Introduction to the PI Cognitive Assessment

What is The PI Cognitive Assessment? 

The Predictive Index Cognitive Assessment is a 12-minute assessment of an individual’s general cognitive ability. The PI Cognitive Assessment was built and validated exclusively for use in the workplace, providing insight into a person’s capacity to learn, adapt, and grasp new concepts. The PI Cognitive Assessment does not measure IQ or previously acquired knowledge (e.g., job-specific knowledge), behaviors, or willingness to make an effort to learn new things. Rather, it indicates how fast an individual can be expected to acquire new knowledge.

The assessment consists of 50 multiple-choice questions from a larger question pool from three categories including verbal, numerical, and abstract reasoning. The questions are selected by the assessment’s linear-on-the-fly test (LOFT) engine to ensure equivalent content and difficulty for each administration, while also ensuring that a participant won’t be presented with the exact same assessment twice.

The total number of correct answers is the basis of the PI Cognitive Assessment score, which is a measure of general cognitive ability. The raw score is converted to a scaled score between 100 and 450. 

How was the PI Cognitive Assessment developed?

The PI Cognitive Assessment was developed in 2010 in response to client demand for a short cognitive ability assessment which could provide a predictor for job performance. The development work was conducted in accordance with Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures (SIOP, 2003), and the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.

Assessment Timing 

According to Carroll’s (1993) theory, speeded completion of tasks is a common facet of many abilities in the domain of general cognitive ability. Without the timed element, it becomes much easier to answer the questions correctly, and the test would no longer measure someone’s ability to learn quickly. A shorter assessment also results in a better candidate experience. 

Item Development and Review 

The original question pool was drafted by doctorate-level consultants who wrote 315 items, consisting of between 30-50 items for each content subcategory, and an approximately even distribution of questions by difficulty level. The questions were then reviewed against several criteria by additional consultants, who reviewed items for clear wording, accuracy, and lack of cultural bias. After this initial review, the questions were sent to a cultural review committee to determine if the items were appropriate for use across different cultures. Several questions were edited or removed based on the results of the review process. 

What are best practices for administering the PI Cognitive Assessment?

Companies should determine their own policies around use and administration. The PI Cognitive Assessment is meant for candidates or existing employees applying for a new position with different demands. The PI Cognitive Assessment may not be needed if the job has a low cognitive demand. In addition, the PI Cognitive Assessment should not be used as a development tool and should not otherwise be taken by existing employees.

Use Job Targets

The benefits of setting job targets are twofold. First, the PI Job Assessment is a useful tool for establishing the behaviors and abilities necessary upon entry to the role. The PI Job Assessment helps clearly establish a role’s requirements, and it serves as a conversational aid in aligning interviewers on what to look for in candidates. By setting job targets in advance, clients ensure a clear and mutual understanding of a role’s requirements.

Setting job targets can also help to mitigate bias in the hiring process. Let’s say a client did not set job targets in advance. When looking at assessment results, the client would be sorting through candidates using an assumption of who would fit the role best—in other words, there would be very little objectivity in the process. By setting job targets, clients can use match scores to more objectively determine which candidates are suited for the role based on predetermined requirements. Inherently, there is little bias in this process, resulting in better decision making on behalf of the client.

Use Match Scores

Cognitive match scores are calculated based on their distance from the cognitive job target. If a candidate’s cognitive score is the same as or higher than the target, then the match score is a ten. There is no penalty for being above the target because there is no evidence to suggest that being above the target has a negative impact on job performance. If a cognitive score is below the target, then points are deducted on a sliding scale.

Match scores should be used for ranking and prioritizing candidates for further review or interviews, but they are not designed to be used as a sole decision-making measure. Any assessment used should be considered as another data point through which you evaluate your candidate.


There are extended-time versions of the CA available that allow an administrator to provide a participant with an 18 or 24 minute time limit, if needed for legal compliance with a request for accommodations. These assessments are for participants who have requested extended time and are eligible to receive reasonable accommodations, in accordance with your company’s policies and legal requirements. Requirements differ by country, and employers who use the PI Cognitive Assessment should be familiar with country-specific laws relating to employment and accommodations in assessment.  It is important to note that in the event a candidate requests accommodation on the basis of disability, it is typically a medical professional’s decision as to what accommodation is needed (if any). Neither PI nor the client should make suggestions for the accommodation. 

Extended-time versions of the PI Cognitive Assessment are reported on the same score scale as the standard format, and the scoring is linked using equating methods. This allows users to make fair comparisons between candidates, even if one candidate received extended time. 

Practice Questions

Our Science team recently developed a new experience for CA Sample Questions. The primary purpose of the PI Cognitive Assessment sample questions is to provide an idea of what the assessment experience is like. For instance, the sample questions can be used to show internal stakeholders what the experience is like and to help job candidates prepare for the full assessment.

The sample questions should not be used to make talent-related decisions or to help candidates figure out how they will score on the PI Cognitive Assessment. Further, we do not have any data on the average scores for the sample questions. 

How do I interpret the CA?


Scores on the PI Cognitive Assessment are solely based on the number of questions the participant answers correctly. For example, if Sam answered 20 questions total, but only 15 were correct, and Alex answered 40 questions total and only 15 were correct, Sam and Alex would have the same score on the CA. Scores are not weighted based on the number of questions attempted. Furthermore, only scaled scores on the CA should be considered as opposed to raw scores. In sum, the number of questions attempted is irrelevant to interpreting CA scores and should not be considered when making hiring decisions

Be cautious when interpreting low scores on the CA. Employees with lower cognitive ability fits will likely learn at an even and consistent pace or rely on past experience and knowledge to succeed. They might excel when making decisions collaboratively or take a slower, more methodical approach to problem-solving. They will be better suited for tactical, short-term decisions and action. They will often take time to thoughtfully incorporate change into their views of the world. 

Participant Feedback

Cognitive ability scores can be very sensitive. We recommend keeping actual cognitive scores confidential, even among internal stakeholders. We further recommend that authorized administrators communicate results based only on candidates’ fit to the job or ranking compared to other candidates (e.g., “they are a moderate fit to the job” or “they are better for the position than most candidates we have seen”), rather than disclosing candidates’ raw scores. 

Internal use of PI Cognitive Assessment scores for coaching and employee development is not a valid use of the assessment (unlike the PI Behavioral Assessment, which is used both for hiring and employee development) and invites interpretations and comparisons that can’t be supported as valid or appropriate. What matters most is a candidate’s score relative to target scores for hiring purposes. The Predictive Index has even made such comparisons easy with the inclusion of match scores to the PI software. 

In an effort to ensure that the answers to the items on the assessment remain confidential, The Predictive Index does not release individuals’ questions or responses to those questions. 

What are my responsibilities to reduce bias?

Cognitive assessments that are extremely predictive of job performance often produce lower average scores for some protected demographic groups. Administrators of the PI Cognitive Assessment are responsible for ensuring that candidates are properly informed about the assessment process, that the assessment is administered fairly and in compliance with their organization’s standards as well as all applicable law, and the confidentiality of participants’ scores, and the proper overall use of the assessment across the organization. Please ask your PI consultant for the PI Cognitive Assessment Administrator’s Guide for more information.

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