Abstract Reasoning: Visual Overload | EU Training

In this issue of our abstract reasoning guides we are going to look at something we like to call visual overload.

Visual overload comes into play when an item has so much stuff going on that it looks confusing and chaotic.

Fortunately, the keyword here is “looks”. Usually, items like these have very easy rules and simple patterns – their difficulty comes from the way they bombard you with visual information. As mentioned in our previous articles on abstract reasoning, it is always best to focus your attention instead of looking at the “big picture” when doing abstract reasoning tests to avoid getting overwhelmed by the seemingly random shapes and figures.

Abstract Reasoning - Finding The Wrong Answer

Abstract Reasoning - Finding The Flow

Let’s take a look at our sample item to better understand what we mean by visual overload:

Look at all these circles and squares. It’s a very noisy image. This is a perfect example for an item that might easily make you freeze on the spot – if you let it.

Without looking for rules or correct answers, let’s take a closer look at the first two images:

Let’s also ignore the shaded circles for now and concentrate on the squares, behind the circles:

With the help of the orange colouring we can clearly see that the squares did not move at all between the first and the second image. Let’s take a look at the third one as well:

Again, exactly the same! Pro tip: if there are elements in the image that do not change in any way for at least three turns, you can almost be sure they will stay exactly the same all through the series. The reason is simple: you only have five images to show a pattern and if that pattern starts only at the fourth image, there won’t be any time to build a meaningful repetition up.

As a practice (mostly for your eyes) feel free to add the remaining two images to this three. You will come to the following conclusion: they stay the same. They are only backgrounds. The squares serve no purpose but to add to the visual noise of this item.

You might think that this was all a waste of time, you would have only lost precious time doing this during the real exam and you might be right – well, half-right. Now you know that non-essential, “meaningless”, background items exist in abstract reasoning and this knowledge might save you precious minutes in the long run.

Now let’s find the actual rule, by taking a closer look at the element that is changing – the shaded circles:

We’ve colour coded each of the three moving parts so you’ll have an easier time following.

Still, this is rather confusing so let’s concentrate on the blue circle only for now:

As you can see from the first and second image – the shaded (in our case blue) circle clearly takes a step to the right. So this will be our rule for now: the circle takes a step to the right. Unfortunately, our rule immediately fails at the third image.

If you’ve done a lot of abstract reasoning, you would probably say “let’s try two steps then” (increasing the number of moves is a common rule type which you should always be on the lookout for).

So let’s see what happens with two steps. The second step would take the circle to the next row, which is a rather logical step, so let’s move our circle to the second row:

Lo and behold, it works! So the circle is taking an increasing number of steps to the right.

Now let’s take a look at the movement of the pink circle:

So it seems our “increasing number of steps” rule works here as well. This is good news! I’ll let you try to copy / paste the rule for the rest of the item for practice and in the meantime here’s the actual rule taken directly from the item itself:

Each of the shaded circles takes an increasing number of left-to-right steps.

So there we have it – a simple one sentence rule to govern the movement of every building block.

Of course, you won’t have colours or numbers to guide you during the exam. And without these, this item is still a confusing one, so don’t underestimate it. In reality, you would have to concentrate on a single circle at a time, “pushing” it through the images until you arrive at the correct option.

Now you probably see that the difficulty of this item comes from its visually confusing nature and not from the actual rules. Each of the circles follow the same easy to understand rule, but you have to be very careful not to let the “big picture” overwhelm you.

So the bottom-line takeaway here it is: be on the lookout for possible “background” visual elements that are only there to confuse you and make sure you keep a very strict and narrow focus when dealing with noisy abstract items!

Fortunately, like everything else, this can be practiced via our tests, ebooks or our webinars - especially via the FREE Beginner’s Guide To The EPSO Abstract Reasoning Test webinar and Pro Tips For The EPSO Abstract Reasoning Test webinar.

Good luck!