Spatial awareness tests, or spatial reasoning tests, assess your ability to think spatially and mentally manipulate images, and perceive patterns between them. These are important skills – we use them every day as we position and orientate ourselves in the world.
People with highly developed spatial skills are able to remember shapes and objects in their mind and mentally ‘see’ them from different perspectives and in different formats. This can be particularly useful in careers such as engineering, design, architecture and the military.
What to expect from your spatial awareness test
Spatial awareness tests aim to assess your maximum spatial reasoning ability; they intentionally place you under pressure, either through tight time periods or increasing difficulty, to see what the most complex spatial reasoning you are capable of is.
Your performance on the spatial reasoning test will then be compared to a norm group (this is a group of people with similar attributes to yourself) to understand how you perform compared to other people. There will typically be a pre-defined level of ability that you will need to demonstrate in order to continue with the selection process.
Spatial reasoning questions
On your spatial reasoning test, you will typically encounter a number of questions that will require you to manipulate 2D and 3D images. Typical question types involve mirror images, three-dimensional cubes and matching similar types of shapes. Some of the more common question types are explored below.
Organising 2D shapes (also known as broken shapes)
In these questions you will be presented with a number of shapes and asked to identify which shape they will make if combined. A variant on this question is to be given a whole shape and then identify which shapes would fit together to make it. These questions test your ability to aggregate spatial information and understand their relative size and angles.
The answer in each case is just below the diagram, so don't scroll down too far!
Question 1: Which image can be made from the three shapes shown?
The answer is C.
Some tips for solving broken shapes questions: think about the relative lengths and widths of the different shapes. Consider the angles and which might fit together well. Look for any extra or different shapes in the answers.
Reflection and rotation
In these questions you will be presented with an image (which could be 2D or 3D) and asked to identify the same image from another perspective; for example, its mirror image.
This assesses your understanding of the properties of the object, your ability to remember it, and your ability to mentally manipulate your perspective and see it differently.
Question 2: Which answer shows a reflection of the image below?
The answer is D.
Some tips for solving reflection questions: first check whether any elements of the answers have changed in relation to one another. For example, in answer A, the triangles are no longer next to the square - which is not possible in a reflection. Then look for any elements which have not been manipulated in the same way - for example, in answer E, the triangles have been inverted but the arrow has not.
In these questions you will be presented with shapes composed of a number of blocks, some of which may be hidden, and asked to calculate how many blocks are needed to make the shape. This tests your understanding of how 3D shapes are composed.
Question 3: How many blocks make up the shape below?
The answer is E.
Some tips for solving block-counting exercises: it can be helpful if you are able to break the large block into a series of smaller blocks. For example, in the exercise above, there is a block of three 5-cube pillars (which together makes 15 blocks), a group of three 3-cube pillars (which together makes 9 blocks), and 2 single blocks. Adding together 15 + 9 + 2 gives 26.
This is quicker and produces easier sums, leading to more robust answers.
Transforming 2D images to 3D images
In these questions you will be shown a shape that can be folded to make a cube. You need to mentally make that cube and understand what it looks like. You will then need to identify which cubes can or cannot be made from the 2D image.
This assesses your ability to understand 2D plans in 3D and to mentally manipulate and rotate objects.
Question 4: When folded, which box can be made from the 2D image shown below?
The answer is E.
Some tips for solving 2D to 3D questions: check whether there are any answers that have rotated only one element. For example, in answer D, the triangle points now face the circle, which shows that they have rotated relative to other elements and are incorrect.
Look for any elements that physically could not be next to one another. For example, in answer B, the two white squares are next to one another, which is physically not possible as on the diagram they are always separated.
Tips and best techniques for spatial reasoning tests
These five tips are well worth remembering before you take the spatial reasoning test for real:
- Bring and use a stopwatch.
- Learn the differences between test providers in terms of how they frame questions and how long the test will be.
- Work swiftly but carefully.
- Calculate the maximum amount of time to be allocated to a question and stick to it, using your stopwatch.
- Keep practising until you are able to answer questions like those above with ease.
The tests are timed, and typically there is time pressure. Most online tests are designed to be completed within the time allocated.
How to develop your spatial reasoning ability
As with many skills, practice will help you develop your spatial reasoning ability. To enhance your ability, you can take practice tests which will help familiarise you with the types of questions involved. Tests which also explain how to arrive at the answers are particularly good, such as the ones available here. You can also try free spatial ability tests at Psychometric Success.
You can also develop your skills with practical day-to-day activities, such as looking at diagrams, plans and blueprints for items and imagining how they might fit together. Perhaps you could have a go at making or assembling something yourself using a set of plans?
Drawing things in 3D can also be helpful, as you start to understand how different shapes look from different perspectives. Similarly you can draw a shape, have a go at creating its reflection and then check whether you are right using a mirror.
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