How Can We Best Assess Spatial Skills? Practical and Conceptual Challenges

David H. Uttal*, Kiley McKee, Nina Simms, Mary Hegarty, Nora S. Newcombe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Spatial thinking skills are associated with performance, persistence, and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) school subjects. Because STEM knowledge and skills are integral to developing a well-trained workforce within and beyond STEM, spatial skills have become a major focus of cognitive, developmental, and educational research. However, these efforts are greatly hampered by the current lack of access to reliable, valid, and well-normed spatial tests. Although there are hundreds of spatial tests, they are often hard to access and use, and information about their psychometric properties is frequently lacking. Additional problems include (1) substantial disagreement about what different spatial tests measure—even two tests with similar names may measure very different constructs; (2) the inability to measure some STEM-relevant spatial skills by any existing tests; and (3) many tests only being available for specific age groups. The first part of this report delineates these problems, as documented in a series of structured and open-ended interviews and surveys with colleagues. The second part outlines a roadmap for addressing the problems. We present possibilities for developing shared testing systems that would allow researchers to test many participants through the internet. We discuss technological innovations, such as virtual reality, which could facilitate the testing of navigation and other spatial skills. Developing a bank of testing resources will empower researchers and educators to explore and support spatial thinking in their disciplines, as well as drive the development of a comprehensive and coherent theoretical understanding of spatial thinking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalJournal of Intelligence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • assessment and measurement
  • psychometrics
  • spatial cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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