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Non-verbal reasoning tests

Group intelligence tests requiring recognition of similarities, analogies and patterns in unfamiliar designs, are referred to as non-verbal reasoning (NVR) tests. Like verbal reasoning tests, NVR tests are comprised of a variety of item types, including series completion, codes and analogies. However, unlike verbal reasoning tests, none of the question types requires learned knowledge for its solution.  In an educational context, these tests are typically used as an indication of a pupil’s ability to understand and assimilate novel information independently of language skills. Scores on these tests can indicate a pupil’s ability to learn new material in a wide range of school subjects based on their current levels of functioning. These tests have high reliability, typically in the region of 0.90 to 0.95, and good predictive validity, i.e. they are relatively good predictors of future academic attainment.

NVR tests have been widely used to measure general intellectual ability for many years and have been subject to continual development by theorists. Spearman (1927) proposed a ‘two factor’ theory of intelligence, whereby all test questions contained a general intelligence factor known as ‘g’ and another factor specific to each question, and it is this general intelligence factor ‘g’ which Spearman suggests represents reasoning ability. Vernon (1950) developed a hierarchical model of intelligence, which stemmed from the earlier work by Spearman. Vernon proposed that the general intelligence factor ‘g’ could be divided into two group factors, a spatial-mechanical-practical factor and a verbal-educational factor, both of which were further divided into sub-factors. In comparison, Guilford (1967) adopted a model in which several equally important factors ran in parallel with each other, ‘general reasoning’ being identified as one of these factors. Cattell (1963) however, defined NVR as a ‘fluid-general intelligence’, which involves the ability to reason with novel material, without the need to draw on learned knowledge. Cattell believed measures such as NVR tests could be considered ‘culture fair’ and thus provide a more appropriate measure of general intelligence, compared with verbal reasoning tests, for test takers not fluent in the language being used.

The following are two relatively straightforward examples of non-verbal reasoning questions:


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