Abstract Reasoning Tests

The aptitudes and abilities measured by verbal and numeric reasoning tests can easily be related to real world tasks and jobs, as many jobs require some degree of skill with words and numbers. Abstract reasoning tests on the other hand, seem to consist of questions which have little or no application in the real world. Yet these types of question appear in most graduate and management aptitude tests. Why is this?

Abstract reasoning tests date back to the research done by the psychologist Charles Spearman in the 1920’s. Spearman used a statistical technique called factor analysis to examine relationships between people’s scores on different tests or sub-tests of intelligence. He concluded that people who do well on some intelligence tests also do well on others (e.g. vocabulary, mathematics, spatial abilities). Conversely, if people do poorly on an intelligence test, they also tended to do poorly on other intellectual tests. This led him to believe that there are one or more factors that are common to all intellectual tasks.

As a result of this research Spearman developed a two-factor theory of intelligence.

Spearman two factor theory of intelligence

As the diagram shows, Spearman said that intelligence is mainly made up of ‘g’, with bright people having a lot, and dull people having less. People may also vary according to their specific abilities, ‘s’, i.e. one person might be better at maths, while another would be very good verbally. However, Spearman placed much more importance on ‘g’ and believed that the most important information about someone’s intellectual ability is an estimate or measurement of ‘g’. Even though Spearman’s research was done many years ago, his theory of ‘g’ is still widely accepted by psychologists and a great deal of research has supported it.

Spearman defined ‘g’ as:

“the innate ability to perceive relationships and educe co-relationships”

If we replace the word ‘educe’ with ‘work out’ then you can see why abstract reasoning questions are seen to be a good measure of general intelligence, as they test your ability to perceive relationships and then to work out any co-relationships without you requiring any knowledge of language or mathematics.

Example Questions

1. Which symbol in the Answer Figure completes the sequence in the Problem Figure ?

Abstract Reasoning Example Question

2. Which of the Answer Figures belongs in neither group?

Abstract Reasoning Example Question 2

3. Which of the Answer Figures belongs in neither group?

Abstract Resoning Example Question 3

4. Which of the Answer Figures fits the missing space in the Question Figure?

Abstract Reasoning Example Question 4

1. C - The question figure is rotated clockwise through 90 degrees each time.
2. D & E - Group 1 shapes are all straight lines, group 2 shapes are all curved.
3. A, B & D - Same color shapes are diagonally opposite (Group1) or above/below (Group 2).
4. D - Each row and column contains one line of each type.

These tests are of particular value when the job involves dealing with abstract ideas or concepts as many technical jobs do. However, as they also provide the best measure of your general intellectual ability they are very widely used and you will usually find some questions of this type whichever particular tests you are given.

These tests are particularly valued where the job you are applying for involves:

  • A high degree of problem solving

  • Dealing with complex data or concepts

  • Developing strategies or policies

  • Performing non-routine tasks where initiative is required

Abstract Reasoning assesses your ability to understand complex concepts and assimilate new information beyond previous experience. The questions consist of items which require you to recognize patterns and similarities between shapes and figures. As a measure of reasoning, it is independent of educational and cultural background and can be used to provide an indication of intellectual potential.

You may also be interested in: Aptitude Tests Introduction, Question Types & Scoring, The Difference between Speed & Power Tests, Verbal Ability Tests, Numerical Ability Tests, Abstract Reasoning Tests, Spatial Ability Tests, Mechanical Aptitude Tests, Data Checking Tests, Work Sample Tests, Interpreting Aptitude Test Results, Different Types of Scoring SystemsStandard Scores, Percentiles & Norming and Using the Results to Make Selection Decisions.

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