Abstract reasoning tests assess your ability to draw conclusions and spot patterns quickly and accurately from seemingly random series of shapes and images.

Questions on the abstract reasoning test will usually require you to review a series of shapes, and use logic to predict what comes next in the sequence.

Abstract reasoning tests are most commonly set by employers looking to hire people with an aptitude for strategic thinking and keeping calm under pressure — which is why it’s a common part of the recruitment process for technical roles such as engineering and architecture.

The tests are designed to be challenging to help employers find the best candidates. The problems themselves aren’t easy, but the tight time limit in which you need to answer the questions is an added pressure.

As is always the case with aptitude tests, the best thing you can do is practice as many tests as you can beforehand, and follow these key tips we’ve put together to help you succeed.

abstract reasoning tips

Step 1: Get familiar with the test provider's format

First, check the publisher of the abstract reasoning test you’ll be taking. Then, practice as many tests as you can based on that publisher’s format, to familiarise yourself with the kinds of questions you’ll be asked.

Make sure you time yourself, as answering each question in a minute or less is part of the challenge.

Once you’ve completed a test, work back through the answers and make a note of any questions you got wrong or found particularly hard — these are the areas you need to work on.

Step 2: Don't practice only with mock tests

Yes, it’s important to practice mock aptitude tests – but it’s not the only way you can sharpen your skills.

If you’re looking for other ways to improve, try puzzle books, logic games or anything that requires you to identify patterns and work at speed.

Step 3: Read the instructions carefully

It sounds obvious, but it’s so important and you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it as they’re so concerned about the time.

Before reading the instructions, take a deep breath and make sure you’re focused on the test in front of you. If you don’t understand the instructions on the first read, go over them again. There shouldn’t be anything too unfamiliar on there, but if there is it’s important you’re aware of it.

Step 4: Don't get tripped up

Many tests will contain what are known as ‘distractors’. These are images, colours or shapes that are designed to draw your attention away from the problem at hand, to make solving the question more challenging.

The best way to combat distractors is to focus on one element at a time. Whether it’s the shape, orientation, colour or size you’re trying to decipher – it’s so much easier to draw logical conclusions when you look at things in isolation.

Step 5: Stay calm and don't lose confidence

It’s easier said than done, but it is important.

If you are struggling with the questions on the test, don’t lose confidence.

If you’ve practised abstract reasoning test questions beforehand then you’ve given yourself the best possible chance of success.

Step 6: Keep an eye on the time

Before starting, make sure you double-check the number of questions you need to answer against the time limit. Then, work out roughly how long you have on each problem.

As tempting as it is to spend longer on particularly challenging problems, try not to. You can always come back to any unanswered questions at the end and you might then have a fresh perspective that will help you crack it.

Pacing is part of what you’re being tested on – so it’s important to show you’re able to work quickly, as well as accurately.

Step 7: Look for clues and identify patterns

When faced with any question on the abstract reasoning test, it’s important to run through a checklist of important factors to consider — this can help you arrive at the answer more quickly.

Look at which shapes are present; the various colours displayed; the arrangement of the objects, and how they change; the number of shapes and whether there’s a pattern in it; and whether the size of the shape is affected by any of the other elements you’ve considered.

Step 8: Try starting with the solution

When the answer is eluding you it’s always a good idea to flip the problem on its head and start at the end, with the multiple-choice answers.

Study the possible answers and look for patterns or consistency. Looking at things from a different angle can often lead to a breakthrough.

At the very least, you may be able to eliminate any answers that are definitely wrong, before making an educated guess from the remaining potential answers.

Step 9: Remember, each problem can have more than one rule

This means that when you’re trying to identify the rule that governs the sequence, keep in mind that some problems will need you to identify more than one rule to solve them.

Although this sounds daunting, see it as a positive. It means there is more than one opportunity for you to identify a rule, and can make it easier to eliminate those answers that are definitely wrong.

Step 10: Don't assume the same rule won't appear twice

Often, test providers will make your job harder by making the same rule the correct answer more than once. Keep that in the back of your mind and don’t assume it won’t happen.

If a shape is shaded, oriented or angled the same as in a previous question, it doesn’t mean it can’t be the correct answer twice. Following your own logic and intuition is more important than trying to guess how a test provider works.