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Cognitive ability, also known as intelligence, reasoning, or IQ, refers to an individual’s ability to think, reason, and problem solve. Though cognitive ability assessments are often thought of as measures of education, they are instead measures of more general mental capabilities. Beginning in World War I, assessments of reasoning, intelligence, or critical thinking have been widely used within business and government for employee selection and development as means to predict two abilities necessary for work:

  1.  The ability to learn the job
  2. The ability to perform the job

Validity of Cognitive Ability

Nearly a century of research has found cognitive ability to be a highly relevant trait to assess in selection. Not only do studies continually find high relationships between cognitive ability and job performance, but utilizing cognitive ability assessments can also drastically reduce application costs. These findings have been fully described and widely cited in several scientific journal articles, major textbooks, literature reviews, and even news articles.

  • 3 Primary Abilities
  • Applications

Research has found three primary cognitive abilities or reasoning skills relevant to the learning and performing of the majority of jobs in the workplace: Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Reasoning, and Abstract Reasoning.

  • Verbal Reasoning – the ability to read, comprehend, and infer meaning from a written passage or spoken words. Good verbal reasoning skills are essential for effectively communicating and comprehending ideas and thoughts.
  • Numerical Reasoning – the ability to use numbers to develop, comprehend, and communicate ideas. Basic math skills are prerequisite for having good numerical reasoning skills. Numerical Reasoning also includes the ability to analyze and interpret graphs, charts, and diagrams that contain numerical representations such as count, percentage, frequency, and average. Numerical reasoning skills are important for effective performance in most jobs.
  • Abstract Reasoning – the ability to recognize abstract patterns, associations, or relationships without using words or numbers. Abstract reasoning skills allow individuals to identify more than one way to solve a problem and are important in a number of jobs. People with good abstract reasoning skills are able to quickly point out root causes to problems and identify hidden patterns among a myriad of information sources.

Clearly reasoning skills are essential for success in nearly every type of work and matching an individual’s strengths across different reasoning abilities to those required by the job is a crucial part of the selection process.

  • Employee Selection – Cognitive ability assessments help organizations match individuals to the requirements of the job. While this should not be the only consideration used in selection, it also provides an objective basis for which to differentiate potentially top and bottom candidates.
  • Development – Understanding their reasoning abilities gives individuals information on where to focus improvement or to leverage the skills of others.