & Nezu, 2009).

“Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a psychosocial intervention, generally considered to be under a cognitive-behavioral umbrella” (Nezu, Nezu, & D’Zurilla, 2013, p. ix). It aims to encourage the client to cope better with day-to-day problems and traumatic events and reduce their impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

Clinical research, counseling, and health psychology have shown PST to be highly effective in clients of all ages, ranging from children to the elderly, across multiple clinical settings, including schizophrenia, stress, and anxiety disorders (Dobson, 2011).

Can it help with depression?

PST appears particularly helpful in treating clients with depression. A recent analysis of 30 studies found that PST was an effective treatment with a similar degree of success as other successful therapies targeting depression (Cuijpers, Wit, Kleiboer, Karyotaki, & Ebert, 2020).

Other studies confirm the value of PST and its effectiveness at treating depression in multiple age groups and its capacity to combine with other therapies, including drug treatments (Dobson, 2011).

The major concepts

Effective coping varies depending on the situation, and treatment typically focuses on improving the environment and reducing emotional distress (Dobson, 2011).

PST is based on two overlapping models:

Social problem-solving model

This model focuses on solving the problem “as it occurs in the natural social environment,” combined with a general coping strategy and a method of self-control (Dobson, 2011, p. 198).

The model includes three central concepts:

  • Social problem-solving
  • The problem
  • The solution

The model is a “self-directed cognitive-behavioral process by which an individual, couple, or group attempts to identify or discover effective solutions for specific problems encountered in everyday living” (Dobson, 2011, p. 199).

Relational problem-solving model

The theory of PST is underpinned by a relational problem-solving model, whereby stress is viewed in terms of the relationships between three factors:

  • Stressful life events
  • Emotional distress and wellbeing
  • Problem-solving coping

Therefore, when a significant adverse life event occurs, it may require “sweeping readjustments in a person’s life” (Dobson, 2011, p. 202).

problem solving skills test with answers

  • Enhance positive problem orientation
  • Decrease negative orientation
  • Foster ability to apply rational problem-solving skills
  • Reduce the tendency to avoid problem-solving
  • Minimize the tendency to be careless and impulsive

D’Zurilla’s and Nezu’s model includes (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • Initial structuring Establish a positive therapeutic relationship that encourages optimism and explains the PST approach.
  • Assessment Formally and informally assess areas of stress in the client’s life and their problem-solving strengths and weaknesses.
  • Obstacles to effective problem-solving Explore typically human challenges to problem-solving, such as multitasking and the negative impact of stress. Introduce tools that can help, such as making lists, visualization, and breaking complex problems down.
  • Problem orientation – fostering self-efficacy Introduce the importance of a positive problem orientation, adopting tools, such as visualization, to promote self-efficacy.
  • Problem orientation – recognizing problems Help clients recognize issues as they occur and use problem checklists to ‘normalize’ the experience.
  • Problem orientation – seeing problems as challenges Encourage clients to break free of harmful and restricted ways of thinking while learning how to argue from another point of view.
  • Problem orientation – use and control emotions Help clients understand the role of emotions in problem-solving, including using feelings to inform the process and managing disruptive emotions (such as cognitive reframing and relaxation exercises).
  • Problem orientation – stop and think Teach clients how to reduce impulsive and avoidance tendencies (visualizing a stop sign or traffic light).
  • Problem definition and formulation Encourage an understanding of the nature of problems and set realistic goals and objectives.
  • Generation of alternatives Work with clients to help them recognize the wide range of potential solutions to each problem (for example, brainstorming).
  • Decision-making Encourage better decision-making through an improved understanding of the consequences of decisions and the value and likelihood of different outcomes.
  • Solution implementation and verification Foster the client’s ability to carry out a solution plan, monitor its outcome, evaluate its effectiveness, and use self-reinforcement to increase the chance of success.
  • Guided practice Encourage the application of problem-solving skills across multiple domains and future stressful problems.
  • Rapid problem-solving Teach clients how to apply problem-solving questions and guidelines quickly in any given situation.

Success in PST depends on the effectiveness of its implementation; using the right approach is crucial (Dobson, 2011).

Problem-solving therapy – Baycrest

The following interventions and techniques are helpful when implementing more effective problem-solving approaches in client’s lives.

First, it is essential to consider if PST is the best approach for the client, based on the problems they present.

Is PPT appropriate?

It is vital to consider whether PST is appropriate for the client’s situation. Therapists new to the approach may require additional guidance (Nezu et al., 2013).

Therapists should consider the following questions before beginning PST with a client (modified from Nezu et al., 2013):

  • Has PST proven effective in the past for the problem? For example, research has shown success with depression, generalized anxiety, back pain, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and supporting caregivers (Nezu et al., 2013).
  • Is PST acceptable to the client?
  • Is the individual experiencing a significant mental or physical health problem?

All affirmative answers suggest that PST would be a helpful technique to apply in this instance.

Five problem-solving steps

The following five steps are valuable when working with clients to help them cope with and manage their environment (modified from Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to consider the following points (forming the acronym ADAPT) when confronted by a problem:

  • Attitude Aim to adopt a positive, optimistic attitude to the problem and problem-solving process.
  • Define Obtain all required facts and details of potential obstacles to define the problem.
  • Alternatives Identify various alternative solutions and actions to overcome the obstacle and achieve the problem-solving goal.
  • Predict Predict each alternative’s positive and negative outcomes and choose the one most likely to achieve the goal and maximize the benefits.
  • Try out Once selected, try out the solution and monitor its effectiveness while engaging in self-reinforcement.

If the client is not satisfied with their solution, they can return to step ‘A’ and find a more appropriate solution.

Positive self-statements

When dealing with clients facing negative self-beliefs, it can be helpful for them to use positive self-statements.

Use the following (or add new) self-statements to replace harmful, negative thinking (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • I can solve this problem; I’ve tackled similar ones before.
  • I can cope with this.
  • I just need to take a breath and relax.
  • Once I start, it will be easier.
  • It’s okay to look out for myself.
  • I can get help if needed.
  • Other people feel the same way I do.
  • I’ll take one piece of the problem at a time.
  • I can keep my fears in check.
  • I don’t need to please everyone.

Worksheets for problem solving therapy

5 Worksheets and workbooks

Problem-solving self-monitoring form.

Answering the questions in the Problem-Solving Self-Monitoring Form provides the therapist with necessary information regarding the client’s overall and specific problem-solving approaches and reactions (Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to complete the following:

  • Describe the problem you are facing.
  • What is your goal?
  • What have you tried so far to solve the problem?
  • What was the outcome?

Reactions to Stress

It can be helpful for the client to recognize their own experiences of stress. Do they react angrily, withdraw, or give up (Dobson, 2011)?

The Reactions to Stress worksheet can be given to the client as homework to capture stressful events and their reactions. By recording how they felt, behaved, and thought, they can recognize repeating patterns.

What Are Your Unique Triggers?

Helping clients capture triggers for their stressful reactions can encourage emotional regulation.

When clients can identify triggers that may lead to a negative response, they can stop the experience or slow down their emotional reaction (Dobson, 2011).

The What Are Your Unique Triggers ? worksheet helps the client identify their triggers (e.g., conflict, relationships, physical environment, etc.).

Problem-Solving worksheet

Imagining an existing or potential problem and working through how to resolve it can be a powerful exercise for the client.

Use the Problem-Solving worksheet to state a problem and goal and consider the obstacles in the way. Then explore options for achieving the goal, along with their pros and cons, to assess the best action plan.

Getting the Facts

Clients can become better equipped to tackle problems and choose the right course of action by recognizing facts versus assumptions and gathering all the necessary information (Dobson, 2011).

Use the Getting the Facts worksheet to answer the following questions clearly and unambiguously:

  • Who is involved?
  • What did or did not happen, and how did it bother you?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did you respond?

2 Helpful Group Activities

While therapists can use the worksheets above in group situations, the following two interventions work particularly well with more than one person.

Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making

A group setting can provide an ideal opportunity to share a problem and identify potential solutions arising from multiple perspectives.

Use the Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making worksheet and ask the client to explain the situation or problem to the group and the obstacles in the way.

Once the approaches are captured and reviewed, the individual can share their decision-making process with the group if they want further feedback.


Visualization can be performed with individuals or in a group setting to help clients solve problems in multiple ways, including (Dobson, 2011):

  • Clarifying the problem by looking at it from multiple perspectives
  • Rehearsing a solution in the mind to improve and get more practice
  • Visualizing a ‘safe place’ for relaxation, slowing down, and stress management

Guided imagery is particularly valuable for encouraging the group to take a ‘mental vacation’ and let go of stress.

Ask the group to begin with slow, deep breathing that fills the entire diaphragm. Then ask them to visualize a favorite scene (real or imagined) that makes them feel relaxed, perhaps beside a gently flowing river, a summer meadow, or at the beach.

The more the senses are engaged, the more real the experience. Ask the group to think about what they can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste.

Encourage them to experience the situation as fully as possible, immersing themselves and enjoying their place of safety.

Such feelings of relaxation may be able to help clients fall asleep, relieve stress, and become more ready to solve problems.

We have included three of our favorite books on the subject of Problem-Solving Therapy below.

1. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual – Arthur Nezu, Christine Maguth Nezu, and Thomas D’Zurilla

Problem-Solving Therapy

This is an incredibly valuable book for anyone wishing to understand the principles and practice behind PST.

Written by the co-developers of PST, the manual provides powerful toolkits to overcome cognitive overload, emotional dysregulation, and the barriers to practical problem-solving.

Find the book on Amazon .

2. Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy: Treatment Guidelines – Arthur Nezu and Christine Maguth Nezu

Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy

Another, more recent, book from the creators of PST, this text includes important advances in neuroscience underpinning the role of emotion in behavioral treatment.

Along with clinical examples, the book also includes crucial toolkits that form part of a stepped model for the application of PST.

3. Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies – Keith Dobson and David Dozois

Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies

This is the fourth edition of a hugely popular guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies and includes a valuable and insightful section on Problem-Solving Therapy.

This is an important book for students and more experienced therapists wishing to form a high-level and in-depth understanding of the tools and techniques available to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

For even more tools to help strengthen your clients’ problem-solving skills, check out the following free worksheets from our blog.

  • Case Formulation Worksheet This worksheet presents a four-step framework to help therapists and their clients come to a shared understanding of the client’s presenting problem.
  • Understanding Your Default Problem-Solving Approach This worksheet poses a series of questions helping clients reflect on their typical cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to problems.
  • Social Problem Solving: Step by Step This worksheet presents a streamlined template to help clients define a problem, generate possible courses of action, and evaluate the effectiveness of an implemented solution.
  • 17 Positive Psychology Exercises If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners . Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

While we are born problem-solvers, facing an incredibly diverse set of challenges daily, we sometimes need support.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce stress and associated mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by improving our ability to cope. PST is valuable in diverse clinical settings, ranging from depression to schizophrenia, with research suggesting it as a highly effective treatment for teaching coping strategies and reducing emotional distress.

Many PST techniques are available to help improve clients’ positive outlook on obstacles while reducing avoidance of problem situations and the tendency to be careless and impulsive.

The PST model typically assesses the client’s strengths, weaknesses, and coping strategies when facing problems before encouraging a healthy experience of and relationship with problem-solving.

Why not use this article to explore the theory behind PST and try out some of our powerful tools and interventions with your clients to help them with their decision-making, coping, and problem-solving?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free .

  • Cuijpers, P., Wit, L., Kleiboer, A., Karyotaki, E., & Ebert, D. (2020). Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis. European P sychiatry ,  48 (1), 27–37.
  • Dobson, K. S. (2011). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Dobson, K. S., & Dozois, D. J. A. (2021). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies  (4th ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook . Psychology Press.
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2009). Problem-solving therapy DVD . Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310852
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2018). Emotion-centered problem-solving therapy: Treatment guidelines. Springer.
  • Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & D’Zurilla, T. J. (2013). Problem-solving therapy: A treatment manual . Springer.

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5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview

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What is problem-solving, and why do hiring managers care so much about it?

How to answer problem-solving questions

Common problem-solving questions and answers, things to avoid when answering problem-solving questions, how to prepare for problem-solving interview questions, problem solved.

“How would you approach telling a manager that they’ve made a mistake ?” 

Hard problem-solving questions like these can catch you off guard in a job interview. They’re hard to prepare for if you don’t know they’re coming, and you might not even see why they’re relevant to the job.

Even the most experienced interviewees might feel like they’re giving a bad interview if they stumble on questions like these.

