Can Standardized Tests Measure Spatial Reasoning?

New Study Says These Skills Might Be a More Accurate Predictor of Future Success

by Jenzl Guerrero, age 17

Standardized tests have traditionally been considered to be an accurate way to predict a person’s future success. But according to a study published in Psychological Science, a person’s spatial skills may be a more accurate predictor.

Spatial reasoning is the ability to visualize patterns and manipulate them mentally. For example, someone who can dismantle a clock or a refrigerator without instructions has good spatial skills.

David Lubinski, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, led a study that looked at the professional success of people who took both the SAT and the Differential Aptitude Test as 13-year-olds. These people were considered noticeably gifted. The Differential Aptitude Test measures spatial skills. While their SAT scores accurately predicted their accomplishments, their Differential Aptitude Test scores supported the prediction.

Based on these findings, researchers believe standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT should be rewritten to include spatial ability.

Lubinski stated, “evidence has been mounting over several decades that spatial ability gives us something that we don’t capture with traditional measures used in educational selection. We could be losing some modern-day Edisons and Fords.”

Dr. Lubinski looked at an earlier study from the 1970s and tracked the progress of 563 students who scored in the top 0.5 percent on the SAT when they were 13 years old. These students also took the Differential Aptitude Test.

The students who scored highest on the spatial relations test seemed to be more successful in general than the students who scored lower. The researchers say the spatial ability test is a critical diagnostic for achievement in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

David Geary, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, says that the connection between spatial ability and professional achievement, as suspected, was not well researched. According to Geary, this research proves that a person’s math skills are not the only skills a person in STEM fields needs.

Psychologists who specialize in cognitive skills refer to spatial ability as “orphan ability” because it is often unacknowledged. For some time, they have suspected that this ability is a key to success in technical fields. According to earlier studies, students who excel in spatial ability are not only overrepresented in those fields, but also receive less guidance during high school. As a result, they seem to be likely to underachieve.

Although researchers encourage a rewrite in standardized tests, Dr. Geary says that spatial reasoning is not taught in the school curriculum because it is considered a cognitive function. Therefore, it is not in standardized testing.

Dr. Geary says, “it’s not like math or English, it’s not part of an academic curriculum. It’s more of a basic competence. For that reason it just wasn’t on people’s minds when developing these tests.”

The spatial ability that some people have could be of more use to them than they realize. There has been debate about whether schools should be rewriting standardized tests or if spatial reasoning should be part of the curriculum. But now it seems that this “orphan ability” is gaining appropriate recognition as an important factor in future professional success.

[Source: New York Times]

I never knew spacial reasoning skills could be so important! Great article. – Rebekah S.McFarland High School (2014-10-02 17:37)