When I took my entrance exams in preparation for high school and college, I distinctly remember one particular section (aside from math) that almost drove me nuts: the abstract reasoning portion. The sight of shaded shapes and squiggles made me want to reach for my aspirin.
If I’d known then that there was help available, I never would’ve killed myself over it. As with all kinds of tests, abstract reasoning exams sections have strategies and approaches all their own. Check out some of them below.
Of Languages and Patterns
My godfather once told me that he once had trouble with math—until he came to understand it as a language. In fact, any tricky subject, abstract reasoning included, has a language all its own, and that language can be broken down further into rules and patterns.
The key, then, is to understand, the pattern or the rule behind the question. If you’ll notice, most abstract reasoning questions come in the form of sequences, with you being asked to find the missing part in the sequence.
Rotations and Reflections
Here’s a tip: study the available parts of the sequence and look for similar elements, shapes, shaded portions, and their corresponding numbers. It’s common practice for the elements in a set to get rotated around.
In these cases, it helps to think of one unit of sequence as the blade of an electric fan or a mirrored globe in a disco. If you know in which direction the “blade” or “facet of the globe” is moving in, you can figure out what the missing portion is and where it’ll turn up.
Another approach involves studying the relationships between elements in a grid. Oftentimes, you’ll see similar shapes strewn throughout that differ only in terms of shading or the particular direction that they’re facing.
Study the relationships between elements by taking them per row or column at a time. If the grid is bigger than four by four, divide it as such. And then, take a look at the available answers and, by process of elimination, select the one that the sequence seems to be missing.
The ability to understand relationships, whether it’s between things or people, is a skill. Like all skills, it can be developed through practice. Fortunately, you don’t have to look any farther than your friendly neighborhood Internet.
If you’d like to get your feet wet in the world of abstract reasoning way before the entrance exam date, or if you’d simply like to keep your skills sharp, here are links to a few resources I’ve found online:
1. Psychometric Success – This one contains some good questions to get you started, complete with an answer key and a brief history on the topic.
2. Logic and Reasoning Problems – This site has a good collection of reasoning problems, abstract and otherwise. The areas of interest are slides 22 to 23 (pages 11 to 12), with answers on slide 116 (page 105)
3. Kent.AC.UK – Classified as “non-verbal reasoning,” this webpage has 20 questions worth of abstract reasoning, plus hints, strategies and an answer key, to boot.
4. YouTube video – Nope, this isn’t a pure sample of test questions. It’s more of a visual guide designed to help you nail those abstract reasoning exams.