Preparing and practicing hard questions is one way to ease your fears. Learn to dissect what a hiring manager is really asking and answer problem-solving questions with confidence. 

What is problem-solving, and why do hiring managers care so much about it? 

Problem-solving is holistically understanding a problem, determining its cause, and identifying creative solutions . Many, if not most, job descriptions ask for problem-solving skills because regardless of industry, they’re an asset in the workplace.

Startups and tech companies like Google famously pose critical thinking and problem-solving questions in job interviews . But hiring managers from all industries use unique questions like these to understand your problem-solving skills. It’s not about the answer you give, or whether it’s correct, but the way you come to that conclusion.

In job interviews, problem-solving questions pose a potential problem or situation typical to the job you’re interviewing for. Your response shows your ability to respond to common problems, even on the spot. Depending on the question, it can also indicate other skills like:

Critical thinking



Behavioral competency

Soft skills


The average business spends $4,700 hiring one new worker , so it wants to make sure you’re the right fit for the job. Even if you have the right skills and experience on paper, hiring managers need a comprehensive idea of what kind of worker you are to avoid choosing the wrong candidate.

Like standard behavioral interview questions , problem-solving questions offer interviewers a more well-rounded view of how you might perform on the job. 

improve influence - coaching for individuals

Problem-solving questions encourage you to give answers about your past experiences, decision-making process , and ability to arrive at creative solutions . Learning how to answer questions in an interview means learning how to tell a good story , so your answer should have a clear structure, unique topic, and compelling journey to demonstrate your competencies.

The STAR method is a common technique for answering problem-solving interview questions clearly and thoughtfully. The acronym stands for situation, task, action, and result. It provides a simple structure that gives your response a smooth beginning, middle, and end.

Here’s how to use the STAR method to describe past on-the-job experiences or hypothetical situations: 

Situation: Start with a problem statement that clearly defines the situation. 

Task: Explain your role in the situation. What is, or would be your responsibility?

Action: Recount the steps or problem-solving strategies you used, or would use, to overcome the problem.

Result: Share what you achieved or would hope to resolve through your problem-solving process.

Every job requires problem-solving on some level, so you can expect at least one job interview question to ask about those skills. Here are a few common problem-solving interview questions to practice:

1. Give us an example of when you faced an unexpected challenge at work. What did you do to face it?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? Employers want to know that your problem-solving has a process. They want to hear you break down a problem into a set of steps to solve it.

Sample answer: I was working in sales for a wholesale retailer. A regular client wrongly communicated the pricing of a unit. I realized this immediately, and rather than pointing out the error, I quickly double-checked with my supervisor to see if we could respect the price.

I informed the client of the error and that we were happy to keep the price he was given. It made him feel like he'd gotten a fair deal and trusted my authority as a sales rep even more. The loss wasn't significant, but saving face in front of the client was.


2. How would you manage a frustrated client?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? They want to gauge your ability to stay cool and be patient in stressful situations, even when dealing with difficult people . Keep your answer professional, and don't use the opportunity to bad-mouth a past client. Show that you can stay respectful even if someone isn’t respecting you. 

Sample answer: I've had plenty of experience dealing with unhappy clients. I've learned two important things: their frustration isn’t a personal attack against me, and we have the same goal to solve the problem. Knowing that helps me stay calm, listen carefully to the client's situation, and do my best to identify where the situation went astray.

Once we identify the problem, if I can handle it myself, I communicate exactly what we’ll do for the client and how. What steps we’ll take depend on the client, but I always start by proposing solutions to show I care about a path forward, and then keep them updated on my progress to implementing that fix. 

3. Describe a time you made a mistake at work. How did you fix it?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? No one is above making an error. Employers want to know that you own up to and learn from your mistakes instead of getting frustrated and walking away from the problem.

Sample answer: My first managerial position was at a public relations agency. When I was promoted to work on client outreach, I struggled to learn to delegate my old responsibilities, which were writing social media copy. I was afraid to let go of control, and I was micromanaging . One day, I wrote out some copy, sent it out, and quickly realized I was using the wrong style guide in my haste.

The client noticed, and we had to work to regain their trust, which put a strain on the entire team. I took full responsibility and used that moment to understand that I wasn't trusting my team's abilities. I apologized to my team for overstepping boundaries and worked to let go of my old role completely.

4. Have you ever had a difficult time working with a team member? How did you deal with the situation?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? Even the most independent job requires some teamwork, whether it’s communicating with clients or other team members. Employers want to know that you can solve interpersonal problems, know when to escalate and help maintain a positive work environment.

Sample answer: At my last job, we were fully remote. I had a coworker that wasn't very communicative about their process, which led to redundancies in our work and miscommunications that set us behind. I asked them to have a one-on-one meeting with me so we could analyze where we were failing to communicate and how to improve.

It wasn't a comfortable process, but we developed a better practice to collaborate and improve our ability to work as a team , including weekly meetings and check-ins.

5. Tell me about a time you created an innovative solution with limited information or resources.

What’s a hiring manager really asking? They want to test your resourcefulness, which is a valuable soft skill. Using a “ Tell me about a time” question lets you demonstrate out-of-the-box thinking and shows that you don't quit when things get difficult. 

Sample answer: I worked in project management for a software developer. We were frequently going over budget and needed to limit spending. I instituted a new workflow app across departments and made everyone track every step of their process. We ended up finding information silos between design, sales, and product development.

They were all using different platforms to communicate the status of the same project, which meant we were wasting time and money. We centralized communication and improved operational efficiency, solved our budget problems, and increased productivity by 30%.


Problem-solving questions offer deep insights into the kind of worker you are. While your answer is important, so is your delivery. Here are some things to avoid when trying to answer problem-solving questions:

Don’t clam up: It's okay to take your time to reflect, but never abstain from answering. An interviewer will understand if you need to pause and think. If you’re really stumped, you can ask to return to that question later in the interview. 

Avoid generic answers: Generic answers show a lack of creativity and innovation . Use the opportunity to explain what makes you and your problem-solving process unique. 

Don’t lose confidence: How you answer is as important as what you answer. Do your best to practice confident body language, like eye contact and strong posture. Practicing ahead of time can help alleviate pressure while you’re answering.

Try not to rush: Rushing through an answer could make it unclear or incoherent, which might reflect poorly on your ability to keep a level head. Practice mindful breathing and pace yourself. Answer slowly and deliberately.


Preparing for an interview will make you feel more comfortable and confident during the hiring process. Rather than thinking of answers on the spot, you can pull from different responses you're already familiar with. Here are some tips for practicing and improving your answers:

Create a list of problem-solving examples from throughout your career. Consider varied past experiences that play into important skills, like time management, project management, or teamwork, to show that you're a well-rounded candidate.

Whenever possible, give metrics to show results. For example, if you improved productivity, share percentages. If you upped sales, share numbers.

Carefully study the job description and connect the skills you find with specific ways you’ve used them.

Identify what you’re good at and choose experiences that play to your strengths.

When talking about mistakes or errors, always finish with the lesson you learned and how you plan on avoiding the same mistake.

Provide details that a hiring manager can recognize within the position they’re hiring for.


It’s normal to feel nervous about a job interview, especially if you’re expecting difficult questions. Learning how to overcome that challenge is the perfect way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

Like everything else in your career, practice makes perfect, and learning to answer tough problem-solving questions is no different. Take the time to recall moments in your career when you overcame challenges, and practice telling those stories. Craft an answer that hiring managers will be excited to hear.

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Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

10 interview skills, techniques and examples to land your dream job

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Problem solving test: Pre-employment screening assessment to hire the best candidates

Summary of the problem solving test.

This Problem Solving test evaluates candidates’ ability to define problems and analyze data and textual information to make correct decisions. This test helps you identify candidates who use analytical skills to evaluate and respond to complex situations.

Covered skills

Creating and adjusting schedules, interpreting data and applying logic to make decisions, prioritizing and applying order based on a given set of rules, analyzing textual and numerical information to draw conclusions, use the problem solving test to hire.

Any role that involves managing constantly shifting variables with tight deadlines. This may include administrative assistants, project managers, planners, and people working in hospitality or sales.

graphic image for cognitive skills tests

About the Problem Solving test

Effective problem-solving requires a broad skill set that enables individuals, teams, and businesses to advance towards stated objectives. It involves the ability to define a problem, to break it down into manageable parts, to develop approaches to solve the (sub)problem using creativity and analytical thinking, and to execute flawlessly.

This problem solving test allows you to identify candidates who display these abilities. The test presents candidates with typical problem-solving scenarios like scheduling on the basis of a diverse set of conditions, identifying the right sequence of actions based on a number of business rules, and drawing conclusions based on textual and numerical information.

The test requires candidates to identify the right answers to the questions in a limited amount of time. Successful candidates can quickly identify the key elements of the problem and work through the problem at speed without making mistakes. This is a great test to include to check candidates' overall analytical skills.

problem solving skills test with answers

The test is made by a subject-matter expert

The global IT industry has benefited from Anirban’s talents for over two decades. With a flawless reputation that precedes him, Anirban has earned a status as a sought-after agile project manager and consultant. He’s worked internationally as a Senior Project Manager with companies such as Ericsson, IBM, and T-Mobile.

Anirban’s love for learning helps him keep his skills sharp. He holds an MBA and a degree in engineering, is a certified Scrum Master, and has certifications in Prince2 and ITIL.

Crafted with expert knowledge

TestGorilla’s tests are created by subject matter experts. We assess potential subject-matter experts based on their knowledge, ability, and reputation. Before being published, each test is peer-reviewed by another expert, then calibrated using hundreds of test takers with relevant experience in the subject.

Our feedback mechanisms and unique algorithms allow our subject-matter experts to constantly improve their tests.

What our customers are saying

TestGorilla helps me to assess engineers rapidly. Creating assessments for different positions is easy due to pre-existing templates. You can create an assessment in less than 2 minutes. The interface is intuitive and it’s easy to visualize results per assessment.

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I hope that TestGorilla realizes the value proposition in their work is not only the platform but the type of support that’s provided.

For a bit of context—I am a diversity recruiter trying to create a platform that removes bias from the hiring process and encourages the discovery of new and unseen talent.

problem solving skills test with answers

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Use TestGorilla to hire the best faster, easier and bias-free

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problem solving skills test with answers

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problem solving skills test with answers

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Problem-solving test

Why problem-solving is a crucial skill

We’ve all been thrown a curveball at work. An unexpected problem crops up and we need to make a plan to solve it. This is called problem-solving and it’s an important skill in most job roles because employees will encounter difficult or complex situations or problems that need to be solved.

Interestingly, unlike some career skills, problem-solving translates to both an individual’s personal and professional lives, making it crucial to potential success. But this may make it harder for recruiters to find the right candidate for a job where problem-solving skills are needed. In this case, a problem-solving test can help you find the best candidate capable of handling situations that influence business functions.

Problem-solving in the workplace

In business, problem-solving relies on a candidate’s ability to create processes that mitigate or remove obstacles that prevent the company from achieving its goals. Consequently, these issues or situations can create a gap between desired outcomes and actual results. This means that problem-solving plays an important role in how employees meet this challenge and work through it.

Roles such as project management, administrative assistance, and planning work with changing circumstances and tight deadlines on a day-to-day basis. When recruiting for these roles, finding candidates who have good problem-solving skills is crucial to their success in the role.

To gain insight into a candidate’s skill in this area, you can use a problem-solving test. Through expert formulation, a skill-specific test can help you understand a candidate’s level of proficiency. And testing your applicants before you start the interview process can highlight the candidates with the skills most relevant to the role.

Problem-solving test

A process-driven skill

In the workplace, there are important steps that can contribute to a candidate’s ability to successfully solve problems. Let’s take a look:

Identify the problem

Problem-solving begins with accurately identifying the problem. This determining factor looks at whether a candidate can find the origin and the implications of the problem. It includes:

• Differentiating between fact and opinion

• Compiling data to determine the problem

• Identifying underlying causes

• Recognizing which processes are affected• Pinpointing the process standard

By accurately identifying the problem, individuals can proceed to the next step to solve the problem.

Determine alternative solutions

Once an individual has established the source of the problem, they can determine alternative solutions. The goal of plotting solutions to the problem is to remedy it and realign it with business goals. A creative problem-solving test may identify whether an individual has the competency to determine solutions. Key competencies in seeking solutions include:

• Establishing alternative solutions that align with business goals

• Determining whether a problem needs short- or long-term solutions

• Evaluating how solutions may impact on resources; and determining if there are any barriers to implementing the solutions.

