Programming Tests for Interviews: How to Use Them Effectively

July 26, 2022
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 Programming tests for interviews work best when they are authentic, valid, and appropriately challenging.

There are many programming tests for interviews available online and plenty of ways to use them ineffectively. It’s crucial for reviewing engineers and interviewers to know how to use them properly to measure candidate performance accurately. Let’s look at how you can use programming tests effectively in your technical hiring process. 

Programming Tests For Interviews

Programming tests are designed not only to check basic know-how but to evaluate creativity, execution, analysis, and troubleshooting skills among others. 

They typically cover the following areas:

  • Programming languages and frameworks: HTML, HTML5, CSS, CSS3, SEO, JavaScript
  • App frameworks: Angular, Ember, Dust, Djnago, Ruby on Rails
  • Database: SQL, MySQL, MS SQl Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL
  • Mobile programming and app development: iOS, Swift, Objective-C, Android, Java
  • Game and app development: C, C++

Common interview questions ask candidates to perform a task such as writing code to find palindromes in a string, identifying duplicate numbers in an array, checking loops in a linked list, and so on. Programming tests can also task candidates to write programs, design algorithms, or write code for a specific project. 


While programming tests are great for evaluating candidates’ skills and job knowledge, a lack of planning and foresight can rob them of efficacy. Here are some tips on how to use programming tests for interviews.

#1 Match Test Difficulty to Role Level 

Due to the proliferation of ready-made tests online, many reviewing engineers and interviewers are tempted to take a test they like and use it for all candidate assessments. This option is a mistake as cookie-cutter tests often mismatch the different role levels. 

For example, general programming tests often focus on basic coding, math, data structures, and algorithm questions that have no direct bearing on specific role duties. While candidates may display adequate basic knowledge, performance on general tests does not prove whether candidates are suitable for the role. 

A better way is to match the difficulty of programming tests to the seniority of the position in which candidates are applying. Alternatively, the passing rate score could be raised for senior positions and lowered for junior roles. 

#2 Keep It Short

Another mistake is to make tests overly long and complicated. It’s no secret that technical candidates dislike lengthy tests that take up much of their time. It’s best to keep tests between 20 minutes to an hour for a programming assessment. This length encourages candidates to complete the test instead of abandoning it halfway through.

Taking it a step further, interviewers can shorten the overall hiring timeline by condensing preliminary steps such as initial meetings and scheduling into one pre-test interview. This approach emphasizes skill assessment and streamlines the hiring process:

One preliminary interview + One programming test + One final interview

Such an abbreviated timeline would only take more or less a week instead of a few weeks or even months. Companies that can offer short programming tests as part of an efficient technical hiring process send out the message that it values candidates’ time and talent. 

#3 Use Authentic Programming Tests

Lastly, engineers and interviewers should be wary of using templated programming tests for interviews. Some “professional” networks or “resource” websites unscrupulously build their community by offering cheat guides or test answers. Relying on vendors offering generic or basic programming tests poses the same risk. At best, using these tests will make the entire hiring process void. At the worst, it can cause employers to make a costly wrong hire.

The best way to avoid cheating in technical assessments is to use technical hiring platforms with candidate authentication and anti-cheating features. This tool is better than making up programming tests for interviews from scratch, as these are not standardized. Best-in-class technical hiring platforms offer standardized programming tests, objective and automated scoring, and anti-fraud measures to ensure test results are accurate and valid.

In summary, reviewing engineers and interviewers can effectively use programming tests for interviews by avoiding common mistakes such as using generic tests and not differentiating between role levels. Programming tests should be matched according to role seniority to get the best results. They should also be kept short and engaging to reduce abandonment rates. Lastly, interviewers should administer authentic and standardized tests for accurate performance assessment.  

Choose Your Programming Test From Filtered’s Library

Filtered offers expert coding and programming tests for interviews with support for 30+ languages. Our tests are designed to cover multiple skill levels within major engineering disciplines, including SQL, data science, full-stack, DevOps, and many more. Our team has developed a scoring rubric for each technical assessment to help reviewers measure performance without looking at the code. Lastly, Filtered is equipped with fraud detection, so you can confidently hire technical talent.  

Filtered is a leader in skills-based, data-driven recruiting technology. Our end-to-end technical hiring platform enables you to spend time reviewing only the most qualified candidates, putting skills and aptitude at the forefront of your decisions. We’ll help you automate hiring while also applying objective, data-driven techniques to consistently and confidently select the right candidates. To get started, contact our team today or register for a FREE demo.