abstract reasoning test strategies. Abstract shapes.

Abstract reasoning test practice

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Abstract reasoning test tips

Graduate abstract reasoning test scores provide an indication of learning potential. Abstract reasoning tests indicate an ability to reason logically and to work with new ‘ideas’. In summary, non-verbal reasoning tests assess critical thinking.

Most of these practice test sites also offer their own abstract reasoning test tips and non verbal reasoning tips.

TalentQ abstract reasoning test practice and TalentQ abstract reasoning test example

Types of Abstract Reasoning Test

In a series abstract reasoning question, you are presented with 4 to 5 boxes in a line. The individual boxes contain a series of ever-evolving figures. For example, there may be one black square and four white circles in the first box. The pattern could be an increase in the number of black figures by one for each step in the series. Thus, the pattern in the second box would be two black figures, three black figures in the third box and so on.

Alternatively, the pattern in the second box could shift such that the colour moves along one place in the series. Thus, the single black square would become a white square and the first white circle would become black.

“Complete the pattern” abstract reasoning test tips

Similar to the series abstract reasoning format, instead of having a line of 5 boxes the abstract reasoning format could be more elaborate.  You need to select which of the five answer options completes the 2 by 2 / 3 by 3 box.

It’s key not to panic. Whilst the question may look more complicated than the series row of boxes, you find the answer in the same way. The pattern will be both horizontal and vertical. This actually makes it easier to spot the similarities across and down the boxes. Once you have spotted the abstract similarities you are very close to knowing how the pattern differs going from one box to the next. Yes, exactly the same as in the simple series form of non-verbal reasoning question.

Abstract reasoning test practice

Abstract reasoning strategies

Questions become more difficult as you must spot two or three changes in any of the features shown. It can help, once you’ve worked out at least one of the feature changes, to check through the answer options to discount those that do not conform said feature changes.
Alongside SHL’s practise test pages these three sites cover most of the psychometric tests you are likely to find. You can ask in advance which test publisher’s test you will take.

The key is to always identify those patterns that differentiate Set A from Set B. You can find further UCAT abstract reasoning test practice tips here.

SHL abstract reasoning test

Whereas, SHL abstract reasoning tests ask you to look for the changing pattern(s) in the “pictures”. The easier questions typically at the start of the test, will involve one change in colour, position, size etc of the figures shown.

Questions become more difficult as you must spot two or three changes in any of the features shown. Once you know one of the feature changes, check each answer option to discount any in conflict with it.

Introduction to Abstract Reasoning tests

Abstract reasoning is the ability to perceive logical patterns and relationships and then to be able to extrapolate this information to new patterns/relationships. Being able to do this effectively is an important component of complex problem-solving.

The term general intelligence was conceptualized in the 1920’s by Charles Spearman. He believed that general intelligence was the most important estimate of someone’s overall intellectual ability. Spearman defined general intelligence as the innate ability to perceive relationships and to predict co-relationships. In other words, to understand how different concepts relate to each other; and to be able to assimilate new information into these concepts.

Abstract Reasoning Tests measure general intelligence by assessing the ability to identify the inherent patterns in a series of shapes/figures. The candidate needs to identify logical patterns and relationships in the sets of complex shapes and figures that are presented in each question block.

UCAT abstract reasoning test

Each block of Abstract Reasoning questions starts by presenting the candidate with two sets (labeled Set A and Set B) of six square blocks each. The six squares that make up Set A and Set B each contain a variety of different figures. These may include traditional geometric shapes (circles, squares, triangles etc), arrows, hearts as well as unusual and more intricate shapes. Each shape may be black or white and may enclose other figures. Please refer to the Example Items 1-3  section that appears later in this Test Taker’s Guide for an illustration of the format of the Abstract Reasoning Test.

Upon first appearance it may appear as though the different figures/shapes appear randomly. However, it is both useful and confidence-building for you to recognise that there are only a few different types of pattern. Such useful test-taking hints for the Abstract Reasoning sub-test are provided in the subsequent sections of this Test Taker’s Guide.

For each question block of Set A and Set B there are 7 questions that the candidate needs to compare to Sets A and B. There are three answer options available: whether the shapes in the question have most in common with Set A, with Set B, or share characteristics of Sets A and B. For each answer your response should be A, B or C respectively. Only one answer is correct for each question. You need to start by deciding which rule is followed by the shapes in Set A and which variation of this rule is followed by the shapes in Set B. Once you have decided this, then consider whether the shape in the first question belongs in Set A or Set B or if it has features of both – as so it does not clearly belong to either Set A or Set B.

No time limits are given for the practice questions presented in this Test Taker’s Guide. However, you do need to remember that the UK-CAT Abstract Reasoning Test requires you to answer 65 questions in 16 minutes.