Although any problem can have multiple solutions, the simplest or fastest one may not always be the best course of action. This is where solution comparison comes into play.

Compare solutions and plot a course

Once all possible solutions are determined, it is important to compare them. This involves evaluating each solution without bias to determine the optimal solution to the problem.

Through the evaluation process, the individual should rule out options that do not align with company goals, may take too much time and/or resources, or are unrealistic in their approach.

Some considerations when determining the best solution include the likelihood of solution implementation, whether all parties involved will accept the solution, and how it fits in with business goals. Additionally, it is important to note that the goal of the optimal solution is to solve the problem without causing additional or unanticipated problems.

In essence, problem-solving is about finding solutions that cause as little disruption as possible and correcting a project’s course.

Implement the solution

The last stage in problem-solving is the implementation of the final step. This step focuses on the remedial solution and requires continuous evaluation to ensure its effective implementation. For you as a recruiter, knowing if a candidate can find a solution as well as implement it may be important to the goals of the role.

Continually evaluating the solution will give the individual insight into whether the project goals are aligned, whether all stakeholders accept the new solution and whether the outcomes are managed effectively.

Problem-solving test

Considerations for recruiters

When hiring for a role in which problem-solving skills are crucial, it may be beneficial to test a candidate’s ability to define problems and analyze data and textual information to make decisions that best serve the business. Some of the considerations for a problem-solving test include:

Schedules are living documents that need to adapt as eventualities come into play. Candidates should be able to understand what they can realistically achieve with the time and how to adjust schedules to account for variable outcomes.

Data-driven decision-making should inform a course of action before an individual commits to it. For recruiters, this means candidates should have an aptitude for aligning data with business goals and making actionable decisions.

By using prioritization rules and supporting information, candidates can determine which project tasks take priority. This system aims to optimize resources for project delivery.

Examining textual and numerical information to reveal patterns, relationships, and trends can tell the candidate what connection exists among variables. Conclusions can then be drawn from the data to gain an accurate assessment of the overall situation.

When broken down, problem-solving is a skill that relies on a variety of disciplines to achieve success. Although this skill is transferable to many job roles, determining candidates’ proficiency can be difficult, so it can be beneficial to recruiters to use a problem-solving test to review candidates’ aptitude when recruiting for a role.

Using a pre-formulated problem-solving test will enable you to quickly assess your candidates and help you recruit the best person for the role.

An assessment is the total package of tests and custom questions that you put together to evaluate your candidates. Each individual test within an assessment is designed to test something specific, such as a job skill or language. An assessment can consist of up to 5 tests and 20 custom questions. You can have candidates respond to your custom questions in several ways, such as with a personalized video.

Yes! Custom questions are great for testing candidates in your own unique way. We support the following question types: video, multiple-choice, coding, file upload, and essay. Besides adding your own custom questions, you can also create your own tests.

A video question is a specific type of custom question you can add to your assessment. Video questions let you create a question and have your candidates use their webcam to record a video response. This is an excellent way to see how a candidate would conduct themselves in a live interview, and is especially useful for sales and hospitality roles. Some good examples of things to ask for video questions would be "Why do you want to work for our company?" or "Try to sell me an item you have on your desk right now."

Besides video questions, you can also add the following types of custom questions: multiple-choice, coding, file upload, and essay. Multiple-choice lets your candidates choose from a list of answers that you provide, coding lets you create a coding problem for them to solve, file upload allows your candidates to upload a file that you request (such as a resume or portfolio), and essay allows an open-ended text response to your question. You can learn more about different custom question types here .

Yes! You can add your own logo and company color theme to your assessments. This is a great way to leave a positive and lasting brand impression on your candidates.

Our team is always here to help. After you sign up, we’ll reach out to guide you through the first steps of setting up your TestGorilla account. If you have any further questions, you can contact our support team via email, chat or call. We also offer detailed guides in our extensive Help & Inspiration Center .

You can find our pricing packages here . Sign up here to try TestGorilla today.

Yes. You can add up to five tests to each assessment.

We recommend using our assessment software as a pre-screening tool at the beginning of your recruitment process. You can add a link to the assessment in your job post or directly invite candidates by email.

TestGorilla replaces traditional CV screening with a much more reliable and efficient process, designed to find the most skilled candidates earlier and faster.

We offer the following cognitive ability tests : Numerical Reasoning, Problem Solving, Attention to Detail, Reading Comprehension, and Critical Thinking.

Our cognitive ability tests allow you to test for skills that are difficult to evaluate in an interview. Check out our blog on why these tests are so useful and how to choose the best one for your assessment.

Related tests

Basic math calculations, mechanical reasoning, understanding instructions, attention to detail (visual), intermediate math, basic triple-digit math, basic double-digit math, attention to detail (textual), numerical reasoning, critical thinking.

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Free Wonderlic Test Practice: Sample Test, Tips & Candidate Guide

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Are you taking the Wonderlic Personnel Test soon? If you’re looking to prepare and improve your score, you’ve come to the right place! 

  • Take a free, 30-question Wonderlic-style practice test + a detailed score report
  • Get a test content breakdown with sample questions and explanations
  • Enroll in prep courses to maximize your Wonderlic test score
  • Understand the test’s scoring system and what’s considered a good score

Disclaimer: 12minprep is not affiliated with, nor owned by Wonderlic, the publisher of the Wonderlic test. This website solely provides preparation resources for cognitive ability tests.

The Wonderlic Personnel Test in a Nutshell 

9 or 12 minutes

30 or 50 questions

15+ question types


Before we dive into the content of the Wonderlic Personnel Test, it is important to have a visual image of what the test looks like. The image above points at the major components you should be aware of: the timer at the top right corner, the navigation buttons which allow you to go back and forth between questions, the multiple-choice format which will be dominant throughout the majority of the test.

Free Wonderlic Practice Test

Go ahead and take our Free Wonderlic-style practice test, which includes 30 questions and has a time limit of 8 minutes. This is basically a simulation of the QuickTest (WPT-Q). Upon completion, you’ll receive a detailed score report that will tell you how you did on each topic. You’ll also be able to review the answers and explanations. 

What Types of Questions are on the Wonderlic Test?

The Wonderlic Personnel Test is made up of four general categories: General Knowledge, Abstract Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Numerical Reasoning. The table below shows a basic breakdown of each question type, followed by a more detailed description of each with sample questions. As you can see, there are LOTS of question types to review. 

Some of the questions will test topics like general knowledge, finding errors, ordering things chronologically, and recognizing dates. 

Abstract Reasoning

  This section tests spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, and abilities to manipulate and visualize 2D and 3D shapes. These include questions that will have you manipulating shapes such as tiles or folded pieces of paper. 

See example


Can you figure out which figure completes the missing frame in the sequence above?

The shapes move from left to right one step in each frame. They are brought back to the beginning of the sequence in a loop.

In addition, the first shape on the left changes from being filled with color to being empty every two steps, and so does the last shape on the right. 

In the fifth missing frame, the square should be in the middle and filled with color, as seen in answers a,b. The diamond should show up first and not be filled. Thus, the correct answer is b. 

Verbal Reasoning 

The Verbal Reasoning questions test your knowledge of the English language and your logical and deductive reasoning abilities. These questions generally consist of grammar, analogies, vocabulary, and drawing conclusions. There will also be questions that cover topics like metaphors, anagrams, word scrambles, sentence scrambles, word groups, and identifying words that are similar or different.

Graceful is to clumsy, as late is to…

Graceful and clumsy are opposites. The opposite of late is punctual. See more analogy examples in our Wonderlic practice test .

Numerical Reasoning

The Numerical Reasoning category will test your mathematical abilities the most. Many of these questions are word problems, so they are not just math problems, but are a combination of words and numbers. They will test your reading comprehension abilities in addition to your mathematical abilities. 

Questions cover topics such as algebra, percentages, ratios, decimals, and averages. There will also be number series questions, where you will have to look at a series of numbers and figure out what number comes next in the sequence. 

These questions will likely be the most difficult and time-consuming questions, especially since you will not be allowed to use a calculator. 

$5.60 is what percentage of $17.50?

  • None of the above

The answer is 32%. The quickest way to solve this question is to use estimation. Let’s follow the steps below:

  • Let’s turn 5.6 and 17.5 to 56 and 175 which is more convenient.  We can try and think how many times 56 fits into 175. 50 times 3 is 150, so we can start by multiplying 56 by 3. This is like 3x(50+6)=150+18=168.
  • That’s very close to 176. We now understand that 56 is almost one third (33%) of 176, but we konw that it’s just  abit less than that because 168 is still far from 176 by 8.
  • We look for an answer that is close enough to 33%  and indeed answer C is 32%.

Try more numerical reasoning questions in our free Wonderlic practice test .

While the material covered on the test is not particularly complicated or advanced, the test is difficult because of its time constraints. We recommend that you start by taking a free Wonderlic practice test which is offered below to get a feel of the real thing.

What are the Two Wonderlic Personnel Test Versions?

There are two slightly different versions of the Wonderlic Personnel Test.

  • Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT-R). The standard Wonderlic Personnel Test, is made up of 50 multiple-choice questions and is administered in 12 minutes. This test is usually proctored and will be administered early on in your application process. However, you may have to take the Wonderlic Personnel Test – QuickTest (WPT-Q) before taking the WPT-R.
  • Wonderlic Personnel Test – QuickTest (WPT-Q). This is a shorter version of the test, which includes only 30 questions and lasts 8 minutes. The WPT-Q is not proctored and is often taken from home. It is generally used as a precursor to the WPT-R. This means you may be asked to take this from home, and only if you do well, you will be called in to take the longer version.

The content of the two tests is the same, as they only differ in length, so our practice materials will prepare you for whichever version you are taking.

How Are Scores Calculated & What’s Considered a Good Score

On the WPT-R, each question is worth 1 point.  If you get every question right, you would get a perfect score of 50. On the WPT-Q, each question is worth 1.66 points, meaning that a perfect score would still be 50 even though there are only 30 questions. 

The score for the specific position you are applying for will vary according to the employer’s identity, needs, and the job in hand. Once you have finished taking the test, a detailed score report will automatically be sent to the employer for review. This report will show how your score compares to employer’s target score, how well you did in comparison to the group of candidates competing with you on the job, and also how well you did in comparison to the general population of candidates.

The average score on the Wonderlic test is 20 correct answers out of 50. The graph below shows you roughly what a “good score” is, in terms of the general population. Remember, in the end, a good score depends on the what the employer has set in advance when designing the screening process for the position.


Score Higher on the Wonderlic

Join over 1200 candidates who’ve registered for our prep course and improved their Wonderlic test score. Take a sample lesson and review the curriculum. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the wonderlic test an iq test.

While the Wonderlic company does not use this terminology due to political and legal reasons, in essence, the Wonderlic test is indeed an IQ test and it correlates with formal IQ test norms. That is, for every IQ score on the scale, there’s a matching Wonderlic test score.

To quote from scientific research conducted on this topic:

“its items are based on the original Otis Test of Mental Ability (Wonderlic, 1983) and since scores correlate fairly well (56 to .80) with aptitude G (General Learning Ability) of the General Aptitude Test Battery (Wonderlic, 1983) and very highly (.93) with the WAIS Full Scale IQ (Dodrill, 1981).” Read the Source on ResearchGate

How do I practice the Wonderlic test?

The Wonderlic test, like any other cognitive ability test, contains topics and skills that can be improved through practice. Perhaps most notable is the numerical reasoning section of the test, where different arithmetic techniques can speed up the calculations and reduce response times, allowing candidates to answer more questions. We offer a great prep course that can help you prepare for the Wonderlic test, You’re welcome to read more about it . 

Free Wonderlic Personnel Test Practice Resources 

There’s a lot out there to help you be prepared for the Wonderlic Personnel Test, from helpful information directly from Wonderlic’s website to free practice tests. Find more information at these helpful links:  

  • Wonderlic Official Site 
  • Wonderlic Official Sample Questions
  • Beat the Wonderlic – Free Full-Length Test
  • Bleacher Report – NFL Wonderlic Sample Questions
  • Knowledge Hub

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13 Problem-Solving Interview Questions to Assess a Candidate

Solving problems is something we do every day – whether it be at work or throughout our personal lives. However, what we often tend to forget about is that each one of us has different approaches to finding solutions and solving problems. 

As cognitive skills, according to World Economic Forum, especially complex problem-solving in the workplace, are reportedly growing in importance – so is the urgency to be able to assess these skills in candidates. However, these skills cannot be easily assessed by looking at someone’s CV or motivation letter. This is precisely why many employers have turned to assessing problem solving abilities during the interview process. 

