What is an abstract reasoning test?

An abstract reasoning test uses shapes and patterns to assess your logic and problem-solving skills. You’ll be expected to quickly interpret a series of images to deduce the rule or pattern that connects them (for example, a repetition of colour, shape or size). Employers see this as a good indicator of your problem-solving skills and your ability to learn quickly.

For example, you might be asked to select, out of a number of possible options, which image completes a sequence or statement of fact, which image is missing from the overall picture or which image doesn’t correlate to the others shown.

The answers on an abstract reasoning test are usually multiple choice, but don’t be fooled into thinking this makes the process easier — you need to work quickly and accurately to identify the rule governing the pattern and complete all of the questions on the test.

And to make things even more challenging, you will normally have a minute or less to answer each question.

In doing all of this, you showcase your ability to connect seemingly random images, patterns or shapes by using your logical abilities and fluid intelligence to spot patterns and relationships. As such, abstract tests are common for research, software development and engineering roles.

Why do employers use abstract tests?

An abstract reasoning test signifies to an employer which candidates have the lateral thinking, problem solving and strategic thinking skills that are valuable in the workplace.

Most commonly it’s used in industries such as technology and engineering, as it helps give employers a better understanding of which candidates have the sharp minds and critical thinking skills needed to succeed in such fields.

Aptitude tests help exceptional candidates to stand out, and busy employers to quickly differentiate between applicants. This is why it’s so important to ensure you make time to practice and prepare if you’re about to take an abstract reasoning test — it will help you hone your skills and stand out against the competition.

The format of abstract reasoning tests

The abstract reasoning test is non-verbal and non-numerical; this means that what you’ll be presented with is shapes and patterns. The test questions will require you to identify the relationship between the images, or complete a sequence by determining what it is that connects the images.

You’ll answer by selecting the multiple-choice response you believe to be correct, and you’ll have around a minute or less to answer each question.

As you progress through the test, the questions tend to get more challenging, so it’s wise to leave a bit longer for problems towards the end of the test if you can.

Once the test has finished, your score will be calculated and then compared to your peers, or to a normative group. This helps the employer to see how hard the test you took was, and how well you fared compared to others in the room, or a group of people who have already successfully taken the test.