AssessmentDay Director, Oliver Savill (MEng 2006): taking the fear out of psychometric testing

We all know how it feels to sit an exam that we haven’t properly prepared for. The racing heartbeat. The sweaty palms. The feeling of impending doom. It’s a sensation that Bristol graduate Oliver Savill (MEng 2006) has helped thousands of people to avoid.

During his final year at the University, Oliver had to sit a number of psychometric tests for graduate job applications. After struggling to find resources which could help him to revise, he took matters into his own hands by launching AssessmentDay – which is now the UK’s number one site for practice psychometric tests. Here, he reflects on his time at Bristol and his entrepreneurial career path.

Can you share a favourite memory from your time as a Bristol student?
I have so many great memories, but some of the most enduring were simply the day-to-day in halls and student houses. The close bonds you form during those years last forever and I have many memories of people, parties, clubs, walking (lots of walking up and down Whiteladies Road) and laughter. In those days we didn’t really have camera phones, so it’s all about memories and less about photos.

How did studying at the University of Bristol impact you as a person?
Apart from meeting my wife (who studied English) you mean? The people I met at Bristol helped me set further horizons. Mixing with enthusiastic and sparky people is inspiring and helps you form the mindset that most things are possible. The engineering heritage I think helped; I would indulge those daydreams and gaze out across the suspension bridge with Brunel on my mind.

How did you first come up with the idea for AssessmentDay? 
When I was applying for graduate jobs in my final year they all had these horrible psychometric tests you had to pass. Numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, that sort of thing. At the time, I wanted to practice and improve my score but there weren’t many places I could do that; there were only a few outdated books. After taking maybe 20 real tests I had a good idea of how they worked and I thought it would be fun to make some practice versions and put them on a website. Other University careers services started linking to my website and that made it rank well in Google. Rank well for something in Google and you can make money from it.

Since then I’ve managed to find a team of clever people who write the questions and validate them properly. This led to starting another company, Test Partnership, which designs tests for companies to use to assess candidates.

When did you first realise that you wanted to become an entrepreneur, rather than following a more traditional career path?
I suppose I’ve always tried little money-making projects, but the lightbulb moment was when my hobby website was making more money than my graduate job. I joined a graduate scheme with a consulting engineering company in London and I loved it, but eventually I decided to go full-time with AssessmentDay.

Since the age of about 15 I’ve always had some website or eBay page selling things from chairs to online tutorials to digital art. Everyone has their passions and for me I enjoy the challenge of making a website that sells things people want to buy. It’s lucky for me that the thing I enjoy doing makes money; that’s not the case for everyone.

Have you sat many of your own practice tests? Which ones do you find the most challenging?
I still get a bit nervous taking them. For me, numerical reasoning tests are the most stressful, and I think that’s the case for most people. Everyone can do the maths but doing it accurately in the time limit is what separates out people with an innate intelligence. And that’s ultimately why employers will keep using psychometric tests; the research shows a strong correlation between high scores in aptitude tests and high-performance in a job. Aptitude tests are better than looking at degree results in that sense.

Can you share a career highlight with us?
Speaking at events like the British Psychological Society or presenting at conferences is quite exciting. But I also get small moments of pride when I meet someone who used our practice tests. Sometimes at a wedding or a party for example you get chatting to new people and start talking about what you do, and they say “Hey, I used AssessmentDay and it was great”. That feels good.

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what piece of advice would you give?
Always wear goggles when drilling metal – which I recently learned the painful way! Also I’d say if you fancy starting a business then just do it and see what happens. Don’t waste time writing a business plan or trying to find someone to speak to about it. Just get stuck in; that’s the best way to learn.

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