In this blog, you will find out:

  • 5 aspects of what make up problem solving ability

2 different types of problem solving styles

  • 13 interview questions to determine problem-solving abilities

Disadvantages of assessing problem-solving in interviews

What is problem-solving skill/ability.

A problem can be defined as a gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. To fill this gap, problem-solving abilities are needed. Problem-solving in the workplace describes our way of thinking and the behaviour we engage in to obtain the desired outcome we seek, which could be attaining a certain goal or finding a satisfactory answer to our questions.

In the workplace, employees are expected to solve problems daily, ultimately ensuring the smooth functioning of the company. Therefore, problem-solving ability is one of the most important aspects which needs to be assessed prior to hiring. Problem-solving ability is associated with several sub-skills depending on the nature of the tasks involved in the profession. For instance, a successful business consultant might want to be equipped with good communication skills, empathy, and analytical thinking, all of which can be considered sub-skills of problem-solving ability. 

However, the thing is that assessing whether someone’s problem solving skills are high or low during an interview process is quite challenging . That is why you should focus on asking questions that allow to understand what kind of a problem solving style the candidate possesses.

Individuals might adopt different problem-solving strategies (otherwise also called styles) based on the information available for the problem, the time they spend on planning before they take action, or whether they like to test multiple solutions before deciding on which solution is the optimal one. The main problem-solving styles can be classified as intuitive and systematic, but what are the differences between these two styles of problem-solving?

Individuals with more systematic problem-solving style

  • They have a higher tendency to first identify the situation and analytically disentangle problems into several components, then logically evaluate the available alternatives and try to find a rule to solve problems.
  • At the end of the process, they may also evaluate the consequence of the whole process to possibly adjust their strategy in the future. However, they might face difficulty when tackling ill-structured or defined problems, whereby they cannot generate a promising plan to act.
  • They may also struggle under time constraints when intuitive decisions need to be made.

Individuals that prefer more intuitive problem-solving style

  • They prefer relying on their “gut feeling” when solving problems. While they may rely on their intuition to assess facts, they also often take their feelings and non-verbal cues from their surrounding into consideration.
  • They are open to quickly switching to alternative solutions when things do not work out. Using this strategy, they are good at dealing with uncertainty, ill-defined problems or novel problems with no real information.
  • However, this kind of thinking pattern might work sometimes but can be less effective with more complex problems and end up being more time-consuming overall than a more systematic approach.

Why you should assess problem solving style not ability during interviews?

Problem-solving style refers to an individual’s preferred approach to solving problems, such as relying on intuition or using a systematic approach. This is a relatively stable trait that can be identified through the candidate’s responses to interview questions.  

In contrast, problem-solving ability is a multifaceted skill that involves various cognitive processes, such as critical thinking, reasoning, and creativity. It can be difficult to assess a candidate’s problem-solving ability solely through interview questions because the interview setting may not provide a realistic representation of the types of problems the candidate would encounter on the job. 

13 problem-solving interview questions to assess candidates

Let’s go through each question and discuss how candidates might answer and what that could indicate about their problem-solving abilities & style:

1.Can you describe a situation where you had to solve a problem without having all the necessary information at hand? How did you approach it?

A systematic problem solver might approach answering this question by explaining that they would find it important to try to gather as much information as possible before making a decision, while an intuitive problem solver might mention they would rely more on their instincts and prior experience to make a quick decision.

2. Let’s say you need to solve an unexpected problem but don’t have much information about it. What steps would you take to solve it efficiently?

A systematic problem solver might approach answering this question by breaking down the problem into smaller components and analyzing each one systematically, while an intuitive problem solver might rely more on their gut instincts and previous experience to quickly identify potential solutions. 

If a candidate mentions that they would try to gather more information relating the potential causes of the problem to be able to grasp it better, that’s probably a better answer than just stating that they’d just decide to give up. 

  • Intuitive. “I would start by identifying the key issues and then brainstorming potential solutions. Once I had a few options, I would test them out and iterate until I found the best solution.”
  • Systematic. “I would begin by gathering as much information as possible, researching the problem, and analyzing the data. Then, I would create a plan to address the problem and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan as I go along.”

3. How do you approach making decisions? Do you consider all alternatives before deciding on a solution?

When answering this question by explaining the importance of weighing all available options and then considering each one carefully before making a final decision, the candidate might have a more systematic approach to problem solving. Whereas, someone who has a more intuitive approach to solving problems might be answering the question by explaining they prefer to make decisions quickly and based on their instincts.

4. Can you walk me through a situation where you had to solve a problem? What steps did you take to address it?

The main goal of asking this question during the interview is to be able to determine what steps the person chooses to take when addressing the problem. For example, people who seem to plan less and act more intuitively will likely prefer a more trial-and-error, rather than an analytical approach to solving a problem.

A systematic problem solver might approach this question by breaking down the problem into smaller components and explaining each step in a logical order, while an intuitive problem solver might give a more general overview of how they solved the problem without going into as much detail when describing the situation.

  • Intuitive. “There was a time when our team was behind on a project deadline, so I just started throwing out ideas for how we could catch up. We eventually settled on a strategy that worked and were able to finish the project on time.”
  • Systematic. “When faced with a problem, I like to break it down into smaller components and analyze each part separately. Then, I create a plan of action and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan as I go along.”

5. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?

When asking the candidate this question, you are looking for an honest, self-critical answer. The candidate should also be able to explain how making this mistake led them to become better at their job. Their answer to this question will serve as an indication of how they deal with challenging situations. 

A systematic problem solver might approach this question by analyzing their mistake and coming up with a detailed plan to prevent it from happening again in the future, while an intuitive problem solver might reflect more on how they felt about the mistake and what they learned from the experience.

6. Describe a situation where you used a creative approach to overcome a problem.

Of course, when hiring new people, we want to hire those who take the most innovative and creative approaches to solving problems, as well as implementing these ideas in reality. In this case, you should be looking for an answer in which the candidate is focusing on explaining the creative approach they took, rather than the problem they were trying to solve. After all, you are looking for someone who can solve problems in a creative way rather than someone who can describe the problem.

An intuitive problem solver might excel in this question by describing a creative solution they came up with on the spot, while a systematic problem solver might struggle more with this question if they prefer to rely on logical and analytical approaches.

  • Intuitive. “There was a time when we were running out of storage space at work, so I came up with the idea to repurpose some unused areas of the office as storage. It was a bit unconventional, but it worked.”
  • Systematic. “When faced with a problem, I like to think outside the box and consider all possible options. I once used a design thinking approach to come up with a creative solution to a complex issue.”

7. Can you give an example of a time when you saw a potential problem as an opportunity? What did you do, and is there anything you would have done differently?

When answering the question, an intuitive problem solver might be better at recognizing potential opportunities in a problem, while a systematic problem solver might be more likely to focus on identifying and mitigating risks.

8. Imagine you’re in a stressful situation at work and you need to come up with a solution quickly. What would you do?

When asking this question to a candidate, you should be on the lookout for an answer that includes all of the following: an example story, placing their focus on how they handled the stressful situation. Basically – focusing more on actions rather than feelings, and highlighting what skills allowed them to deal with the situation successfully. 

Candidates’ answers to this question will allow you to determine whether they are better and more inclined to think on their feet and come up with quick solutions (more intuitive). Or in contrast, more comfortable dealing with stressful situations if there are a set of guidelines or procedures to follow (more systematic).

  • Intuitive. “In a stressful situation, I like to take a deep breath and then start brainstorming possible solutions. I find that staying calm and thinking creatively helps me come up with the best solution quickly.”
  • Systematic. “When faced with a high-pressure situation, I like to rely on the processes and systems that I have in place. I also prioritize the most important tasks and delegate when possible to ensure that everything gets done efficiently.”

9. Are you someone who prefers to solve problems very quickly, or very carefully and slowly?

This question can give insights into whether the candidate is more of an intuitive or systematic problem solver, with intuitive problem solvers often preferring to act quickly and systematically preferring to take a more measured approach.

10. Tell me about a situation where you were faced with multiple problems. How did you choose which problem to prioritize?

This question has everything to do with how the candidate works under pressure. As well as the extent to which they are capable of prioritizing. When faced with multiple problems, the individual should be able to prioritize between tasks that are of high importance and those that are not as urgent. 

When answering this question, the candidate should be able to walk you through their prioritization process and rationally argue their choices. While also placing focus on explaining their planning strategies to ensure that no problem is left unsolved.

A systematic problem solver might approach this question by analyzing each problem and weighing the potential impact of each one before making a decision, while an intuitive problem solver might rely more on their instincts and prioritize the problem that seems most urgent.

  • Intuitive. “When faced with multiple problems, I prioritize the ones that have the most immediate impact or are the most pressing. I also try to tackle the problems that I feel most confident in solving first.”
  • Systematic. “I like to use a decision matrix to evaluate and prioritize multiple problems. I analyze each problem based on factors such as urgency, impact, and feasibility, and then choose the one that has the highest priority.”

11. How do you know when to solve a problem by yourself? And when to ask for help from someone else?

An intuitive problem solver might be more likely to trust their instincts and try to solve the problem on their own, while a systematic problem solver might be more willing to ask for help if they feel that the problem is outside of their area of expertise.

What you should be looking for in the answer to this question is someone’s ability to be able to gauge in which situations they should most definitely ask for help. And in contrast, in which situations it’s not really necessary. This way you will be able to tell whether this person is capable of solving a problem independently or is always asking for help even when it comes to the little things.

12. What do you do in a situation when you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem?

An intuitive problem solver might be more likely to experiment with different solutions and try to think outside the box, while a systematic problem solver might be more likely to analyze the problem in greater detail and break it down into smaller components to identify potential solutions.

  • Intuitive. “When I’m stuck on a problem, I like to step away from it for a bit and come back to it with fresh eyes. I also try to approach the problem from different angles and see if I can find a new perspective.”
  • Systematic. “If I can’t find the right solution to a problem, I’ll go back to the data and information I have collected to see if there’s anything I missed. I’ll also consult with colleagues or experts in the field to get their input and ideas.”

13. How would you react when your manager tells you to think more before taking action? 

Lastly, save the best for last – a question that will show to you how the candidate deals with feedback provided about the process of solving a problem and the solution itself.

A systematic problem solver might take this feedback as an opportunity to slow down and approach problems more carefully, while an intuitive problem solver might perceive this as a constraint.

In summary, the answers to these questions can provide insights into a candidate’s problem-solving style. While there isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” style, understanding how a candidate approaches problem-solving can help employers identify individuals who are well-suited for different roles and environments.

Interviews are often perceived as the ultimate gateway to finding the perfect candidate, however, in reality, it’s littered with many pitfalls:

  • Interviewer bias. The interview process is where our unconscious biases tend to cloud our judgement of a candidate the most.
  • Interviews are often inconsistent. Using solely interview questions to assess problem-solving skills allows for no standardized way of presenting results as each candidate you interview will give a different answer to your question and it will become gradually more difficult to compare candidates with each other.
  • Interview answers are easily manipulable. Candidates can prepare their answers to these questions, thus leading to unreliable assessment from your side on whether they have the problem-solving skills you are looking for.
  • Extremely time-consuming & costly. You’ll probably end up interviewing more people than you should. Just imagine all the time spent interviewing, talking, asking questions, taking notes of the candidate’s answers, and then later on comparing them.

Read more about the 6 downsides assessing candidates problem-solving abilities solely through interviews.

What interview structure allows to best assess candidates problem-solving skills?

According to research , a structured interview is more reliable, valid, and less discriminatory than an unstructured interview. When you structure your interview process, the assessment of personality becomes a designed process. Every question should be carefully chosen to assess the candidate’s skills and knowledge.

Guide: How to set up a structured interview process

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How to assess problem-solving skills

Probelm-solving skills assessment

Human beings have been fascinated and motivated by problem-solving for as long as time. Let’s start with the classic ancient legend of Oedipus. The Sphinx aggressively addressed anyone who dared to enter Thebes by posing a riddle. If the traveler failed to answer the riddle correctly, the result was death. However, the Sphinx would be destroyed when the answer was finally correct.

Alas, along came Oedipus. He answered correctly. He unlocked this complex riddle and killed the Sphinx.

However, rationality was hardly defined at that time. Today, though, most people assume that it simply takes raw intelligence to be a great problem solver. However, it’s not the only crucial element.

Introduction to key problem-solving skills

You’ve surely noticed that many of the skills listed in the problem-solving process are repeated. This is because having these abilities and talents are so crucial to the entire course of getting a problem solved. Let’s look at some key problem-solving skills that are essential in the workplace.

