A Guide to Abstract Reasoning Tests | Thomas.co

Like inductive reasoning, an abstract reasoning test is a type of aptitude test which attempts to measure your lateral thinking and fluid intelligence whilst also measuring accuracy and the speed at which an individual can identify the relationship between a collection of shapes and patterns.

Much like inductive reasoning and diagrammatic tests, an abstract reasoning test is looking at your logic assessment skills and your methodology. Today we're going to take a look at what an abstract reasoning test is, what they look like, the best tips to practice them and even give you some example questions.

What is an abstract reasoning test?

Using logic, fluid intelligence, and problem-solving skills, abstract reasoning tests use shapes and patterns to assess these criteria. You must be able to identify a pattern that connects a series of images, such as; a repetition of colour, size or shape, and do so quickly. Common in the recruitment field for engineering, software development and research, abstract testing has been finding its way into more aptitude-based tests for a series of roles in recent years.

Typical test examples include picking out an image from possible puzzle solutions that completes a sequence, statement or fact or, picking an image which doesn’t correspond to others shown.

Whilst answers are presented as multiple choice, this doesn’t necessarily make this any easier. You need to work quickly and accurately to identify the rule that is governing the pattern to complete all of the questions on the test. These are specific criteria for passing the test - speed and accuracy.

To make things harder many of these tests have time limits per question, usually around a minute or less. 

By being able to connect what appears to be random images, patterns and shapes you're showcasing your skills in logical, lateral and fluid thinking to problem-solving which employers see as a good indicator of your ability to learn quickly and think on your feet.


In summary, abstract reasoning tests can include:

  • Shapes and pattern testing 
  • Pattern identification and connection
  • Multiple-choice puzzle solutions
  • Sequence completion challenges
  • Statement of fact questions
  • Critical thinking challenges

Why are abstract reasoning tests used by employers?

Employers like to use abstract reasoning tests to identify candidates who are good problem solvers. Logic, fluid intelligence, and lateral thinking are all widely sought after by employers, no matter what field you’re working in.

Being able to think critically and identify problems and solutions is a strength that would benefit any employer and workforce, but some industries are more likely to include these tests:

  • Engineering often requires workers to deal with abstract problems and situations requiring a vast amount of lateral thinking. 
  • Information technology (IT) and computer programming professionals also typically face difficult technical challenges requiring high levels of abstract reasoning. 
  • Project management roles will often be faced with complex problem-solving scenarios that require advanced logic and strategic decision-making.
  • Scientific research is built on the foundation of data analysis, pattern recognition, and the ability to draw logical conclusions. This makes abstract reasoning testing particularly important for roles in this field.

Remember though, an employer won’t just use abstract reasoning tests to decide on the best candidate, it will form part of an overall assessment and other aptitude testing at the time. This may be used as part of the “weeding out” process based on the volume of applicants at any time so being able to practise is essential for success.

The pros and cons of abstract reasoning tests

Using an abstract reasoning test provides hiring managers with a great way to quickly and efficiently work through a large list of prospective candidates to find a group of strong applicants. Below are some of the biggest advantages of using abstract reasoning tests in your hiring process:

Pros of abstract reasoning tests

  • Objective assessment

An abstract reasoning test gives hiring managers a simple way to objectively evaluate the problem-solving abilities of a large number of candidates, reducing the opportunity for bias in the hiring process.

  • Efficient screening

An abstract reasoning test is relatively simple to set up, administer, and score. This allows large volumes of candidates to be screened at once, allowing hiring teams to identify high-quality prospects early while also acting as an effective screen for non-optimal applicants.

  • Standardisation

By administering the same test to every candidate, hiring teams can ensure that any comparisons made between candidates are fair and unbiased.

  • Reduced reliance on CV

An abstract reasoning test allows hiring managers to rely less on the content of a CV or resume, instead focusing on the actual abilities of applicants that may be better suited to the job in question.

  • Wide applicability

A comprehensive abstract reasoning test can be applied across a wide variety of roles and even industries, and is an extremely versatile tool for any hiring team.

  • Cost-effective

Specifically for large-scale hiring processes, implementing an abstract reasoning test can be an extremely useful way of bringing down overall costs related to hiring simply by screening candidates efficiently at the beginning of the process.

