More than you ever wanted to know about non-verbal aptitude tests

Careers Advice
07 January 2014 | Careers Advice | thomas thomas

There tends to be confusion about the differences between the different types of non-verbal/numerical tests that job applicants can be forced to contend with.

Abstract reasoning, diagrammatic reasoning, spatial reasoning, mechanical reasoning – at some point it all starts to look and sound like the same thing. We can assure you, however, that it’s not. Bulletproof your job application by learning the differences, and how they can help you to prepare for the tests.

Abstract reasoning

Abstract reasoning is a broad term, and actually encompasses several types of test (the verbal versions are a favourite of law firms). But in a non-verbal context, these tests examine your ability to draw assumptions and conclusions based on information given in the form of symbols.

You’ll usually need to identify a missing item or diagram that completes a logical pattern of some sort. The three most common types of question that you’ll see are: completing shape sequences; deciding which shape belongs in a particular “set” (see picture below); and finding the odd-one-out from a set of shapes.

Abstract reasoning tests constitute a significant part of intelligence tests and for this reason tend to be popular among the battery of tests candidates face at assessment centres, as many companies see them as a way to measure a candidate’s “raw” intelligence.

One key fact to be aware of – companies often use different terms to describe abstract reasoning tests, so if you’re invited to take an inductive or logical reasoning test (the non-verbal type) the chances are it’s going to be an abstract reasoning test. In any case, it might be worth checking with the company exactly what type of test they’re referring to.


While some people certainly have more of a natural knack than others for these types of questions, there are things that everybody can do to improve their success. If you suspect that you’re going to be required to complete an abstract reasoning test make sure you practice beforehand, and familiarise yourself with solving strategies so that you don’t find yourself banging your head against a table.

Spatial reasoning tests

Commonly known as spatial awareness tests, these examine orientation skills in two and three-dimensional spaces. If you’ve ever applied to Top Gun school, then you’re already familiar with these tests and you can skip this section.

If not, and you’re applying for a position in a technical, or “hands-on”, field (think engineering, aerospace, architecture, medical and certain military designations), then it’s crucial to know what spatial reasoning tests are and, more crucially, how to succeed at them. Popular questions that test-takers are likely to come across are:

Organizing two dimensional broken shapes


Mirror Images

Spatial reasoning cubes


Unlike in abstract reasoning tests, where test-takers are examined on their ability to spot patterns, the three main skills being assessed in spatial reasoning tests are: the ability to estimate lengths and angles; the ability to rotate shapes mentally; and the ability to understand the correlation between two and three-dimensional shapes.

As in the example above, you might be presented with an image such as a cube that has been broken down and rotated in various ways. Spatial awareness skills will enable you to decide which one of the complete cubes corresponds to the 2D image.

Again, there is a common misconception that some people simply have a natural inclination for these tests and others don’t. While it may be true that surgeons and fighter pilots tend to have better spatial awareness than the average person, anybody who practices spatial reasoning tests will become familiar with the types of problems that come up and the common strategies for solving them. Investing time practicing these tests will reduce anxiety and stress when you encounter a difficult question during the timed test. Brush up on your spatial reasoning skills here.

Diagrammatic reasoning tests

Much of the confusion about the differences between types of non-verbal tests stems from the fact that different test-providers give the same test-types different names, or vice versa. Diagrammatic reasoning tests are often confused with abstract and inductive reasoning tests. The tests are often used on applicants for positions in IT (such as systems analysts and designers) and management consultancy, as well as certain finance positions.

There are also a number of business schools that use diagrammatic reasoning tests as part of their admissions exams, the reason being that the tests require a candidate to work through complex, and conceptual, problems in an analytical manner. Unlike abstract or spatial reasoning tests, diagrammatic tests will display a series of operators and their outputs.

In general, there are three key abilities that you will require to succeed in diagrammatic reasoning tests: to understand logical rules; to infer a set of rules and apply them to a new situation; and to identify different causes to understand the missing inputs in a logical sequence. The most common problems that you’re likely to encounter in a diagrammatic test are:

Letter and number diagrams 


Combinations of letters can be modified by different rules or commands. The numbers represent the commands, with each number symbolising one rule. Your task is to follow the paths indicated by the arrows and determine the effect each command has on the letter combinations.

Shape diagrams


In this type of problem, shapes can be modified by different operators – each panel illustrates a different operator and its effect on different shapes. Your job is to understand the rules set by the operators and apply them to new situations.

To those who are unfamiliar diagrammatic reasoning tests can seem overwhelming, but practising the tests ahead of time and becoming at ease with the concepts and types of problems that you’ll need to tackle will improve your performance. Applying for a job that’s going to require diagrammatic reasoning tests? Practice here.

How can we help?

At JobTestPrep we have a depth of resources designed to help you prepare for all the different types of psychometric that you might be faced with. Our aim is to dispel the myth that employers’ aptitude tests are something that can’t be prepared for – and all our research shows that candidates who prepare for their upcoming tests improve their performance through practice. Invest in yourself and get the JobTestPrep advantage!

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