Communication, listening, and customer service skills

In all the stages of problem-solving, you need to listen and engage to understand what the problem is and come to a conclusion as to what the solution may be. Another challenge is being able to communicate effectively so that people understand what you’re saying. It further rolls into interpersonal communication and customer service skills, which really are all about listening and responding appropriately.

Data analysis, research, and topic understanding skills

To produce the best solutions, employees must be able to understand the problem thoroughly. This is possible when the workforce studies the topic and the process correctly. In the workplace, this knowledge comes from years of relevant experience.

Dependability, believability, trustworthiness, and follow-through

To make change happen and take the following steps towards problem-solving, the qualities of dependability, trustworthiness, and diligence are a must. For example, if a person is known for not keeping their word, laziness, and committing blunders, that is not someone you’ll depend on when they provide you with a solution, will you?

Leadership, team-building, and decision-making

A true leader can learn and grow from the problems that arise in their jobs and utilize each challenge to hone their leadership skills. Problem-solving is an important skill for leaders who want to eliminate challenges that can otherwise hinder their people’s or their business’ growth. Let’s take a look at some statistics that prove just how important these skills are:

A Harvard Business Review study states that of all the skills that influence a leader’s success, problem-solving ranked third out of 16.

According to a survey by Goremotely.net, only 10% of CEOs are leaders who guide staff by example .

Another  study at Havard Business Review found a direct link between teambuilding as a social activity and employee motivation.

Are you looking for a holistic way to develop leaders in your workplace?

Numerous skills and attributes define a successful one from a rookie when it comes to leaders. Our leadership development plan (with examples!) can help HR leaders identify potential leaders that are in sync with your company’s future goals.

A man working by the laptop

Why is problem solving important in the workplace?

As a business leader, when too much of your time is spent managing escalations, the lack of problem-solving skills may hurt your business. While you may be hiring talented and capable employees and paying them well, it is only when you harness their full potential and translate that into business value that it is considered a successful hire.

The impact of continuing with poor problem-solving skills may show up in your organization as operational inefficiencies that may also manifest in product quality issues, defects, re-work and non-conformance to design specifications. When the product is defective, or the service is not up to the mark, it directly affects your customer’s experience and consequently reflects on the company’s profile.

At times, poor problem-solving skills could lead to missed market opportunities, slow time to market, customer dissatisfaction, regulatory compliance issues, and declining employee morale.

Problem-solving skills are important for individual business leaders as well. Suppose you’re busy responding to frequent incidents that have the same variables. In that case, this prevents you from focusing your time and effort on improving the future success of business outcomes.

Proven methods to assess and improve problem-solving skills

Pre-employment problem-solving skill assessment .

Recent research indicates that up to 85% of resumes contain misleading statements. Similarly, interviews are subjective and ultimately serve as poor predictors of job performance .

To provide a reliable and objective means of gathering job-related information on candidates, you must validate and develop pre-employment problem-solving assessments. You can further use the data from pre-employment tests to make informed and defensible hiring decisions.

Depending on the job profile, below are examples of pre-employment problem-solving assessment tests:

Personality tests: The rise of personality testing in the 20th century was an endeavor to maximize employee potential. Personality tests help to identify workplace patterns, relevant characteristics, and traits, and to assess how people may respond to different situations.

Examples of personality tests include the Big five personality traits test and Mercer | Mettl’s Dark Personality Inventory .

Cognitive ability test: A pre-employment aptitude test assesses individuals’ abilities such as critical thinking, verbal reasoning, numerical ability, problem-solving, decision-making, etc., which are indicators of a person’s intelligence quotient (IQ). The test results provide data about on-the-job performance. It also assesses current and potential employees for different job levels.

Criteria Cognitive Aptitude test , McQuaig Mental Agility Test , and Hogan Business Reasoning Inventory are commonly used cognitive ability assessment tests.

Convergent and divergent thinking methods

American psychologist JP Guilford coined the terms “convergent thinking” and “divergent thinking” in the 1950s.

Convergent thinking involves starting with pieces of information and then converging around a solution. An example would be determining the correct answer to a multiple-choice question.

The nature of the question does not demand creativity but rather inherently encourages a person to consider the veracity of each answer provided before selecting the single correct one.

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, starts with a prompt that encourages people to think critically, diverging towards distinct answers. An example of divergent thinking would be asking open-ended questions.

Here’s an example of what convergent thinking and a divergent problem-solving model would look like.

Probelm-solving skills assessment 1.

The 5 whys method , developed by Sakichi Toyoda, is part of the Toyota production system. In this method, when you come across a problem, you analyze the root cause by asking “Why?” five times. By recognizing the countermeasure, you can prevent the problem from recurring. Here’s an example of the 5 whys method.

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Source: Kanbanzie

This method is specifically useful when you have a recurring problem that reoccurs despite repeated actions to address it. It indicates that you are treating the symptoms of the problem and not the actual problem itself.


While brainstorming is about the team coming together to try to find answers, starbursting flips it over and asks everyone to think of questions instead. Here’s an example of the starbursting method.

robelm-solving skills assessment 3

The idea of this method is to go and expand from here, layering more and more questions until you’ve covered every eventuality of the problem.

Use of data analysis to measure improvement in problem-solving skills for your organization

Problem-solving and data analytics are often used together. Supporting data is very handy whenever a particular problem occurs. By using data analytics, you can find the supporting data and analyze it to use for solving a specific problem.

However, we must emphasize that the data you’re using to solve the problem is accurate and complete. Otherwise, misleading data may take you off track of the problem at hand or even make it appear more complex than it is. Moreover, as you gain knowledge about the current problem, it further eases the way to solve it.

Let’s dig deeper into the top 3 reasons data analytics is important in problem-solving.

 1. Uncover hidden details

Modern data analytics tools have numerous features that let you analyze the given data thoroughly and find hidden or repeating trends without needing any extra human effort. These automated tools are great at extracting the depths of data, going back way into the past.

2. Automated models

Automation is the future. Businesses don’t have enough time or the budget to encourage manual workforces to go through loads of data to solve business problems. Instead, the tools can collect, combine, clean, and transform the relevant data all by themselves and finally use it to predict the solutions.

3. Explore similar problems

When you use a data analytics approach to solve problems, you can collect all the data available and store it. It can assist you when you find yourself in similar problems, providing references for how such issues were tackled in the past.

If you’re looking for ways to help develop problem-solving skills in the workplace and want to build a team of employees who can solve their own problems, contact us to learn how we can help you achieve it.

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Future marketing skills

8 Problem-Solving Interview Questions You Should Ask

Juste Semetaite

Employers need professionals who can cope with change. Especially in a modern workplace that is fast-paced and dynamic, problem-solving skills are more critical now than ever. Of course, having the right people starts with who and how you hire.

To find the best problem solvers, hiring managers rely on problem-solving interview questions and skills tests. In the interview, asking various behavioral-type questions can help assess a candidate’s ability to analyze complex situations, think critically , and develop innovative solutions.

In this article, we’ll explore eight different types of problem-solving interview questions and answers, how to identify any red flags in candidate answers, and a quick-fire list of tips to ensure you bring the best aboard your organization.

TL;DR – Key Takeaways

  • Problem-solving interview questions are designed to assess a candidate’s ability to think critically , analyze situations, and find innovative solutions.
  • Hiring managers use problem-solving questions in the job interview to evaluate critical skills and competencies such as analytical thinking, decision-making, adaptability, creativity, collaboration, and communication .
  • A predictor of future job performance is past performance. By understanding how they have dealt with problems in the past, you can get a better picture of how they might apply those skills to your organization.
  • Red flags to watch out for during the job interview include a lack of specific examples, vague or generalized answers, limited adaptability, poor decision-making, lack of collaboration or communication skills, and limited initiative or creativity.
  • Tips for using problem-solving questions to screen candidates include asking job-specific questions, encouraging candidates to use the STAR method, asking different types of problem-solving questions, and preparing responses .
  • Interviews are great for top-level evaluation of problem-solving skills. But if you want to get to the bottom of candidates’ job-specific competencies and have reliable data to compare top candidates, try skills assessments instead! See our test library for inspiration. 

People with strong problem solving skills will structure their answers, for example, using the STAR method.

What Are Problem-Solving Interview Questions?

Problem-solving interview questions are a type of behavioral question used to assess a candidate’s ability to think critically, gather and analyze data, and work through logical solutions. There often is no right or wrong answer , but a strong answer will check the boxes by explaining how they would come to a solution by walking through all the relevant steps.

questions can take many different forms, but they all share a common goal: to evaluate an individual's problem-solving skills in a specific context

For example, a problem-solving question might be to ask the candidate to describe a time when they had to change their planned course of action at the last moment. The interviewer is not only interested in hearing about how the candidate solved the specific problem but also in learning more about their problem-solving approach and what they did to manage the unexpected change.

It is often thought that past employee behaviour can predict the future. That’s why problem-solving interview questions are often designed to elicit specific examples from the candidate’s own work experience. By talking through concrete examples, interviewers can better understand the candidate’s problem-solving abilities and how they might apply those skills to the job at hand.

Want to know more about behavioral interview questions ?

33 Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Why Interviewers Ask Problem-solving Interview Questions

For most hiring managers, the interview is a critical step in the hiring process. In addition to using skills assessments to screen candidates for problem-solving skills, they need to ask problem-solving interview questions to get a deeper understanding of this skill.

Probing questions help hiring managers to evaluate candidates’ critical thinking skills , providing insight into how well they might perform on the job. This approach enables interviewers to understand the candidate’s problem-solving competency and the methods that they adopt.

Interviewers will be looking to understand their capacity to analyze information, generate innovative ideas, adapt to unexpected obstacles, make sound decisions, collaborate with others, and effectively communicate their ideas.

Therefore, an effective problem-solver will also demonstrate a range of other important skills, such as analytical thinking, decision-making, adaptability, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

problem solving skills test with answers

8 Examples of Common Problem-Solving Interview Questions and Answers

Problem solving is one of many key interpersonal skills that a peer interview question can assess during a job interview.

Now for the main course of this article. We’re going to dive into eight types of example problem-solving questions that you can use during interviews, explaining why they are relevant and what makes a strong answer.

1. The challenging situation

Recall a difficult problem or challenging situation you encountered in a previous role. How did you analyze the problem, and what steps did you take to arrive at a solution?

The reason: Assesses a candidate’s ability to handle complex and challenging situations as well as their problem-solving approach, communication, and decision-making skills.

The answer: The candidate should share a specific instance of a problematic situation they faced in a previous role and describe their problem-solving approach. Specifically, how they analyzed the problem, including what information they gathered and resources they used to arrive at a solution.

Bonus points: If they can highlight any obstacles they faced and how they overcame them, as well as the positive outcomes of their solution.

2. Problem-solving process

Walk me through your problem-solving process . Explain your personal approach to problem-solving by taking me through the steps you typically follow.

The reason: To better understand a candidate’s problem-solving approach and methodology.

The answer: A solid answer consists of a brief description of the candidate’s personal problem-solving approach , highlighting the steps they typically follow, different options they would consider, and resources used to make informed decisions.

Bonus points: If they also mention any tools or techniques , such as the scientific method or SWOT analysis, and provide examples of times when their approach was successful.

3. Decision-making

Share an instance where you needed to make a quick decision to resolve an urgent problem. How did you decide on a course of action, and what was the outcome?

The reason: Test a candidate’s decision-making and problem-solving skills in stressful and unexpected situations.

The answer: The interviewee should describe how they gathered relevant information quickly, considered various options, and arrived at an informed decision all within a limited space of time.

Bonus points: If they can demonstrate competence in handling stressful situations , especially if the role may require it.

4. Creative thinking

Give me an example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem. How did you approach the situation differently or creatively, and what was the outcome?

The reason: Understand a candidate’s ability to think creatively and innovatively when faced with a problem.

The answer: The interviewee should describe a specific situation where they used creative thinking to solve a problem. They should explain their unique approach and any unconventional ideas or solutions they came up with.

Bonus points: If they can demonstrate exactly how their creative solution contributed to a successful outcome.

5. Teamwork

Describe a situation where you had to work with a team to solve a complex problem. Detail your role and contributions to the team’s overall success in finding a solution.

The reason: Understand a candidate’s ability to work collaboratively and effectively with others when solving difficult problems.

The answer: How do they narrate a particular scenario where they worked with a team to collectively solve a complex problem, specifying their role and that of the team in arriving at a solution.

Bonus points: If they can recognize the role of others and the strength of the team over the individual in solving the problem.

