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So what actually IS Abstract Reasoning – and why is it important?

Verbal, Numerical and Mechanical Reasoning assessments are fairly self-explanatory, in terms of what they measure and the types of questions we can expect to be presented with. Abstract Reasoning, however, can be a little trickier to get one’s head around (because, well… it’s abstract!). To clear up any confusion, let’s take a look at exactly what it is, and why it’s useful.


What is it?

Abstract Reasoning is most closely related to fluid intelligence: our ability to quickly reason with information to solve new, unfamiliar problems, independent of any prior knowledge. It includes lateral and flexible thinking, logical reasoning, and generating solutions beyond the most obvious. Someone who is strong in Abstract Reasoning would be able to use logic to extrapolate rules or relationships to other possible scenarios.

It can be helpful to think about it as the opposite of concrete reasoning, which involves working with literal information that’s right in front of you – and not thinking BEYOND this.

Fluid intelligence is distinct from crystallised intelligence, which refers to our ability to use skills, knowledge and experience, and involves accessing learned information from long-term memory. Crystallised intelligence is dependent on prior knowledge, and items tapping into this area might include vocabulary, arithmetic or general knowledge. Trivia quizzes require us to use crystallised intelligence.

What does an abstract reasoning test involve?

Abstract Reasoning items involve shapes and patterns. You may also hear these tests referred to as ‘Logical’ or ‘Inductive’ Reasoning assessments.

 They generally involve figuring out the ‘underlying rule’ in a given sequence or pattern, and then applying this rule to solve a problem. (This is more challenging than Diagrammatic Reasoning, where the rule is already given and the individual just needs to apply the rule.) It does not really matter whether the given pattern is made up of symbols, shapes or numbers; it is just ‘new data’ to be interpreted.


Why is it important?

Abstract Reasoning is important in most workplaces, where we are required to think on our feet, rapidly learn new information and acquire new skills, form new strategies, and solve new problems on a regular basis. We can’t always rely on past experience, particularly in our constantly changing work environments.

A candidate who obtains a very low Abstract Reasoning score may struggle to see the ‘big picture’, conceptualise complex problems, detect relationships between ideas, or learn new skills quickly. For these reasons, we have some clients who consider Abstract Reasoning the most important of the various cognitive assessments.

Abstract Reasoning assessments are also gaining popularity as diversity-centric cognitive tests, as they are language-free (and acultural), and therefore cannot discriminate on the basis of English language. Performance on these tests is also less affected by socio-economic factors and educational circumstances.

To speak with us about Abstract Reasoning assessments, please get in touch with us at