So, you have been invited by EPSO to take a psychometric test, known as an “Abstract Reasoning” test? Unlike verbal reasoning, where you know you will come across written information and numerical reasoning tests that use facts, charts and figures, abstract reasoning tests can mean a variety of things. In this article, we will explore what abstract reasoning means, why the tests are used and then we’ll run through a series of helpful tips, and two example video questions designed to help you to improve your performance.
Make sure not to miss our quiz at the end of the article
EPSO abstract reasoning tests consist of multiple choice questions where each question is made up of a series of 5 pictorial frames where the user is asked to complete the series. They are designed to assess your ability to identify patterns amongst abstract shapes and are used within the selection process, especially for roles where logical reasoning is a key function. The tests usually include 10-20 questions and each question gives you a choice of 5 frames to chose from to complete the series.
They are not tests of accomplishment nor explore what you have learned, know and can apply. Ability tests such as abstract reasoning are prospective and focus on what the person is capable of achieving in the future or their potential to learn. In particular, they measure your ability to draw assumptions and conclusions based on information supplied. In this case, you will see symbols and matrices and the key is to focus on the patterns and similarities between shapes, ignoring the relevant and distracting material which may lead to incorrect conclusions.
Jobs go through a process of job design where the role requirements are analysed by a role analyst. As a result, they’ll arrive at core skills and abilities that your often see in job advertisements and in role profiles. Then they think about the best way they can assess that particular ability or skill. Psychometric testing is just one of assessments used in addition to interviews, group exercises and role-plays.
Abstract reasoning is needed in many roles, for example, software development, auditing and technical roles. And, the results of abstract reasoning tests show extent to which you are capable of:
• Efficiently learning new skills and abilities – the sooner you can contribute to your team effectively the better; • Quickly identifying patterns, logical rules, and trends in new data, essential in this information age; • Thinking strategically about problems and developments within a field of work related to the position you’re applying for; • How you compute, assimilate and process new information, integrating this information into the overall picture and applying it to solve work-related problems. You may even hear abstract tests called “Non-verbal” tests!
Watch our introduction video to abstract reasoning
The thought of taking an EPSO abstract reasoning test can be daunting. However, with the right preparation you can improve your abstract reasoning test result. Although you cannot significantly improve your abstract reasoning skills within a very short time, you can learn and practise abstract reasoning test strategies. So, we’ll cover the ways you can learn about the design techniques and to prepare for the sitting of these tests.
Remember, the more you test your ability to reason with diagrams and other images, get familiar with a large number of logical rules that define series of shapes, and eliminate stress factors, the more you will be prepared for test success.
There is usually a pattern in the things we do well and not so well. The same applies with the type of questions you’ll face. Firstly, you need to recognise that there are several different question types in Abstract Reasoning, and you should soon be able to identify them immediately, with a little practice. If you haven’t picked up on what you could struggle with try a couple of abstract practice tests online. Work out development areas. Have you spent too much time looking at one set of diagrams and can’t work out the right answer?
If this resonates with you, don’t worry, you are not alone. The first time I saw an abstract reasoning test, I felt flummoxed, but after practising a few times, I could start to understand how they were configured and what I needed to do.
It helps to begin working in a relaxed environment, with no time constraints. You can then review questions at your own pace. Once you are familiar with the challenge of each question type, then you should start to practise under realistic test conditions. Here are some other tips:
• Working against the clock without interruptions will help you to develop a technique. • Mentally, if you think you’ll fail, you will. See the test as a challenge, one that you can give your best shot. • Don’t guess unless you are really stuck. You can improve your chances by smart-guessing and eliminating and wrong suggested answers. It’s better to have a 60% chance (eliminating 2 out of 5 answers) than a 20% chance, the latter by spot-picking one answer out of five without trying to work out the answer. • Don’t leave out an answer if you are close to the end, it is worth completing. You don’t get penalised by wrong answering. • In all cases, only ONE answer is correct. If you’ve judged A to be the correct answer and you are sure, move onto the next question. The questions will become more complex!
How to tune into this type of processing You can test you comfort zone like I did at first. Here are some tips:
• Examine information presented in abstract forms in books and newspapers. • Complete logic puzzles and games. • Look for patterns and relationships in information. • Practise creating diagrams which represent relationships, connections and sequences.
The most important first step when looking at an abstract reasoning question is not to start guessing but rather adopt a systematic approach. To do that, we must first analyse the test and see what kind of ’building blocks’ it has. There is always a pattern, even if not obvious. For example, you may be presented with a series of shapes. You will be asked to select the next shape in the series. Or, you may be presented with a statement involving a group of shapes. You will be asked to determine which shape completes the statement.