6. Overcoming obstacles

Can you share an example of a project or task where you had to overcome unexpected obstacles or challenges? How did you adapt and find a solution?

The reason: Handling unexpected obstacles or challenges and their problem-solving skills.

The answer: To answer this question, the interviewee should share a particular project or task where they faced unforeseen challenges or obstacles, how they adapted to the situation and found a solution.

Strong problem solving answers will showcase a candidate's past experience.

Bonus points: If they emphasize any creative or innovative methods they employed.

7. Dealing with recurring problems

Give me an example of a time when you identified a recurring problem in a process or system. What steps did you take to address the issue and prevent it from happening again?

The reason: This question assesses a candidate’s ability to identify and solve recurring problems and improve processes.

The answer: The job seeker should recount a specific instance of a recurring problem they detected in a process or system .

Bonus points: If they can explain exactly how they got to the root of the problem and the steps or measures they took to prevent its recurrence .

8. Multi-tasking

Tell me about a situation where you had to prioritize multiple tasks or projects with competing deadlines. How did you prioritize and allocate your time to ensure the successful completion of all tasks?

The reason: Tests a candidate’s capacity to organize, prioritize, and multitask to complete multiple assignments or tasks in a timely manner.

The answer: The interviewee should illustrate a specific instance where they successfully managed multiple projects or tasks simultaneously , elaborating on how they prioritized their workload and managed their time efficiently.

Bonus points: If they highlight any project management tools or techniques used, and if the project or task was delivered on time.

20 Steal-worthy Interview Questions for Managers

Now that we’ve gone over the best possible answers for these questions, let’s look at some of the negatives and red flags to keep an eye out for.

Red Flags for Interviewers Assessing Problem-solving Skills

HR managers should be aware of red flags during an interview that could indicate weakness in a candidate’s problem-solving skills.

problem solving skills test with answers

Red flags to watch for include:

A lack of specific examples

If a candidate has a hard time recalling specific past problem-solving examples, this may signal they lack relevant experience or have difficulty remembering events.

Vague or generalized answers

Candidates who give vague, general, or unclear answers without describing the specifics of their problem-solving process may lack the ability to solve problems effectively. Is the candidate trying to avoid the question? When probed further, are they able to get more specific?

Limited adaptability

If the individual is unable to describe situations where they persevered through obstacles or utilized alternate solutions, it may display an absence of resilience, unwillingness or incapacity to be adaptable.

Poor decision-making skills

Candidates who lack the ability to explain their thought process, take into account alternative perspectives, or make unwise decisions likely possess weak decision-making skills. Look for candidates who contemplate decisions carefully, consider the pros and cons, and can articulate their reasons for choosing their final course of action.

Lack of collaboration or communication skills

Poor communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills can hinder problem-solving, especially in situations where input or feedback from stakeholders is required.

Limited initiative or creativity

Problem solvers who stand out demonstrate initiative, creativity, and a drive to think unconventionally. Those who cannot offer examples of inventive problem-solving or use only traditional techniques may not possess the ability to come up with creative solutions.

Tips For Using Problem-Solving Questions To Screen Candidates

Before you run off and start asking all of the above problem-solving interview questions, there are a few more factors to consider. To be specific, context is king when it comes to speaking to interviewees during the job interview. And the below tips will help you to understand them better.

  • Always be sure to ask job-specific questions
  • Start with a robust, written job description that details all the required skills, competencies, and experience to compare with the candidate’s answers
  • Keep a look out for generic answers
  • Do they use the STAR method to structure their thinking/answers?
  • Ask different types of problem-solving questions
  • Reword the question if a candidate is having trouble answering it
  • Ask how they handle a situation that doesn’t have an easy outcome or answer
  • Inquire if they have ever had disciplinary action taken against them and how they handled it
  • Ask them team-related questions
  • Prepare responses that you can play off of their answers
  • Check if they have ever tried to inspire their team
  • It’s not out of the ordinary to ask the candidate out-of-the-box questions (How would you escape a blender?) to understand how they solve problems

Structured Interview vs. Unstructured Interview: Differences Explained Simply

You’re almost ready to integrate problem-solving questions into your job interview workflow, but there’s just one last topic to cover: Is there a piece of software that can help you to streamline the problem-solving interview process?

Yes, yes, there is.

Evaluating problem-solving skills beyond the interview

While interviews are a useful tool for recruiters and hiring managers to gauge candidates’ competence, they’re not quite sufficient for assessing candidates’ full skill set. That’s especially true when the role requires mastery of a certain technical or power skill, like problem-solving.

problem solving skills test

A better, more effective way to evaluate candidates ‘ abilities is to combine structured interviews with job-specific skills assessments. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • It allows for more objective evaluation. Interviews inherently favor candidates with advanced communication skills, charisma, and confidence. But! Just because a candidate interviews well, doesn’t mean they have what it takes to succeed in the role. Sadly, the interviewer’s perception of a candidate is almost always highly influenced by the candidate’s interviewing skills. Incorporating a skills assessment can help you assess candidates’ actual abilities in role-specific tasks.
  • It offers a practical demonstration. Interviews often rely on a candidate’s self-reporting of their skills and past experiences. However, candidates may overstate their abilities or have difficulty articulating their skills in an interview setting. Skill-specific assessments give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in a practical, real-world context. This allows hiring managers to see the candidate’s skills in action, which can be a more reliable indicator of their ability to perform in the role.
  • It guarantees consistent metrics. Assessments provide a consistent set of metrics to compare all candidates. This can help to eliminate bias and ensure fairness in the hiring process. Interviews can be more subjective and may vary greatly depending on the interviewer or the specific questions asked. Having a standardized assessment ensures that all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria.
  • It helps to predict job performance. Research has shown that work sample tests, which are a type of skill-specific assessment, are one of the best predictors of job performance. They can provide valuable insights into how a candidate might perform in the job beyond what can be learned from an interview alone.
  • It makes the hiring process more efficient. Skill-specific assessments can also make the hiring process more efficient. If a candidate performs poorly on an assessment early in the process, this could save time for both the candidate and the company by indicating that the candidate may not be the right fit for the role.

Interested in exploring a skills-based hiring approach? Take no risks – start with our free account to browse all available assessment templates .

Juste Semetaite

Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.

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Capture The Flag: 5 websites to sharpen your hacking skills

Through engaging hacking challenges and competitions, CTFs offer an excellent opportunity to test and enhance your security and problem-solving skills

Christian Ali Bravo

Christian Ali Bravo

13 Nov 2023  •  , 3 min. read

Capture The Flag: 5 websites to sharpen your hacking skills

Cybersecurity is not only an ever-evolving and increasingly important concern in our digital age, but it can also be a lot of fun. Capture The Flag competitions, also known as CTFs, have a lot to do with that.

Through hacking challenges of various difficulty levels and modes, these contests are designed to assess a wide range of skills and knowledge related to cybersecurity as well as, more broadly, problem-solving skills, teamwork and creativity. The ultimate goal is to capture a “flag”, such as a snippet of code, that confirms the successful resolution of a challenge.

These games can be played individually or in teams, and the number of points you earn for each challenge will depend on its complexity, the time taken to solve it, and the number of people in the team.

The main types of challenges include: reverse engineering, cryptography, forensic analysis, web security, open-source intelligence ( OSINT ) and binary exploitation. The modes can be jeopardy, war games (attack and defense) or mixed.

Here are our top 5 recommendations for you to further hone your skills while enjoying CTFs:

Describing itself as a "a fun, free platform for learning modern cryptography", Crypto Hack offers various interactive challenges related to this exciting field. It also encourages continuous progress through achievement awards and competition levels. The challenges vary from downloading vulnerable source code to decryption, making web requests to extract confidential data, and performing man-in-the-middle attacks. While most challenges require you to code up a solution, they also provide snippets of Python source code that participants can tailor to their needs.

Hack The Box

Hack The Box allows individuals, businesses, government institutions and universities alike to sharpen their offensive and defensive security skills. It also has a CTF exercise section that includes jeopardy-type challenges (in web security, cryptography, reverse engineering and forensics). Also available are full-pwn machines with various difficulties, attack paths, and operating systems, along with Active Directory labs simulating real business environments with the latest attack techniques. With over 500 organized CTFs, almost 60,000 participating teams, and more than 200,000 flags successfully captured, Hack The Box is a popular choice for security folks.

RingZer0 Team Online CTF

RingZer0 hosts 400-plus CTF exercises of varying difficulty and subjects, ranging from steganography and cryptography to reverse engineering and programming. It actively encourages community participation and invites participants to submit written solutions for each challenge they complete. Once approved, these solutions can be exchanged for hints. The primary goal is to motivate people to share their problem-solving approaches and demonstrate the various ways to tackle the same challenge.

TryHackMe offers a comprehensive training platform with content suitable for all skill levels, from beginners to seasoned hackers. The platform provides well-structured learning paths that reinforce knowledge in information security through various tasks and challenges designed to achieve specific objectives. With an active community of students and cybersecurity professionals, TryHackMe fosters knowledge-sharing, enriching the learning experience for all participants.

Desafío ESET (ESET challenge)

If you speak Spanish, head over to the Spanish version of WeLiveSecurity that features a section called Desafíos ESET with more than 40 challenges specially crafted by ESET’s lab in Latin America. These exercises run the gamut and include detecting data exfiltration from a company, reverse engineering without analyzing code, and analyzing samples to identify the propagation of malware within an organization. Each challenge includes community-contributed comments, opinions, and questions that further enhance the training and learning experience.

There you have it. Obviously these are just some of the many websites hosting competitions that provide valuable experience for security enthusiasts and professionals alike and ultimately boost their career prospects in the field . So keep exploring and joining these fun-filled exercises and stay updated on the exciting CTF challenges in the dynamic field that is security. Happy hacking!

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Mention 10 importance of problem-solving and decision-making skills...

Mention 10 importance of problem-solving and decision-making skills in the field of developmental service workers.

Mention any five strategies to enhance problem-solving and decision-making skills. I have written. 1. Analyze the situation; 2. set priorities 3. collaborate with the team 4. Review and evaluate. Can you please elaborate on these four points and mention others too?

Refer to article and mention references.

Answer & Explanation

Importance of Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills

1. Client-Centered Approach: Analyzing the situation enables a personalized approach, addressing the unique needs of clients for more effective support.

2. Resource Optimization: Setting priorities ensures efficient resource allocation, focusing efforts on the most critical issues to maximize impact.

3. Team Collaboration: Collaborating with the team harnesses diverse perspectives, creating comprehensive solutions that consider all aspects of clients' well-being.

4. Continuous Improvement: Reviewing and evaluating outcomes promotes a culture of learning, allowing developmental service workers to refine strategies and enhance effectiveness.

5. Empowerment: Effective problem-solving empowers clients by overcoming challenges, fostering autonomy, and enhancing self-efficacy.

6. Adaptability: Problem-solving skills facilitate adaptability in a dynamic field, enabling workers to respond effectively to changing client needs and external factors

7. Risk Management: Decision-making skills are essential for assessing risks and benefits, ensuring client safety, and making informed choices.

8. Advocacy: Problem-solving skills support effective advocacy, helping navigate systems and overcome obstacles to secure the best outcomes for clients.

9. Crisis Intervention: Quick and effective decision-making is crucial in crisis situations, ensuring a timely and appropriate response to safeguard client well-being.

10. Ethical Considerations: Problem-solving and decision-making are guided by ethical principles, ensuring choices align with professional standards and prioritize clients' best interests.

Strategies to Enhance Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills

1. Training and Professional Development: Attend workshops and training sessions to stay current on best practices, acquiring new problem-solving techniques.

2. Reflective Practice: Regularly reflect on experiences to identify strengths, areas for improvement, and alternative approaches to problem-solving.

3. Mentorship: Seek guidance from experienced colleagues or mentors to gain insights into effective problem-solving strategies based on their experiences.

4. Simulation Exercises: Engage in simulated scenarios to practice decision-making in a controlled environment, facilitating skill development without real-world consequences.

5. Feedback Loop: Establish a feedback loop with peers and supervisors for constructive input on problem-solving and decision-making processes, fostering continuous learning and improvement.  

Approach to solving the question:

Detailed explanation:

Key references: Nursing

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  • Open access
  • Published: 13 November 2023

Assessment of the capacity of ChatGPT as a self-learning tool in medical pharmacology: a study using MCQs

  • Woong Choi 1  

BMC Medical Education volume  23 , Article number:  864 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI that exhibits a remarkable ability to simulate human speech. This investigation attempts to evaluate the potential of ChatGPT as a standalone self-learning tool, with specific attention on its efficacy in answering multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and providing credible rationale for its responses.

