Cutoff Scores for Pre-Employment Tests


Customers frequently ask us, “Should I use minimum cutoff scores, and if so, how should I set them?” If you have large applicant pools, using a hard cutoff score is a great way to efficiently filter your candidates, and to screen out those who lack the basic aptitude or skills required for the job.

Ok, so how can you determine where to set your minimum cutoff score? The truth is, setting cutoff scores is part art and part science; there are a number of different factors to consider. One good way to get started is to test a sample of your incumbents in a given position, and then use those results to determine cutoffs for your applicants. Our testing software, HireSelect, contains tools that will generate suggested cutoff scores based on data samples you provide. HireSelect also contains suggested minimum scores for a variety of different positions, based on large samples of test results in our database. Using our national norms and suggested minimum scores is especially useful if your company doesn’t want to test incumbents before getting started, or you don’t have large enough samples of existing employees for a given job.

Whether you use our suggested scores or customize a score range based on your own data, there’s a common misconception about how cutoff scores work, so let’s clear that up first. A lot of people believe that there is some “magic number,” where anyone who scores above it will be a good fit, and no one who scores below it is capable of doing the job. However you set your cutoff scores, this is not how they work.

Let’s look at the example of using a cognitive aptitude test, like our CCAT, to hire salespeople for an organization. The higher you set the cutoff, the more likely people above the cutoff will have the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary to perform well in the job. So if your only concern is maximizing your hiring accuracy rate, then you’d want a high cutoff score. However, you usually don’t want to set it too high, because doing so will eliminate many capable applicants and run the risk of filtering out too many qualified people. For hiring managers and recruiters who hire large numbers of people, this would be frustrating and counterproductive. This is why I said earlier that setting cutoff scores is part art and part science. To determine where the cutoff should be, you need to take into account the specific dynamics of your hiring process, such as the size of your applicant pools, your applicant-to-hire ratio, and other factors.

The takeaway here is simple. Using a minimum cutoff score can help you minimize the risk of bad hires; the higher the cut off score used, the lower the risk of a bad hire. We help our clients determine the score ranges that make the most sense based on test results they provide and the specifics of their hiring process.