What is Abstract Reasoning?
Abstract reasoning is a psychometric competency linked to fluid intelligence and logical thinking. People with good abstract reasoning skills can understand and analyse unfamiliar information to solve new problems.
In opposition to fluid intelligence, crystallised intelligence is the long-term memory storage of things we have learned or experienced or the skills we have. A good example of this is trivia knowledge, or things that were learned in school like scientific principles or Pythagorean theorem.
Abstract thinking is about principles that are perhaps hypothetical or symbolic, and are not connected to objects, people or situations.
Abstract reasoning is something that develops as part of the normal cognitive development process through childhood. A baby develops an understanding of the world through their senses, as they grow up this then becomes more logical and related to concrete ideas. By the time a child is aged about 12, they begin to think in a more abstract way, understanding things like metaphors and starting to see the bigger picture.
Abstract reasoning assessments are used as psychometric tests in the application process for a number of different roles across most industries, helping recruiters learn which candidates are most likely to be able to learn, have creative problem-solving skills, and can think on their feet.
What is the difference between abstract reasoning and logical reasoning?
Logical reasoning is a broad term that is used to describe the way a person solves problems. There are many ways to test someone’s logical reasoning skills, and abstract reasoning is one of them.
Other logical reasoning types include:
- Inductive Reasoning: the ability to draw a generalised conclusion from a specific scenario.
- Deductive Reasoning: being able to draw a specific conclusion from a generalised scenario.
- Abductive Reasoning: being able to get a conclusion from an incomplete scenario.
Abstract reasoning is a form of abductive reasoning, where a person needs to think in new ways to form a proper conclusion about a problem.
The importance of abstract reasoning
Abstract reasoning is tested in the application process because the skills that are demonstrated by a candidate that can think in the abstract are useful in the workplace.
With abstract reasoning skills, you can think on your feet and easily learn new information, which is a bonus for a new starter in a role. Abstract thinking skills also include the ability to acquire new strategies in the face of new problems and see complex problems from the point of view of other people. By being able to see the relationship or patterns in different ideas, a person with abstract reasoning skills can see the ‘big’ picture and make more reasoned decisions, even with limited information.
This extends outside the workplace, too. Abstract reasoning is linked with imagination, being able to use and understand things like metaphors and similes. People with abstract reasoning skills can talk about something figuratively or hypothetically and are generally good at seeing an issue from both sides which makes them good at solving all types of problems.
When might you take an abstract reasoning test?
Abstract reasoning tests are often used in the application process for roles that need some form of critical thinking - like management or executive positions, or specific industries like law or finance.
Candidates who apply for a position will have completed an application form and handed in a CV. The recruitment team will have compared all the applicants to a list of basic criteria. Those that meet the requirements need to be tested for their potential, which is where the abstract reasoning assessment comes in.
They are most often used in conjunction with other assessments, like verbal and numerical reasoning tests, and are completed online.
Abstract reasoning tests are also used to help implement training plans or as a precursor to leadership or promotions for employees already in a role.
You might be tested on your abstract reasoning skills in everyday life when taking part in a quiz or completing online puzzles.
What to expect in an abstract reasoning test
Abstract reasoning tests are usually timed and have multiple-choice answers. As a non-verbal assessment, abstract reasoning is about shapes and images rather than words or numbers, which makes it a useful test across cultures and languages.
Typically, an abstract reasoning test presents a series of images or shapes that are arranged in a matrix. There will be a missing element, and you will need to determine which of the multiple-choice options is correct.
The shapes or images are in a sequence that is governed by a particular rule or pattern - so if you can find the pattern, you can solve the problem.
This assesses your abstract reasoning skills by making you think quickly about unfamiliar information, finding the pattern between seemingly unrelated items, and applying that theory in a logical manner.
You need to be able to do this quickly; abstract reasoning assessments typically have tight time limits.
Can I improve my abstract reasoning skills?
As abstract reasoning skills begin to develop in older children, you can improve your skills in thinking conceptually in everyday life.
When you read an article in a newspaper or need to solve a problem, think about the why as well as the how. Try and look for other viewpoints or ways to achieve a goal, so that you are moving away from drawing conclusions based only on concrete facts (or crystallised intelligence).
One of the easiest ways to improve your abstract reasoning skills is by completing puzzles, whether online or in newspapers, for example. Puzzles like crosswords and sudoku are great examples, as are even simple activities like ‘spot the difference’.
You might want to consider playing online ‘brain training’ games - these can be downloaded as an application on your smartphone, for example.
Of course, specific abstract reasoning skills that will help you if you are facing an assessment as part of a job application can be improved through practicing abstract reasoning tests. This will help you get familiar with the structure and layout of the assessments, and give you exposure to the way you need to answer the questions.