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What is Abstract Reasoning?


Updated July 11, 2014

Girls (4-7) playing jigsaw puzzle in classroom.
Jose Luis Pelaez/Iconica/Getty Images
Definition: The ability to analyze information and solve problems on a complex, thought-based level is sometimes referred to as abstract reasoning. Abstract reasoning tasks involve skills such as:
  • Forming theories about the nature of objects, ideas, processes, and problem solving;
  • Understanding subjects on a complex level through analysis and evaluation;
  • Ability to apply knowledge in problem-solving using theory, metaphor, or complex analogy; and
  • Understanding relationships between verbal and non-verbal ideas.
Abstract problems are often visual and typically do not involve social ideas. Abstract reasoning is usually assessed as part of intelligence testing. Abstract reasoning ability is important because it enables students to apply what they learn in complex ways. Many students with learning disabilities have weaknesses in abstract reasoning and can benefit from direct instruction in problem-solving skills. They may also benefit from language therapy to help them learn to use language to understand and solve problems.

In intelligence quotient (IQ) testing, abstract concepts are considered by some as less biased than language based concepts. However, children who have been exposed to toys that build abstract reasoning skills, such as blocks, tinker toys, geometric toys, or other building and problem solving toys may improve their abstract reasoning abilities.

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Using statistics to predict the outcome of an election is an example of abstract reasoning applied to a real world problem.

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