Abstract Reasoning Tests in Management Consulting

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As an applicant for a management consulting position, you might wonder why you are asked to take an abstract reasoning test. At first glance, the items don’t seem to have a practical connection to the nature of the job you’re applying for. To give you a clear understanding on what this test is all about, read this article.

What Is an Abstract Reasoning Test?

An abstract reasoning test consists of visual questions that come in the form of shapes, figures, symbols and diagrams. The items are usually presented in a series and you have to identify the implied logical rule to know the right answers.

This test measures the innate ability of the person to recognize patterns, establish logical rules and use them in proving assumptions, predicting solutions and resolving problems. Some would call this fluid intelligence, which according to Raymond Cattell is “the ability to perceive relationships independent of previous specific practice or instruction concerning those relationships.” In other words, it refers to how a person logically approaches and manages a situation, regardless of education, culture, upbringing and prior knowledge.

How Come It Can Measure Intelligence?

To answer this question, let’s go back to the research of Charles Spearman, the British psychologist who discovered the positive correlation between two cognitive tests. In his experiment, he found out that those who score well in one intelligence test (e.g. vocabulary) will most likely have an excellent performance in another type of mental test (e.g. math). He attributed this relationship to the general ability of a person, which can be measured by an abstract reasoning test.

From his experiment, it can be concluded that an applicant’s score on an abstract reasoning test may predict his or her score in other intelligence tests and his potential performance at the workplace.

What Makes It Difficult in Management Consulting?

This test comes in different types. The simplest one is administered to applicants of rank and file positions. However, since you’re applying for a management consulting position, expect items with medium to high level of difficulty.

Easy test items usually come at the first part of the test and they gradually get complicated. You have to decipher more than two implied rules, which gets more complex as you move on. This doubles the pressure because you have to deal with the time limit. You are given only about 30 seconds to analyze the patterns and choose the answer.

What Are the Advantages of Using It?

Abstract reasoning tests are considered more objective and culture-sensitive because they do not include words and numbers. It therefore eliminates environmental barriers that may possibly affect a test taker’s score. A management consulting applicant whose native language is English will most likely have a higher score on a verbal reasoning test than someone whose mother tongue is an Asian dialect. This language factor, however, won’t affect both applicants’ score on this test since they’ll only deal with figures.

Why Do Management Consulting Companies Use This Test?

To score high in an abstract reasoning test, logic must be used. Logic is important for any position in a management consulting firm like Mercer and Bain because you can’t share professional advice if you don’t have it. Recognizing organizational trends, analyzing company issues and generating strategies all require critical thinking. Moreover, recruiters significantly consider your innate capabilities since you’ll be interacting with Chief Executive Officers, Financial Managers and other key personnel in the organization.

If you’re an associate or analyst in a management consulting team, you’re expected to be interviewing employees, creating financial systems and presenting effective strategies to clients. If you get a low score on this test, chances are you will fail to perform these critical responsibilities. Interviewing employees isn’t only a matter of asking and listening; it’s also about listening to unspoken messages. If you need to establish an efficient financial system, you must analyze the entire business flow. If you want to give recommendations, you must base them on well-thought facts, reports and studies.

How Can You Improve Your Score?

It’s impossible to change your general intelligence in just a week. However, you can still improve your score in an abstract reasoning test for a management consulting position. Here are the 3P’s you must keep in mind.


There are tons of free resource materials on the Internet. If you go over them, you’ll notice that websites offer exercises on different rules and levels of difficulty. Most of them provide key answers with clear explanation to guide you in the process. The more items you try, the greater the likelihood of encountering familiar patterns on the actual test.


Rubiks cube, sudoku, jigsaw and other types of puzzles are not only intended for leisure. They also encourage you to figure out relationships between colors and objects, which results to a sharpened mind. Further, you get more clever because your answers have to be logically deduced, not guessed or tricked. At times, you even have to try so many options you must think outside the box.


To be able to practice hard and complete puzzles, you need the value of patience. This is a very simple but highly effective tip applicable to any undertaking.

After reading the information above, you now probably understand the importance and contribution of abstract reasoning tests in the screening process for any management consulting position. If you need more excellent tips to pursue your dream job, download this step-by-step guide.

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