What do you think of first when asked to define 'abstract reasoning'? If you're at all similar to me, then the first definition that springs to mind is 'applying reason to the consideration of abstract concepts', or words to that effect. It is increasingly common, particularly in the public sector, to require job applicants to sit an abstract reasoning test as part of the selection process. However, these abstract reasoning tests have nothing to do with abstract reasoning; at least, nothing to do with 'abstract reasoning' as I have just defined it. Instead, these tests have to do with the purely visual aspect of abstract reasoning. It will surprise some of you to learn that abstract reasoning even has a purely visual aspect, so let me explain that abstract reasoning is, in the opinion of the burgeoning assessment-test industry, all about sequences of shapes. Along the lines of: "If these four shapes are the first four in a sequence, then which of these other shapes will come fifth?"
Because, yes, fellow citizens, your taxes and mine are being spent on purchasing tests that measure people's ability to put sequences of shapes in order - what a marvellous use of our increasingly finite public sector resources. Obviously, if you're recruiting a Head of Human Resources or a Director of Finance, their ability to put shapes in order will be central to the job. Should you recruit a Press Officer, and should the phone ring with an urgent query from a tabloid reporter, nothing will then be more important than the new recruit's ability to immediately engage in some abstract reasoning, not about the details of the reporter's query, but about the order in which some shapes should be positioned on a piece of paper.
It's all utter nonsense and has naff all to do with people's ability to do many of the jobs to which it is applied. Obviously, I'm biased, because one reason (abstract or otherwise) that I hate these tests is because I'm absolutely awful at them. I invite you to imagine that you were applying for a job or a promotion and that, as part of the assessment process, you were invited to sit this test. Some of you might be very good at it, in which case congratulations, as this tells me that you're good at ordering shapes on a screen, and a great career awaits you in visual design. What it doesn't tell me is anything about your ability to reason abstractly, or your ability to do most of the jobs for which this test is used. You could be dreadful at this test, but superb at abstract reasoning. These tests are a waste of time and money and should be scrapped. Anyway, as I am today feeling benevolent, here is a relatively easy version of the same test, but go on, don't do that one, do the first one, which is harder.
<SNIFF> If you'll excuse me, I'm off now to crush my sour grapes...