abstract reasoning test strategies. Abstract shapes.


Welcome to our abstract reasoning test practice and abstract reasoning test tips. Many big organisations, such as banks and managament consultancies, use Abstract Reasoning Tests to recruit top graduates and for their managerial selection.

Non-verbal reasoning tests (nvr) overlap with abstract reasoning tests and logical reasoning tests.

What are abstract reasoning tests?

NVR tests measure general intelligence by assessing the ability to identify the inherent patterns in a series of shapes/figures. The figures may be regular geometric shapes like triangles, squares and triangles. However, sometimes they are just dots. Or just crosses.

NVR tests come in many different formats, but here are some common characteristics:

  1. Diagrams are used – instead of numbers or words. NVR tests do not rely on any knowledge of either English or maths. This is what makes them a fairer assessment than, ‘pure’ English or Maths tests.
  2. Questions are based on a sequence involving several sets of figures.

Some example abstract reasoning tests

Figures are arranged in a sequence, series or matrix format.
The next figure in the sequence must be found amongst the answer options offered.

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.

<  <   <   FREE sample CAT4 Abstract Reasoning test paper    >   >   >

What is an abstract reasoning test?

  • Abstract reasoning is often the test format which people are least familiar with.
  • There are several abstract reasoning test formats. You may be familiar with these from any IQ tests you’ve completed.
  • Abstract reasning tests contain many figures – grouped together in pattern(s) which need to be identified.

What are abstract reasoning skills?

  • Analysing Shapes and Letters
  • Breaking Codes
  • Completing Series of Shapes
  • Matrices
  • Find the Odd One
  • Similar shapes and figures

How to do well on abstract reasoning tests

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. 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.

Types of Abstract Reasoning Test

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.


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 of abstract reasoning figures

  • How many figures are contained within each square?

Size of abstract reasoning figures

  • Is there one large shape shown in each square?
  • Are there two medium-sized shapes?
  • Are there a large number of small shapes?

Shape of abstract reasoning figures

  • Does the same shape feature consistently within a square?
  • Does the same shape feature consistently within a square?

Colour of abstract reasoning figures

  • Is a figure wholly black or white?
  • Is a figure partly black or white?

Position of abstract reasoning figures

  • 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?

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 Abstract Reasoning Test Tips (1-5)

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.

(6-10) Abstract Reasoning Test Tips 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5.  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

Try our abstract reasoning test practice

What are Abstract Reasoning Tests?

The aim is to test your thinking about realizing the rules, patterns for problem solving and decision making.

The test will show your ability to proceed with data and information, detect patterns and relationships between them, then offer solutions to problems at a level of abstract thinking.

Typically, companies asking candidates to do this test to look for the following skills in the candidates:

  • Be able to understand the meaning behind the information and data. For example, the Statue of Liberty in the United States is not simply a statue, but a symbol of freedom.
  • Be able to grasp abstract theory about a certain phenomenon. You can introduce the concept and overview of different data.
  • Identify relationships, connections between discrete ideas. For example, you can find patterns of customer behavior through changes over time.

Abstract Reasoning Test samples

Here are some typical images from an Abstract Reasoning Test.

(Image source: Aptitude-test)

Which is the next image?

Your task is to observe and analyze to identify a pattern to be able to select the next image.Subscribe to The Morning Email.Wake up to the day’s most important news.

There’s a limited time period. This requires you to analyze information quickly and accurately in a short time.

In addition, the difficulty will increase gradually through each question. This means you need to identify many more patterns and their complexity will increase.

Abstract reasoning test tips

Other types of abstract reasoning test

Reasoning: In addition to questions about how to identify the pattern over the image, you will encounter questions related to the diagram. There’s a a diagram to identify the rules. Then you apply the rules listed to apply to a different diagram to solve the problem. You would need analytical skills, critical thinking and the ability to relate to the symbols to find out the answer.

Given this flow diagram:

Identify what x equals here:

Answer: E

Explanation: When you look on the diagram, the black square turns into the white circle after going through the process in between. It means that there are two changing factors. They are shape and color. Therefore, in the answer, the black circle turns into the white square.

(Image source: LSE)

Diagramming Abstract Reasoning Test Practice

Given these commands:

And this sequence of diagrams and commands:

Which sequence is correct?