  • Time-efficient

Abstract reasoning tests are typically short, timed tests that can be scored online. This dramatically shortens the time taken in screening candidates, allowing hiring managers to spend more time in the later stage of the hiring process.

However, abstract reasoning tests are not without their faults. They should be used as part of a more comprehensive hiring strategy that incorporates multiple levels of testing. Below we’ve listed some of their shortcomings so you can better understand where they might fit in your hiring process:

Cons of abstract reasoning tests

  • Limited assessment

An abstract reasoning test is not able to assess the full capabilities of any candidate, as they primarily focus on cognitive abilities and may not account for a host of other skills or qualities.

  • Lack of job-specific context

While abstract reasoning is important, some people may perform better in more job-specific scenarios. Abstract reasoning tests present abstract scenarios, limiting their practicality, and perhaps even leaving some high-quality applicants at a disadvantage for being practically minded.

  • Time-pressure effect

Abstract reasoning tests usually contain a time constraint. Being able to work under time pressure may be an advantageous quality, but it might not be necessary for certain roles. Candidates may rush their decisions or have their judgement clouded by time pressure, leading to less successful results.

  • Skill bias

Candidates with exceptional problem-solving skills are likely to excel in an abstract reasoning test, but those with other valuable skills such as interpersonal communication may be overlooked.

  • Inclusion and accessibility

Candidates with certain disabilities or specific learning styles may find abstract reasoning tests challenging, and could potentially be overlooked as a result, despite having the necessary skills for the role.

How to pass an abstract reasoning test

To score highly in any abstract reasoning test, practice is essential. However, there are also a host of other things you can do to maximise your results.

Getting familiar with the test provider's format

If you can, try to find out who is producing the test you’re going to take. If you can get eyes on a test by that publisher, this will make you familiar with the layouts and types of questions used, giving you a huge advantage in the actual test.

Use mock exams

Practising abstract reasoning tests is going to be the best way to improve your score. Take as many different tests as you can find, focusing on anything you know will be similar to the test you’re preparing for. After you’re finished, score yourself and try to understand why you got the questions incorrect. This will help you learn to think more logically and figure out how to answer certain types of questions.

Use puzzle books and logic games

Puzzle books and logic games are excellent ways to develop your problem-solving skills without it even feeling like work. Visual graphs and shape-based challenges contained in these often mimic the exact types of questions that will appear in an abstract reasoning test, so by practising them often you’ll slowly improve your skills and begin to score higher.

Read instructions carefully

The instructions for each question are often the key to finding the answer. Make sure you read and pay attention to everything you are told. Don’t make any assumptions, and if you’re unclear make sure to read back over the question until you understand — don’t rush!

Don’t be fooled by distractors

A distractor is an incorrect answer that’s designed to mislead or confuse you, or a shape/pattern that has no significance and is only there to throw you off the scent. Often these can appear to be the most obvious answer or important feature. Make sure you’ve read and understood the question and what’s being asked of you to ensure you don’t fall for any tricks.

Stay calm

Typically, abstract reasoning tests will have a set time limit. It’s important to try not to let this affect your performance. If you can remain calm and focused on each question you’ll give yourself the best chance to succeed. A few deep breaths can help if you’re beginning to feel anxious at any stage during the test.

Watch the clock

Make sure you keep track of the time while you’re answering questions. If you do get stuck on any particular question, consider moving on and returning to it once you’ve finished everything else. Another tip is to calculate how long each question, or set of questions, should take based on the allotted time. This will allow you to check that you’re on track throughout the test.

Look for clues

Try to analyse relationships or patterns that you can find. Any common features or recurring elements are likely to have some significance and can guide you towards the right answer. At the very least, you may be able to eliminate some of the incorrect answers, putting you in a better position to make a correct decision.

Start with the solution

For certain questions, it may work better to start with the solution. Take each solution that’s being offered to you and work backwards to try and see if there’s a logical way to get back to the question. At the very least, this may help you eliminate some incorrect answers.

Keep an open mind

Test makers are always trying to invent different ways of challenging our cognitive skills. Don’t be surprised if there are potentially multiple correct answers to a question, or if the same rule gets reused across different questions. Treat each question independently and use your intuition to guide your answers.