All sorts of strategies are used to test abstract reasoning. Here is a checklist of what we work with when designing. A few examples will be covered below. • Shape of components • Type of edges on each component • Number of corners on each component • Colour of each component • Number of components • Orientation of components • Consistent position of one component relative to another • Size of components
If you are good are remembering mnemonics, try this as a handy reminder.
S - Shape
C - Colour (shading, stripes, etc)
O - Orientation (angles, for example)
N - Number of (shapes, sides, intersections, etc)
P - Position
S – Symmetry (and asymmetry)
S - Size
As a few examples:
• If you see peculiar shapes, such as the crescent moon, think of the SHAPE pattern of ‘Curved vs. Straight’. This is because to represent curved shapes there needs to sometimes be alternatives to using a circle, so you may see a crescent moon as a pattern • If you see grey, spotted, striped or dotted shapes, consider COLOUR as the pattern. • If you see big and small shapes in the same box, consider SIZE as the pattern. • If you see lots of triangles, think about ORIENTATION as triangles can point, and also about ANGLES as some may be right angled and some isosceles. • You might notice that a shape moves POSITION in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction, obscuring shapes underneath.
Let’s look at a few examples to ease you into the right mindset!
Firstly, you’ll notice the marker (the blob) on the apex of the first, showing you the top of the shape. This shape changes POSITION, it has rotated in different ways, it hasn’t changed size, and for each option, there are two small circles, both are consistently black and white. The black is POSITIONED at the bottom of the shape. The white at the apex.
In B both circles are not in the right position, in C the black circle is in the wrong position and in D the white circle in in the wrong position. A meets the requirements for the replication of the image.
(Now, if I was sitting a test, I would not waste time reviewing the other answers, as I am certain this is correct and only one answer is correct, so I would move on quickly.)
In another test, you have to identify a quality that two shapes have in common, then you have to choose out of four suggested answers, the shape that also possesses the quality.
So, if you look at the two shapes and the only clue that stands out here is the NUMBER of the shapes contained within. 5 and 3, ODD numbers, looking at the answers only A has an odd number 1, so that is the quality you are seeking. There are no other shared qualities. Tip: Seeing one shape is a clue for odd versus even!
Here we have a sequence to be completed out of five options. This is the actual version of abstract reasoning tests that EPSO uses. It consists of a series of five frames and five answer options.
The first thing to notice in this question is the various shapes, the triangles, squares, circles, the L´s and T´s. The second thing to notice is their movement and the re-occurrence of the shapes throughout the frames.
Each of the four items from the first diagram reappears every n diagrams thereafter, n being equal to the number of straight lines forming the item. The diagrams are divided into quadrants, each time an item reappears, it is in the quadrant opposite its previous appearance. A circle appears in every empty quadrant.
Thus the square appears every four diagrams after its first appearance, the triangle every three, and the L and T shapes every two. No shapes are due to appear in the answer which therefore contains four circles.
The only option is C. This is considered a difficult question with only about 15% of users answering the question correctly.
Attention to detail is required when more than one rule or strategy is used. This can use up time, so the key is to work as quickly as you can, as your mind works out what strategy is used. A question can include the following:
• A shape may be turned – rotation. • It may shape may change into something else – alteration, and then changed back. • Consistency – where a shape or shapes are replaced by others.
Tip: There is often MOVEMENT that creates one of more IMPACTS. Let’s take a look at the type of shapes and figures you will see, together with an explanation.
An Interaction of objects with each other, and how that affects them When the black cross exits the centre black square it changes colour and becomes white. This would just be an example of interaction. You might also see an object passing or touching another and then changing shape or size.
Addition and subtraction can refer to the amount of various things. Most commonly you will see the number of objects change or the number of characteristics of an object change, for example the edges of a star going from 7 to 6.
In the example below you can see that the number of black circles increases by one each frame. The number of lower objects however doesn’t change, just the number of its sides. The object first starts of as a heptagon (seven sides) and then loses a side for each frame.
A common pattern used in abstract reasoning tests is change in movement. The patterns of the movement can vary and is precisely the pattern that can sometimes be difficult to spot.
In the example below the black triangle moves one square down and one square left and turns counter-clockwise ¼ circle each frame. The white triangle moves one square down and one square right and turns clockwise ¼ circle each frame. All triangles move along a diagonal path: when a triangle reaches the edge of the grid it continues at the beginning of its diagonal path.
