Psychological Testing: Raven’s Progressive Matrices

Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical editor

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What is Raven’s Progressive Matrices?

Developed by Dr. John C. Raven in 1936, Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) is a non-verbal intelligence test created to evaluate problem-solving abilities and abstract reasoning skills independent of language or cultural background.

Raven's Progressive Matrices (often referred to simply as Raven's Matrices) is a multiple-choice intelligence test of abstract reasoning, originally developed by Dr. John C. Raven in 1936.[1] In each test item, the subject is asked to identify the missing item that completes a pattern. Many patterns are presented in the form of a 4x4, 3x3, or 2x2 matrix, giving the test its name.


Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD,  explains, "Raven's Progressive Matrices is a commonly used test to assess general human intelligence and abstract reasoning abilities. This test is used in employment assessments, clinical research on Autism Spectrum Disorders, and to identify individuals with high intellectual potential."

Overview of Raven’s Progressive Matrices

Raven’s Progressive Matrices is a robust tool for assessing general cognitive abilities, with a particular focus on abstract and spatial reasoning. Here’s an overview:

  • Abstract reasoning: RPM tests a person’s ability to identify patterns and relationships within visual matrices without reliance on verbal or numerical cues.
  • Spatial reasoning: RPM requires individuals to manipulate and transform geometric shapes mentally.
  • Cultural neutrality: Unlike many tests, RPM is culturally neutral since it avoids cultural biases and language. This contributes to the test’s global applicability.
  • G factor: G factor, also called the general intelligence factor, refers to the idea that one underlying factor, such as general intelligence, can influence performance on many cognitive tests.

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The matrices are posed in three different forms for participants of different ages and cognitive abilities:

  • Standard Progressive Matrices: These were the original form of the test, first published in 1938. The booklet comprises five sets (A to E) of 12 items each (e.g., A1 through A12), with items within a set becoming increasingly difficult, requiring ever greater cognitive capacity to encode and analyze information. All items are presented in black ink on a white background.
  • Colored Progressive Matrices: Designed for younger children, the elderly, and people with moderate or severe learning difficulties, this test contains sets A and B from the standard matrices, with a further set of 12 items inserted between the two, as set Ab. Most items are presented on a colored background to make the test visually stimulating for participants. However, the very last few items in set B are presented as black-on-white; in this way, if a subject exceeds the tester's expectations, the transition to sets C, D, and E of the standard matrices is eased.
  • Advanced Progressive Matrices: The advanced form of the matrices contains 48 items, presented as one set of 12 (set I) and another of 36 (set II). Items are again presented in black ink on a white background and become increasingly difficult as progress is made through each set. These items are appropriate for adults and adolescents of above-average intelligence.

In addition, so-called parallel forms of the standard and colored progressive matrices were published in 1998. This was to address the problem of the Raven's Progressive Matrices being too well-known in the general population. The fact that testees have grown increasingly experienced with the test over the last 60 years could explain the increases in scores of around 10 IQ points per generation. Items in the parallel tests have been constructed so that average solution rates for each question are identical for the classic and parallel versions. An extended form of the standard progressive matrices, Standard Progressive Matrices Plus, was published at the same time, offering greater discrimination among more able young adults.

The Triple Nine Society, a high IQ organization, accepts the Advanced Progressive Matrices form for one of their admission tests. They require a score of at least 32 out of 36 on the RAPM. The International Society for Philosophical Enquiry (ISPE) similarly accepts the RAPM as a qualification for admission.

As Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD, says, "Research studies found that consistent attentional training can improve performance on Raven's Progressive Matrices. Dual n-back, for example,  is one of the most researched memory training games."

Test Structure and Administration

Raven’s Progressive Matrices typically consist of sets. Each set contains 12 items.

The test comes in three different forms: A, B, and C. Each form consists of a set of 36 items, leading to a total of 108 items across all three forms.

The score is determined by the number of correct answers within a specific time frame. The time limits will vary based on the form and difficulty level. The test-takers are expected to complete each form within about 40 minutes.

The items from each form are increasingly more difficult. The test does not adjust based on the results from the previous questions.

Underlying Factors

According to the author, Raven's Progressive Matrices and vocabulary tests measure the two main components of general intelligence (originally identified by Charles Spearman): the ability to think clearly and make sense of complexity, which is known as eductive ability (from the Latin root "educere," meaning "to draw out") and the ability to store and reproduce information, known as reproductive ability.

A Matrix Example

A 2007 study found evidence that individuals with classic autism, a low-functioning autism spectrum disorder, score higher in Raven's tests than in Wechsler tests.[2]

John Carlyle Raven first published his Progressive Matrices in the United Kingdom in 1938. His three sons established Scotland-based test publisher JC Raven Ltd. in 1972. In 2004, Harcourt Assessment, Inc., a division of Harcourt Education, acquired the company.

The Significance of Abstract Reasoning

Abstract reasoning, as tested in RPM, plays a crucial role in gauging a person’s ability to:

  • Identify patterns
  • Solve novel problems
  • Think adaptively and creatively

In real-world problem-solving scenarios, abstract reasoning allows individuals to tackle puzzles they’ve never seen before, such as difficult work projects or finding a faster route to work during traffic. 

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