What Is Spatial Reasoning?
Spatial reasoning, also referred to as spatial awareness is an ability to understand objects in both two and three-dimensional terms and draw conclusions about them with limited information. Although being able to visualise, rotate or disassemble objects into alternate formats sounds challenging, this is a skill that can be improved with practice.
If you are practising spatial reasoning, it can be broken down into 3 key skills to focus on one at a time:
Spatial perception - this is the ability to understand how and where a person or object fits within a larger area and can be used to visualise measurements, features and position.
Mental rotation - this is the skill of being able to rotate a 2D or 3D object. Essentially, it enables you to see an object from a different angle, even when you don’t have a 360-degree image.
Spatial visualisation - this is a complex skill requiring multi-step manipulations of non-physical objects. Someone with good spatial abilities can map out multi-dimensional spaces and rotate objects within it all whilst maintaining the correct spatial relations between each object.
Why is spatial reasoning important?
Spatial reasoning is something you use every day without even realising it. When you jump in the car to drive somewhere, you’ve got a picture of the route in your head, but as you travel, there is distracting information to account for such as other vehicles, pedestrians and road closures. Whilst moving, you are constantly re-contextualising your position and how to safely continue.
On a more technical level, spatial reasoning is used heavily within STEM sectors to conceptualise and develop solutions to problems. This could create anything from maps to machinery, but most of all it’s the ability to mentally problem solve using these skills that make researchers and engineers successful.
It’s not only science and technology that requires good spatial abilities, design-led professionals require this too. For example, architect’s must be able to measure a space correctly before designing a building to fit it and graphic designers must have an outstanding perception of alignment.
When might you take a spatial reasoning test?
It all starts with a square peg and round hole. Spatial reasoning is a skill that we start to develop from birth, developing more quickly in early childhood when becoming more hands-on with the objects around us. Children learn through trying and testing the correlation between different objects and shapes, seeing what works and what doesn’t. As we get older, this becomes integrated with everyday life as we have the fundamental understanding of object shape and size.
Depending on your career path, a strong spatial awareness may be necessary in the workplace. Whether that is applied to create maps and plans, prototypes and machinery or even design virtual reality games.
Spatial reasoning is an essential part of STEM and design sector roles in particular as they require an ability to problem-solve by either using or creating complex visual aids. Vehicle mechanics, astronomers, architects, engineers, and game designers are all professions that would demand an aptitude for spatial reasoning.
Spatial reasoning tests are largely used in the recruitment process for technical and engineering roles but have also become increasingly popular for many of these other careers.
What does a spatial reasoning test involve?
There’s no doubt that spatial reasoning tests are difficult. They’re designed to challenge your abilities and create a robust report of what your strengths and weaknesses are for potential employers.
The tests are often timed, meaning you have a certain amount of time to complete each question. The test will likely consist of several multiple-choice questions that ask you to visualise and manipulate images in 2D and 3D forms. You will always be given instructions before starting the test, so make sure you read these carefully.
There are several common question types that occur in spatial reasoning tests, so let’s break them down and give you a better idea of what to expect before taking a practice test.
Shape matching - examining groups of 2D shapes in different layouts before matching those that are the same.
Group rotation - identifying a different view of the same 3D shape by mentally rotating the object.
Cube views - presented with different views of a three-dimensional cube, you’ll be asked about the variations of each view to measure how capable you are at visualising shapes from all angles.
Mirror images - find the mirror image of the 2D or 3D shape you’re presented with.
Combining two-dimensional shapes - like a jigsaw, you’ll be shown several complete 2D shapes and the fragments that combine to make one of them. It’s your job to select the correct whole shape the fragments make.
Block counting - you have to work out how many blocks are used to make a cube although not all are visible.
Maps - questions will ask you to navigate a 2D map or plan to a specific conclusion.
Can you develop your spatial reasoning skills?
There are plenty of ways to develop your spatial reasoning skills to step into a recruitment test confidently. Of course, practice tests will get you to grips with specific question styles and highlight the areas that you need the most work in. But there are also fun, everyday ways to grow your spatial reasoning skills. You could:
- Draw 3D objects
- Complete jigsaws
- Rotate shapes in a mirror, making note of the changes you see
- Assembling model kits
- Playing video games
- Planning a route on a map and then taking the journey without it
- Making origami