The study used 78 test items from the Korean Comprehensive Basic Medical Sciences Examination (K-CBMSE) for years 2019 to 2021. 78 test items translated from Korean to English with four lead-in prompts per item resulted in a total of 312 MCQs. The MCQs were submitted to ChatGPT and the responses were analyzed for correctness, consistency, and relevance.

ChatGPT responded with an overall accuracy of 76.0%. Compared to its performance on recall and interpretation questions, the model performed poorly on problem-solving questions. ChatGPT offered correct rationales for 77.8% (182/234) of the responses, with errors primarily arising from faulty information and flawed reasoning. In terms of references, ChatGPT provided incorrect citations for 69.7% (191/274) of the responses. While the veracity of reference paragraphs could not be ascertained, 77.0% (47/61) were deemed pertinent and accurate with respect to the answer key.

The current version of ChatGPT has limitations in accurately answering MCQs and generating correct and relevant rationales, particularly when it comes to referencing. To avoid possible threats such as spreading inaccuracies and decreasing critical thinking skills, ChatGPT should be used with supervision.

Peer Review reports


Created by OpenAI, ChatGPT is an advanced large language model (LLM) that has been pre-trained to chat in natural language [ 1 ]. Since its launch in late 2022, ChatGPT has drawn considerable attention from the public. Thanks to its large capacity and training text corpora [ 2 ], ChatGPT is able to produce human-like responses, going as far as to demonstrate reasoning through chain-of-thoughts mimicking human problem-solving behavior [ 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 ]. After ChatGPT met the passing threshold on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) [ 7 , 8 ], many authors applied ChatGPT on answering other multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in the medical domain such as physiology [ 9 ], anesthesiology [ 10 , 11 ], ophthalmology [ 12 ], and parasitology [ 13 ]. One meta-analysis reported that ChatGPT demonstrated an accuracy of 61.1% (95% CI 56.1%–66.0%) in answering MCQs in medical examinations [ 14 ].

Given that MCQs can be used as a self-learning tool [ 15 , 16 ], such performance suggests that ChatGPT could act as an easy-to-access interactive learning environment, which could lead to greater retention of information and more pleasant learning experience [ 7 ].

The Korean Comprehensive Basic Medical Sciences Examination (K-CBMSE) is a minimum competency test taken by Korean medical students who have completed didactic learning and laboratory experiment for basic medical sciences (See Supplement 1 for the details) [ 17 ]. One theme of K-CBMSE focuses on pharmacology, which includes MCQs at three levels of cognitive taxonomy: recall, interpretation, and problem-solving [ 16 ]. Pharmacology is often perceived as a challenging subject by students due to (1) the introduction of numerous new terms and concepts, and (2) requirement of complex background knowledge such as pathophysiology and biochemistry. Therefore, reinforcement of key concepts by self-learning is essential to improve understanding, learning and retention [ 18 ].

ChatGPT was suggested as a self-learning tool for students facing difficulties in learning pharmacology, as it achieved a high accuracy rate when answering centric questions from a pharmacology textbook for undergraduate students [ 19 ]. However, ChatGPT’s ability to answer MCQs in pharmacology have not been addressed in the past literature. In this study, the capacity of ChatGPT as a self-learning tool for pharmacology was tested on selected MCQs from the pharmacology section of K-CBMSE. ChatGPT was asked four incrementally designed prompts to provide answers, rationales (reasoning or justification) supporting its answers, references for the rationale, and relevant paragraphs or excerpts from each reference. The accuracy of answers, the soundness of rationales, and the veracity of references and relevant paragraphs were evaluated. Cases of incorrect answers and rationales were identified along with potential causes for the errors. Possible strategies to minimize the drawbacks of ChatGPT were discussed.

This study assessed ChatGPT’s potential as a standalone self-learning tool for medical pharmacology by evaluating its response to 312 MCQs derived from the K-CBMSE test items. The responses were assessed based on the correctness of answer, rationale, references, and paragraph from each respective reference. As MCQs are a combination of test items and incrementally engineered lead-in prompts, the study also tested whether the cognitive taxonomy level of the test items and the incrementally engineered prompts interacted to influence ChatGPT’s performance.

Construction of test item dataset

Test items from the K-CBMSE for years 2019 to 2021 (a total of 105 test items) were used as the test item dataset. Footnote 1 Test items with figures (27 items) were excluded because ChatGPT could not interpret images. The remaining 78 test items were translated from Korean to English by the author. During the translation, long Korean sentences were split into short English sentences for better readability, and appropriate plain words or medical terms were used where required. The cognitive taxonomy level of the test items was also rated by the author as recall, interpretation, and problem-solving [ 16 ].

Prompt engineering

For the answer, references for the rationales, relevant paragraphs or excerpts in each reference), lead-in prompts were engineered incrementally for each of the four levels. This four-level prompting is an incremental prompting technique that uses four levels of prompts to guide a large language model (LLM) such as ChatGPT towards a desired response by providing multiple prompts, one after another [ 20 ]. It was hypothesized that incremental prompting might increase ChatGPT’s workload and error rate.

Prompt 1 (correct answer): Please choose the best answer for the following question,

Prompt 2 (rationale): Please choose the best answer for the following question and explain the rationale,

Prompt 3 (references): Please choose the best answer for the following question and explain the rationale. Please provide the references (Uniform Resource Locator or URL, title, and authors) that support the rationale,

Prompt 4 (relevant paragraph): Please choose the best answer for the following question and give a rationale for the answer. Please provide the references (URL, title, and authors) that support your rationale. Please provide the relevant paragraphs or formulas from each reference.

Multiple-choice question dataset

A single MCQ was composed of one lead-in prompt, one blank line, and the original test item. Figure  1 shows the typical style of each MCQ. Since each test item could be paired with four different lead-in prompts, 78 test items generated a total of 312 MCQs.

figure 1

The typical style of each multiple-choice question. Each question consisted of a lead-in prompt, a test item, and options. The lead-in prompt could ask for the answer; a rationale supporting the answer; references; and paragraphs from the references

ChatGPT (versions between Jan/28/2023 and Jan/29/2023; OpenAI) was used. The version of ChatGPT is powered by Generative Pretrained Transformer (GPT)-3.5 and has been pretrained on a large size (from 570 gigabytes to 45 terabytes) of text data [ 1 , 2 ]. There is no report whether ChatGPT received any additional pharmacology-specific pretraining.

ChatGPT inquiry and the responses thereof

ChatGPT was used to generate responses to English MCQs by feeding one question to the model at a time, deleting previous chat history before each submission to prevent previous questions from influencing the current response. A response consisted of answers, rationales, reference lists, and relevant paragraphs from each reference, depending on the prompt. Figure  2 shows a typical example of ChatGPT’s response style.

figure 2

The typical style of ChatGPT’s response. Depending on the level of the lead-in prompt, typical ChatGPT’s response consisted an answer; a rationale supporting the answer; references; and paragraphs from the references

Data summary

ChatGPT-generated responses were evaluated to check whether: (1) the answer for each MCQ was correct; (2) the answers to each test item were consistent over the prompts; (3) ChatGPT returned scientifically accurate and relevant rationales.; (4) reference lists were correct (i.e., ChatGPT provided the accurate citation information for references); and (5) a relevant paragraph could be found in the references listed, if possible. The results were binary (yes or no), and the number of yes and no results was summarized.

Statistical analysis

All results were expressed in categorical contingency tables and statistical analysis was performed online using Fisher’s exact test ( https://astatsa.com/FisherTest/ ). When cell frequencies were less than 5, the Freeman-Halton extension of Fisher’s exact test was performed using the Free Statistics Calculator v4.0 ( https://www.danielsoper.com/statcalc/default.aspx ). If required, chi-square goodness-of-fit test was performed using Chi-Square Goodness of Fit Test Calculator ( https://stats.libretexts.org/Learning_Objects/02%3A_Interactive_Statistics/36%3A__Chi-Square_Goodness_of_Fit_Test_Calculator ). A p -value of less than 0.05 was considered statistically significant.

The overall accuracy of ChatGPT’s answers to MCQs was 76.0% (Table 1 ). Responses with an incorrect answer (65/312, 20.8%), with multiple answers (4/312, 1.3%), or a response of “not determined” (6/312, 1.9%) were grouped as incorrect answers (75/312, 24.0%). Although the accuracies across the prompts varied from 71.8% to 82.1%, they did not differ significantly (See Supplement 2 for the details). ChatGPT’s accuracy was higher than its previously reported performance of 56.1%–66.0% (95% CI) [ 14 ] and Korean students’ average performance of 55.3% (See Supplement 1 for the details). In terms of the cognitive taxonomy level of MCQs, the accuracy was 86.4% (152/176) for recall, 77.5% (62/80) for interpretation, and 41.1% (23/56) for problem-solving (See Supplement 2 for the details). Table 1 shows the performance for prompt 4 (relevant paragraph) in each taxonomy level, as the performance for other prompts was not significantly different.

To assess the concordance or consistency of answers to test items, the responses were aggregated by test item. The correctness for a single test item were classified as all correct, all incorrect, or partially correct across the prompts, and the all-correct and all-incorrect responses were regarded as concordant responses. Of the 78 test items, 60 items (76.9%) had concordant response across the prompts (Table 2 ). For partially correct responses, the incorrect-to-correct answer ratio varied between 1-to-3 to 3-to-1 with various correct-incorrect sequences (data not shown).

Prompts 2 (rationale) to 4 (relevant paragraph) required the rationale to be included in the response (234 MCQs). The scientific accuracy of each rationale was assessed by the author. Among 234 MCQs, 178 MCQs were correctly answered with either a correct (172/178, 96.6%) or an incorrect rationale (6/178, 3.4%). 56 MCQs were incorrectly answered with either a correct (10/56, 17.9%) or an incorrect rationale (46/56, 82.1%). Overall, 22.2% (52/234) of the rationales were incorrect. Table 3 shows that correct answers were more likely supported by correct rationale and incorrect rationales were more likely to be associated with incorrect answers ( Χ 2 (df  =  1, N  =  234)  = 152.93, p  < 0.05).

The incorrect rationales could be grouped into one of the two categories: information errors (28/52, 53.8%) and reasoning errors (24/52, 46.2%). Information errors involved incorrect information or formula in the rationale (See Fig. S3-1 for correct and relevant supporting paragraph; Figs. S3-2 and S3-3 for the errors in the rationale in Supplement 3 ), while reasoning errors involved failed identification of the cues from the question stem, disregard of the cues in the question stem, or arithmetic errors including unit conversion (See Figs. S3-4 and S3-5 in Supplement 3 ).

Prompts 3 (references) and 4 (relevant paragraph) required references for the test items (156 MCQs). In total, 274 references were listed (Table 4 ). The reference lists consisted of URLs including PubMed, articles in journal citation format, and book information. Among these references, 191 (69.7%) had URLs linked to either an irrelevant or a nonexistent site, including PubMed links that did not match the relevant contents. A total of 350 authors were cited, but 59 authors (16.9%) could not be found on PubMed, Amazon, or Google. Even the combination of the existing authors did not find any relevant articles. Although 152 titles of articles or books were given, 148 titles (97.4%) were incorrect. Figure  2 shows a case of errors in referencing. The reference information presented was “Proton pump inhibitors: a review of their pharmacology and their therapeutic uses. Scarpignato, JJ and Zentilin, G. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1372933/ ”. The PubMed Central Identifier PMC1372933 was directed to “Preventive Medicine in World War II. Vol. IV. Communicable Diseases Transmitted Chiefly through Respiratory and Alimentary Tracts. Am J Public Health Nations Health. 1959 Jul; 49(7): 969. PMCID: PMC1372933” and none of the listed authors could be found on PubMed, Amazon, or Google. The reference title, ‘Proton pump inhibitors: a review of their pharmacology and their therapeutic uses’, could not be found in a PubMed search. Even after the references were limited to textbooks and the prompts were modified to require actual books, the errors in the information on authors, book chapters, and pages were persistent (data not shown).

Relevant paragraphs

Prompt 4 (relevant paragraph) asked ChatGPT to identify the relevant paragraphs from each reference (78 MCQs). Only 47 MCQs from Table 5 were provided with paragraphs, which are presented in Table 6 (61 paragraphs). The distribution of the paragraph presentation did not differ significantly between correct and incorrect answers (Table 5 ; χ 2 (1, 78)  = 1.35, p  > 0.05).