Strategies for Completing Abstract Reasoning Tests

Each of these question blocks needs to be approached in the same logical way. To answer the first question in a block of Abstract Reasoning questions you will need to differentiate between Set A and Set B. The steps for doing this are given below:

First Step – Identifying Set A’s Features

Review the six squares in Set A. Ask yourself what features the figures in Set A have in common. There are a number of different features that you need to look out for. The main ones are as follows:

 Number

How many figures are contained within each square?

  • Size

Is there one large shape shown in each square?

Are there two medium-sized shapes?

Are there a large number of small shapes?

  • Shape

Does the same shape feature consistently within a square?

Does the same shape feature consistently within a square?

  • Colour

Is a figure wholly black or white?

Is a figure partly black or white?

  • Position

Is there one central figure?

Are there two figures positioned in a row?

Is there a figure in each of the four corners of the square?

  •  Miscellaneous other characteristics

Have the same two shapes been rotated?

How is a shape constructed? Is it made up of straight lines, curved lines, dotted lines, continuous lines, lines that do not close?

Are there two shapes that are mirror images of each other contained within the same square?

Second Step – Identifying Set A’s repeating pattern

  • Ask yourself what features are a repeating pattern across all six of the squares in Set A.

Third Step – Identifying Set B’s features

  • Ask yourself what features the figures in Set B have in common.

Fourth Step – Identifying Set B’s repeating pattern

  • Ask yourself what features are a repeating pattern across all six of the squares in Set B.

Fifth Step – Identifying the theme that Set A and Set B have in common

  • There will be one characteristic that links Set A and Set B.
  • You need to identify the theme that Set A and Set B have in common. This will link the repeating pattern that you have found for Set A with the repeating pattern that you have found for Set B.

Sixth Step

  • Not apply what you have learnt to Question 1. Do the figures in Question 1 have most in common with Set A, with Set B, or share characteristics of Sets A and B?

This sixth step is what you now need to apply to answer question 2 and the remaining questions in that block. Then on reaching the second block you need to go back to the First Step again in order to differentiate between Set A and Set B.

Top Ten Tips

This section is designed to highlight ten tips to enable you to perform at your best on the Abstract Reasoning. These Tips are presented in no particular order since each may be more or less relevant on a particular Abstract Reasoning question.

  1. Always follow the recommended step-by-step approach given previously.  This will save you time pondering and avoid getting stuck on a particular question. 
  2. It is very time efficient to adopt a structured approach to each question in terms of your strategy for answering and in terms of how much time you allocate to completing each question. If you have an alternative structured approach to the one given above then use this as your strategy.
  3. One type of misleading question that you may encounter is where there is the same type of shape appearing in several of Set A or Set B squares. For example, the crosses that appear in several of the Set A and B squares in the question block 15-21. These are deliberately used to distract you and to not contribute to the overall pattern that you are looking for.
  4. If you cannot allocate a set of figures to Set A and B do not spend too long trying to find why. Remember that answer option C is the third option and covers both components of Set A and Set B – even if you haven’t bottomed out what these actually are.
  5. You may find that even if you are unable to identify the underlying pattern in Set A and/or Set B you can intuitively see or feel that a question belongs in either Set A or Set B. In this case do not be afraid of giving that best estimate as your answer.
  6. You will find some items much easier than others. This is why it’s important to get to the end of the Abstract Reasoning subtest before the allocated time. That way you can return to the more difficult items and at least have attempted answers to all the questions.
  7. If you have spent considerable time attempting to differentiate between the figures in Set A and Set B then try to apply the same explanations as have been demonstrated to you in this book. Maybe one of these, or something similar will be what differentiates Set A from Set B.
  8. One pitfall to avoid is spending too long on the first half of the subtest. Ask yourself the question when you are halfway through your allocated time, Have I finished half of the questions?  If the answer is yes then you are working at the right pace. If you have completed less than half you may like to speed up your working. Do not do this at the expense of accuracy.
  9. You may find that you can automatically run through the recommended sequence of stages once you are familiar with the Abstract Reasoning sub-test format of the CAT. Obviously if the answer “jumps out at you straight away” then you may well have detected the underlying pattern without having to spend much time thinking about it. The time saved will benefit you when you come to Abstract Reasoning questions that you find more difficult to detect the underlying pattern.
  10.  If after having completed the Abstract Reasoning subtest practice items you still have concerns about your ability to pass this CAT subtest then you may like to memorise each of these Top Ten Tips over the next few days.

Best Three Strategies for you to Remember

The best current strategy for you to adopt now is a three-fold one:

  1. Work through a number of examples and get a feeling for how comfortable you are doing this sub-test;
  2. Check your answers against those provided at the end of this Test Taker’s Guide; and then;
  3. Review those questions that you did not complete correctly. It is vital that for each of the questions that you answered incorrectly, you read the rationale and learn how this reasoning has been applied to this particular type of question. Do ensure that you spend sufficient time going over the reasoning provided.

Other Psychometric Test Practice

Abstract reasoning test practice