How long should my custom test be?

The time you set for your custom test depends on the number and length of your questions, as well as the amount of thinking each question requires. This article explains how to calculate the right time.

Applies to: Scale, Business Plans; Owner, Admin, Recruiter roles


When you create your own custom test for candidates, you can determine how many questions your test will have and how much time candidates will have to complete the test. Striking the right balance plays an important role, not only in how successful candidates may be at the test but also in how good an experience they have with your test. 

The following considerations about the time per question, the word count of the question, and the type of question will help you create a good test for your purposes.

Consideration 1: time per question

In order to begin calculating the overall time for your test, consider how long candidates may need to answer each question in your test based on the following guidelines: 

  • 30 seconds per question is the minimum time you should provide per question, and only if your questions are short (up to 30-40 words maximum) and straightforward.
  • 45-60 seconds per question gives candidates a good amount of time to read longer questions (usually up to 80 words for scenario questions with answers that don't exceed 25 words each) and/or solve cognitively taxing questions that require time to think or calculate the right answer. 
  • 90 seconds per question is a long time for questions in a screening test. Consider the following three disadvantages: 1) it makes your overall test last long, which will discourage candidates from taking and/or completing the assessment, 2) it can affect the test integrity as candidates have time to look up the answer, and 3) it will make it more difficult to distinguish good from great candidates, as completion time is a measure of the candidate's performance.

Consideration 2: word count of questions

You should always aim to make test questions as concise as possible. Extraneous information will not only add unnecessary reading time for candidates, but it can also confuse candidates (unintentionally) or create doubts about the main point of the question at hand. 

Keeping in mind that an average reading speed is about 200 words per minute and that candidates will need at least a few seconds to choose their answer (depending on the type of question asked), the following guidelines can help you determine how long candidates need per question: 

  • up to 60 words (question + answers): 30 seconds
  • 60-180 words (question + answers): 45-60 seconds
  • over 180 words (question + answers): more than a minute, but it's best to avoid questions of such length where possible. 

Keep in mind that TestGorilla adds 20% extra time for candidates who are not native English speakers - we indicate that on the candidate's results page. In other words, you don't need to adjust the above rules of thumb for the English proficiency of your candidate pool.

Consideration 3: type of questions

Generally speaking, there are two types of questions:

  • straightforward, knowledge questions to which candidates either know or do not know the correct answer right away. (For example, "What is the definition of X?") These questions can be answered in little more time than it takes to read them.
  • problem- or scenario-based, cognitively demanding questions that require candidates to figure out or calculate the right answer. This type of question generally uses more words than knowledge questions to convey the full problem to solve and requires additional thinking time before arriving at the right answer. These answers should generally be allotted 45-75 seconds to solve.