Irrespective of the correctness of the reference, the contents of 61 paragraphs themselves could be grouped into (1) correct and relevant to the answer key (47/61, 77.0%), (2) correct but irrelevant to the answer key (6/61, 9.8%), and (3) incorrect information (8/61, 13.1%). As shown in Table 6 , correct and relevant paragraphs are more likely to support correct answers (See the Supplement 3 for the details of each type of paragraph in Table 6 ; especially Fig. S3-1 for a correct and relevant paragraph, Fig. S3-6 for a correct but irrelevant paragraph, and Fig. S3-7 for an incorrect paragraph).

Based on pharmacology MCQs, this study found that the current version of ChatGPT need to be improved to be used as a standalone self-learning tool. ChatGPT’s overall performance (76%) in this study surpassed the ranges reported in the previous literature (61.1%, 95% CI 56.1%–66.0%) [ 14 ]. Its performance may vary depending on the number of subjects covered by each test, the numbers of options per MCQ, as well as the distribution of test items’ cognitive taxonomy. However, its performance below 95% may limit its reliability as a self-learning tool [ 14 ]. ChatGPT outperformed Korean students in terms of overall accuracy in its response (76% vs 55%), but performed poorly on problem-solving MCQs (45%) despite its supposed critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. This result suggests that ChatGPT is still limited in its ability to apply critical thinking and reasoning skills to real-world problems.

Another issue with ChatGPT was the randomness of the generated responses. ChatGPT answered 23.1% of the test items inconsistently across the lead-in prompts. While randomness may be useful when generating creative content or exploring different ideas, it can be a critical problem when answering factual questions [ 21 ]. A particularly problematic form of randomness is hallucination, a phenomenon where ChatGPT generates plausible-sounding but incorrect or misleading [ 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 ]. The hallucinations can be caused by training data biases, lack of required information, limited real-world understanding, or algorithmic limitations [ 26 ]. The rationales for the answer and the supporting references were especially susceptible to hallucination. Among all the generated rationales, 22.2% were incorrect and involved information errors or reasoning errors. Generated URL links were often incorrect or unavailable (191/274, 69.7%), and some authors could not be found (59/350, 16.9%). Consequently, while ChatGPT did provide paragraphs to some of the paragraph-requiring prompts, it was not possible to evaluate their veracity because most of the reference links were unavailable. This poor performance demonstrates a weakness of ChatGPT as a standalone self-learning tool. In the medical domain, it is crucial to ensure that information is accurate, as errors or inaccuracies can have detrimental consequences [ 27 ]. However, any inaccuracies and misinformation in self-study guides cannot be corrected without references, which would lead to erroneous absorption of information that can negatively impact learning outcomes. The absence of appropriate references may also deprive the students of access to additional information, which in turn could limit their comprehension and understanding related to the subject matter [ 28 ].

Despite its limitations, ChatGPT could still be useful as a self-study tool when used under supervision [ 29 ]. As a part of preparing students for the challenges in the future, they could be trained to critically evaluate and challenge factually incorrect or misleading responses from ChatGPT, such as tracing evidence to its primary sources to verify the model’s assertions [ 28 ]. For instance, students can ask ChatGPT for its chain of thoughts through prompts such as “Explain your reasoning process for the answer” or “Explain your chain of thoughts for the answer” [ 30 ]. The responses to these prompts can help students understand ChatGPT’s reasoning, think critically about the underlying information, and develop their own reasoning and critical thinking skills based on the experience. ChatGPT can be an engaging way of learning, but it is important to use it in moderation and not let it replace independent thinking. Students should be cautioned against overreliance on ChatGPT, as it could impair their higher-order cognitive skills, such as creativity and problem-solving [ 31 ].

This study contributed to the previous literature by providing evidence that the current version of ChatGPT is not suitable as a standalone self-learning tool and exploring the potential for supervised use of ChatGPT.

However, this study also has several limitations. Firstly, the study employed only 78 test items derived from the K-CBMSE pharmacology. While the sample size is adequate for the purposes of this study, it is still relatively small and may not fully represent all categories of medical examination questions. As a result, future research may seek to utilize a larger and more diverse set of medical examination questions for a more comprehensive evaluation of ChatGPT’s capabilities. Secondly, this study’s primary focus was centered on examining ChatGPT’s capacity to address medical examination MCQs, specifically those pertaining to pharmacology. The outcomes of this research may not necessarily be generalizable to other types of inquiries or domains. To enhance the transferability of the study’s results, subsequent investigations may explore ChatGPT’s efficacy in answering questions in fields other than medicine or in other answer formats such as essays. This approach would aid in establishing the generalizability of the findings and providing more robust support for future practical applications. Thirdly, ChatGPT is rapidly evolving. Significant advancements have occurred during the research process, which could potentially make some findings less relevant. For example, GPT-4 was released while this research was underway, and it is known to be significantly more powerful than ChatGPT [ 32 ]. Fourthly, overall performance of ChatGPT may have been overestimated in this study due to the imbalanced distribution of cognitive taxonomy levels in the test items. Only 17.9% of the test items are problem-solving, while 56.4% are recall. To ensure fair comparison across studies, the distribution of cognitive taxonomy levels should be standardized. Finally, there are several key components that can contribute to the effectiveness of learning tools, such as students’ perception and interaction [ 33 , 34 ]. This study did not assess ChatGPT’s efficacy on these dimensions.

The introduction of new technologies such as internet, mobile devices, and ChatGPT in education presents both opportunities and threats. The introduction of new technologies such as internet, mobile devices, and ChatGPT presents both opportunities and threats in education. Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has the potential to revolutionize education [ 35 ], offering personalized virtual assistants and adaptive learning experiences for every student [ 31 , 36 , 37 ]. AI-powered systems can provide timely and immediate feedback, tailored recommendations, and interactive and engaging learning activities [ 26 , 36 , 38 ]. Although some may fear the threats of plagiarism and misinformation posed by ChatGPT, efforts to ban emerging technologies in higher education have been futile historically. ChatGPT is unlikely to be an exception [ 39 ].

Instead, we should embrace ChatGPT and other language models as self-learning tools while striving to minimize the associated risks. One possible approach is to develop strategies for appropriate supervision. For example, students can ask ChatGPT to generate a solution to a complex problem, and then evaluate the solution to determine its feasibility or effectiveness [ 30 ]. Such setups would require the students to use their problem-solving skills and to think critically about the different factors involved in the problem. By doing so, we can stimulate students’ learning and motivate them to develop higher cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Empirical studies also should be performed to investigate whether using ChatGPT with supervision can truly improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

The current version of ChatGPT has limitations as a useful self-study tool despite its performance in correctly answering MCQs. The answers could be inconsistent when the same inquiry is repeated; the generated rationale could be incorrect; and the generated references were nonsensical. To maximize the potential benefits of AI technology while minimizing its risks, it is imperative to develop effective supervision and moderation strategies.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

The test items of K-CBMSE are not publicly available, but can be provided by the Medical Education Assessment Corporation (bmec.ac.kr) on demand for educational or research purposes.

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WC is grateful to the Medical Education Assessment Corporation in Korea (MEAC) for providing the K-CBMSE test items and quality control data for this study. MEAC has kindly granted permission for some of the K-CBMSE test items to be included in this research manuscript. WC also thanks to Chungbuk National University for its support.

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Additional file 1: supplement 1..

Korean Comprehensive Basic Medical Sciences Examination (K-CBMSE). Supplement 2. ChatGPT’s accuracy across the prompts. Supplement 3. The cases of incorrect responses.

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Choi, W. Assessment of the capacity of ChatGPT as a self-learning tool in medical pharmacology: a study using MCQs. BMC Med Educ 23 , 864 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-023-04832-x

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Jump to: Today’s Theme | Tricky Clues

MONDAY PUZZLE — Before I start solving the daily crossword, I take a moment to scan the grid and make sure there isn’t anything fishy going on inside it. Are there any circled letters, for example, or strangely shaded strips? Do those box borders seem unusually thick? Hang on, why do those black squares look as if they’re forming some kind of shape? It’s a secret code. I’m sure of it .

This is the kind of mental radio chatter I had to deal with when I opened up today’s puzzle by Benjamin Fink, a debut constructor, and saw two plus signs formed by the black squares in the grid. What could they mean?

Read on to find out. And don’t worry: Notwithstanding my cruciverbalist neuroses, I won’t be donning a tinfoil hat — though it has appeared in the New York Times Crossword twice already — anytime soon.

Today’s Theme

“It was the originality of this theme, and the unexpected but perfectly apt revealer that charmed us,” said Tracy Bennett, a puzzle editor for The New York Times.

The series of italicized clues — at 17-, 28- and 44-Across — that make up today’s theme set are suspiciously benign. The entry for “‘I will never raise your taxes!’” (17A), for example, is a straightforward CAMPAIGN PROMISE. (Still feeling taunted by the plus signs I had seen in the grid’s black squares, I was certain the “pro” of PROMISE would amount to something related to addition.)

We find there’s more to it, however, with that perfectly apt revealer at 57-Across: “‘Isn’t that mind-blowing?!’ … or a question one might ask about the answers to the italicized clues.”

The reflexive expression of astonishment in question is also one of incredulity: CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? And you’d be right to ask it of any of today’s themed entries: The CAMPAIGN PROMISE, rarely delivered once a politician is in office; “Five stars!” in a CUSTOMER REVIEW (28A), often planted by the company itself; a HOMEWORK EXCUSE (44A), forged or fictionalized.

In addition to the liveliness of Mr. Fink’s themed phrases, Ms. Bennett said, the editors enjoyed the accessibility in his wordplay. They sought to bring it out by having spoken clues featured in the theme, rather than definitional ones, which she explained “added a playful layer of puzzlement for the solver to uncover.”

I couldn’t resist, of course, asking Ms. Bennett what the secret of the plus signs was. Surely the solver was meant to uncover something there?

“They don’t have any connection to the theme,” she replied. “Just an artifact of the grid design.”

Reader, I couldn’t believe it.

Tricky Clues

21A. A SOU was a French coin of low denomination, so to say that something is “Not worth a SOU” means that it isn’t worth anything to you. (I’d say this clue phrase has fallen about as far out of use as the denomination it cites.)

23A. The clue “Absence noted in vape pen ads” is asking us to identify an “absence” mentioned by the ads themselves, as opposed to filling in language that the ads are missing. NO TAR is the entry.

61A. If you speak Turkish, you could have simply inferred the name of the “Lion in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’” by its species: ASLAN is the Turkish word for lion.

13D. Remember, every word in a clue is doing its part to bring you toward the solution. Take the word in “Part of a rose or a glass of rosé,” for example: We’re meant to consider the anatomy that connects the objects, not their shared color palette or aromas. Each one has a STEM.

42D. “Rare things from far away” are occasionally referred to as EXOTICA, though in recent years the practice of labeling certain foods and not others as “exotic” has come under justifiable scrutiny .

45D. “Claimed a victory, homophonically” is a brilliant way to debut an unusual crossword entry using wit, rather than brute force. Someone who “claimed a victory” WON — “homophonically,” without changing the meaning, they WON ONE.

Constructor Notes

The grumpy solver in me could easily nitpick this puzzle’s many flaws (such as including the overused hall-of-fame words ABBA, ESSO, ETSY and STYE), but here’s why none of them matter today: Around 40 years ago, my mother asked her teenage son for help with a sports-related clue, and a New York Times Crossword solving team was born. As life went on, I would be greeted at every family visit with a hug and a stack of Times crosswords. My mother and I would then retreat — antisocially, some claim — to a corner to slog our way through them while relentlessly complimenting each other (“You are so good at this! No, you are!”). Mom was always in awe of constructors, and died blissfully unaware that tools like construction software, word lists and xwordinfo.com even existed. The image of her kvelling to her friends in heaven today — making patently ridiculous statements like “I told him he was a genius!” — will have me smiling for months to come. Marla and Oren: Your patient and generous test solving over the years made this debut possible, and I can’t thank you enough. If you live in Houston and have interest in being part of an H-town constructors’ community, please reach out !

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The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online . For tips on how to get started, read our series “ How to Make a Crossword Puzzle .”

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Still feeling adrift? Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key .

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Sam Corbin writes about language, wordplay and the daily crossword for The Times. More about Sam Corbin

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We asked some of the best Sudoku  solvers in the world for their tips and tricks. Try them to  tackle even the most challenging puzzles.

Read today’s Wordle Review , and get insights on the game from our columnists.

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Ready to play? Try Wordle , Spelling Bee  or The Crossword .


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