Mechanical aptitude tests are a common screening tool among military, municipal and technical employers looking to pare down the candidate pool to a manageable level. Such tests measure an applicant's thinking and reasoning abilities, as well as technical abilities that are pertinent to the job you're seeking. Though good test taking skills are important, you'll also need to incorporate practice tests, study guides and a review of basic math and science concepts in your preparation efforts.
Follow the Employer's Guidelines
In many cases, the organization will recommend specific resources that might prove helpful. For example, the Tennessee Valley Authority uses the American Institute of Research's test for its groundman trainee, and electrician and lineman apprentice positions. Although there's no study guide geared to the AIR test, the TVA's website recommends 10 different course preparation books -- such as Macmillan's Mechanical Aptitude and Spatial Relations Test, for example -- that you should find, and incorporate in your review. The type of material presented in these books provides insights into what you'll encounter on test day.
Don't panic if you end up substituting a book or two on your list. Many publishers offer books that include similar types of sample questions and practice tests to engage your brain. Just make sure the material fits your industry or desired job opening.
Download Practice Tests
In other cases, your prospective employer may provide a preparation guide, instead of a recommended materials list. You should be able to download the guide off the employer's website, or get one in hard copy form before the test. Either way, get your hands on the guide, and spend some time reviewing it before you take the test. Shell, for example, offers a 24-page guide for its "Industrial Aptitude Battery" test that covers sample questions, general test taking tips and strategies that -- if you follow them closely -- should help you do well on your big day.
Develop Active Reading Skills
If you're not a strong reader, many test preparation guides and books contain suggestions to improve your comprehension skills. Familiarize yourself with these pointers, since your final score depends on how well you interpret test questions and diagrams. Most aptitude test questions require you to evaluate a scenario, rather than confirm specific bits of textbook knowledge, according to Los Angeles County's guide, "An Introduction to Mechanical Aptitude." For example, a question about the effects of gravity might read, "Which of these two objects will hit the ground first?", instead of, "What is an object's rate of descent?"
Improve Your Time Management
Learn how to pace yourself. Good time management skills, once ingrained, pay off in the preparation and test-taking stages. Follow the study schedules recommended in books like Mechanical & Spatial Aptitude, which break the process into specific objectives over a 30-day schedule. These materials provide good starting points for inexperienced or nervous test-takers. If you don't want to follow a formal study plan, then create one of your own.
Whatever study plan you follow, make sure you commit the same amount of effort. In the long run, twenty solid minutes of study every day beats putting in a marathon "cram" session on the night before your test.