In this case we have two types of movement, one is rotational movement of the objects which will go in-depth later and the other is movement across the frame.
Once objects reach another object or the end of a frame it is very common to see various movement patterns the object might adopt. We can look at some examples below:
Reset: where the building block returns to an original position when it reaches the edge of the grid. This would be the first column in the frames below: Reverse: where the building block backtracks on the same path when it reaches the edge of the grid. That would the second column in the frames below Continuous: where the building block continues moving in the same direction and on the same path even when it reaches the edge of the grid. The third column in the frame.
In this example we can see how rotations increments can change between frames. This is a very common technique used by test makers to ad complexity to a question. What we first need to identify is the pattern of the change between the two first frames but then also figure out the change in that very pattern. Like we see in the example, instead of rotating 90 degrees again in the third frame the triangle rotates 180. In the next frame it would could be rotating by 270 degrees (180+90) or double to 360 (180x2) depending on if the increase is continuous i.e. an additional 90 degrees more or if it doubles each frame.
Simple rotation example. The diagram is a clock, one line (vertical in diagram one) representing the minute hand, the other the hour hand. The ‘time’ begins at three o-clock. Then advances alternately by half an hour, then an hour.
A very common feature of abstract reasoning tests is the size change. In the example below we see that the black triangle increases in size in each frame.
Reflections can be very difficult to spot as users often can mistake the reflections for rotations or some other type of movement change. Reflections basically mean that objects move by flipping the in this case the “frame” horizontally or vertically. Remember, if you can’t really spot the movement pattern of the objects, immediately try to identify if you are looking on an example of reflection movement.
Indicators are used to indicate what objects are somehow about to be affected in various ways. It can be in form of an arrow pointing to an object indicating that it will disappear in the next frame or a color indicating that the object will increase in size.
In this particular example a shape is followed by a forward arrow, and a number ‘n’ then the same shape will reappear ‘n’ places down in the sequence, in the same position. If a shape is followed by a backwards arrow and a number ‘n’ it will have appeared ‘n’ places earlier in the sequence. Here we see the numbers act as indicators but it is common to see other objects such as arrows or the position of the object to act as indicators as well.
Each test has a certain level of difficulty. This level of difficulty is similar across all the test questions. A level of difficulty is determined based on:
Using several rules complicates the test, because you have to work out which ones are used and then start to disqualify answer options as incorrect one by one. This leaves us with one option, hopefully, the right option.
Low level of difficulty will typically have one simple, logical rule for each group of shapes and will not have too-tight time constraints. However, as the number of rules and their complexity increases and the time allowed is shortened, the test is considered to be more difficult.
Typically, abstract tests that include groups of shapes that are based on two or three rules and allow between 30 and 45 seconds for each question are considered to be of medium level of difficulty. You will almost definitely recognise the use of rotation – shapes turning; numbers, changes in sizes.
Abstract tests that include groups of shapes that are based on three or more complex rules and allow less than 30 seconds for a question are regarded to be of high level of difficulty
Now we’ll look at a couple of videos that take us through examples.
Remember that the test is being used for a particular need within your role which means generally you’ll need to be able to grasp concepts and arrive at complex solutions quickly within the role. Only tests appropriate to the role are used by organisations and your results are then compared against a sample, similar group.
As with all tests, explore the questions that you find the most difficult and use the tips provided to help you pinpoint the rules used. Write these down. You may find that difficult-looking tests are easier than you think with practice. To make things more difficult, the suggested answers are often very similar or intentionally misleading. By the end of the test, shapes and suggested answers are really quite complex. The time limit will require you to work quickly and methodically.
However, it is easy to think too long and deeply about a shape, but that will waste too much time. Use the tips, and remember the SCONPSS, write it down even if you can use pen and paper.
Prepare as soon as you get notice of a test invitation and work on development areas. Try to time yourself and decrease your time with each practice session. Aim to increase the speed at which logical rules are generated (the faster a person generates solutions, the higher the probability of a correct answer—in a given period of time).
Practice will also help you to increase span capacity, that’s the increase in the number of elements a person can keep track of in responding to an item. If you can generate a greater span capacity, you’ll be able to take into account more figures without making errors, and hence there is a greater probability of a correct answer. On the day of the test, remain as calm as you can – a little adrenalin can help but you should aim to focus upon noticing the strategies or rules used. Try to answer all questions, but remember that not everyone finishes these tests, they are designed this way.
Remember you can find free EPSO sample questions and video introductions to EPSO test abstract reasoning tests by logging in