Answer: D

(Image source: LSE)

In this example, to be able to pick out the correct answer, you should be able to interpret the information and grasp the meaning of these commands. Then, based on that sense, you apply in order to find the most accurate diagram.

Extra Abstract Reasoning Test Tips

To be able to quickly identify the pattern, you need to compare each factor between images and information. Factors here include the size, location, color, angles, movement and you compare it with other factors to identify certain rules between them.

To avoid boredom, you should invite your friends to practise with you. You can participate in a competition to train your reflexes. This is actually an interesting test for you. You will become more passionate as you become better.

You can practise analyzing information by looking at the financial statements, statistical tables of human behavior on social networks. Then try to find the meaning through the raw data.

Moreover, to be able to finish a test in time, you need to focus on core aspects of a question. Distinguish between the important elements and those elements not relevant. If you caught a very hard sentence, you could skip to the next sentence and do it. For such difficult questions, you can observe the answers to find the rule.

Abstract reasoning test tips

bstract reasoning tests, logical reasoning tests or diagrammatic reasoning tests) try to assess your propensity to detect abstract patterns. Normally you will see an existing sequence of squares (normally 3-5) which contain various shapes. There will be some sort of pattern occurring inside the sequence of squares. Your job is to figure out logically what that pattern is and then choose what the next square will be in the sequence. You’re normally given 4 options to choose from. Of the three main types of psychometric tests, most people find these the hardest, especially initially. A lot of people look at them and their eyes glaze over, similar to the first time you saw a page of calculus, or a foreign language. But don’t panic! With practice, you will come to learn that there are many patterns that will repeat themselves. For example, it’s extremely common for a particular shape inside the square to be rotating in each step, by a certain number of degrees. Other common patterns are rotation of the whole square, replacement of shapes and flipping of shapes. The more you practice inductive reasoning tests, the easier they will become.

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Which companies use abstract reasoning tests?

Inductive reasoning tests are very commonly used during graduate and intern recruitment. For example, by:

  • Morgan Stanley, RBS, RBC and JPMorgan (merchant banking and investment banksg too).
  • Legal firms.
  • McKinsey, BCG and Bain (management consultancy).
  • Top engineering recruiters.
  • PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte (as the top accountancy firms).
  • Rio Tinto and BHP (mining).

In other words, abstract reasoning tests are most common amongst the top paying and most selective graduate employers.

This is because abstract reasoning tests are introduced into a graduate assessment process as the ‘third cog’. So, as a further sift of very high potential graduates – after the more traditional graduate verbal reasoning test sift and graduate numerical reasoning test sift.

When are abstract reasoning tests used?

Normally, invitations to inductive reasoning tests are distributed early on in the recruitment process. Similar to numerical and verbal reasoning, they are used as a relatively cheap and quick screening mechanism to cull at least around 80% of applicants. This becomes essential for the big banks and other very popular companies, who will have many 1000s of applicants for only a handful of jobs. Be aware, however, that some companies mix it up a bit and choose to use them later on in the process. If they do elect to do this, it’s normally under proper test conditions, supervised, in their offices. This means that you must be able to do well in the test yourself. Some people think that they can get away with getting their mates to do the test for them if it’s an online one at home. Beware, companies do often re-test you later on in the process, again under supervised conditions in their office.

How does practice help?

That’s a good question. Well, we believe that the more you practice, then

  • The more the most common abstract reasonign test question patterns will become easier to identify.
  • In fact, you will get faster and faster at cycling through all the possible options of abstract reasoning test question patterns. And of course. The quicker you can identify these patterns, the more likely you are to be able to pass your abstract reasoning test.
  • You will know more about what to expect in your own abstract reasoning test. The knock-on effect being that hopefully this knowledge will give you more confidence. And hence improve your abstract reasoning test performance.
  • Primarily this will be because your average abstract reasoning test answer rate will be much faster.

Which are the most common abstract reasoning test question?

Yes, there are indeed a few commonly used patterns which abstract reasoning test developers seem to like to use again and again. In our opinion these are shape…

  • Rotations by either 90 degrees or a 180 degrees.
  • Reflections as if there was a mirror placed between the two adjacent shapes (in a sequence or bigger figure)
  • Positions being swapped around. For example around the four corners of their outer square figure.

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