The phrase analytical reasoning is used by a lot of educational organizations as well as businesses. The phrase is used in direct relationship with recruitment, training and promotion. It often connotes the general aptitude of a person and his abilities to reason and find logical conclusions or solutions to given problems. It is often also suggestive of cognitive abilities of a person. But, what is the real meaning of analytical reasoning and how does one develop it or use it in the long run?
“It is elementary my dear Watson.” One of the brightest fictional detectives of the last 150 years would often say this to his best friend. In an air that could best be tagged as arrogant, one of the best analytical minds ever to have been drafted by pen on paper, Sherlock Holmes, would often pour out his mind, analyzing cases and solving them before one could spell Hampstead Heath. His methods, which though were meaningful to him, had no apparent resemblance to reason or any established practice to others, who would often be left dumb-struck when the case would resolve right before their eyes. Sherlock Holmes, though a fictional character, is probably one of the better examples of an analytical mind, one who used the power of analytical reasoning to solve crimes.
Analytical reasoning comes from the ability of an individual to analyze a situation, think in a step by step method to evaluate the alternatives, eliminating the ones that don’t fit the case, and finding a solution that best matches the problem at hand. A person gifted in analytical reasoning would be able to look through the problem, break it down to smaller problems and think in a multi-dimensional way. Another fundamental component of analytical reasoning is the ability to break down information at hand and find a pattern or trait in such information. Analytical reasoning capabilities of an individual are considered for the purpose of job interviews to select the right candidate for a position, in admission tests to educational programs and as well as for testing the general aptitude of a person in a wide variety of situations.
There is a misconception that analytical reasoning is something that one is born with. It is incorrect. Analytical reasoning can be taught and it needs to be practiced on a continuing basis for one to get better at it. Analytical reasoning is best practiced outside the classroom in real life situations but classroom tests revolving around set problems can give an individual a theoretical inception.
Uses of Analytical Reasoning Skills in Business and Education
Managers with excellent analytical reasoning abilities are generally considered as problem solvers. They are usually good with evaluating problems, analyzing them from more than one angle and finding a solution that works best in the given circumstances. Businesses look for managers who can be more than just leaders. They want their managers to employ analytical reasoning skills to meet challenges and threats and keep a business functioning smoothly. Usually the problems that a junior level manager may face can vary from simple technical problem at the factory floor to more complex labor unrests.
Even a SWOT analysis is considered as an avenue for the application of analytical reasoning capability of managers. SWOT means Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Together they create a framework, a guideline for any business decisions to be evaluated and tested before adoption. When junior managers take decisions on their own they have to ensure that their decisions conform to the guidelines that the business sets for every decision to satisfy. Being a fundamental yardstick for the measurement of every business decision, SWOT analysis involve the use of analytical reasoning skills to evaluate problems and then solve them.
The same way, educational institutions look for students who are good with not only their ability to use their knowledge in theoretical problem solving, inside a classroom, but also excellent in analytical reasoning, because at certain stage in their life they will need to face real life problems and at that point they should be able to figure out a solution for the same. This is why graduate level courses will require students to not only pass but have a certain grade in GRE tests.
Decentralization of the Decision Making Process
Junior managers with good analytical thinking abilities can take the pressure off of their seniors in terms of day to day decision making. Since these are the managers who are handling staff at the line level they are better prepared to deal with situations pertaining to it. Junior managers are expected to solve issues where their analytical reasoning skills are tested. Some business promote such independent handling to boost fresh thinking and give room to a junior manager to grow into a job.
Difference between Analytical and Critical Thinking
There are two distinct process of thinking in problem solving. While the first one is analytical thinking the second one is critical thinking. They are used in different ways in problem solving and warrant different approaches altogether. While analytical thinking uses the information presented to break down the problem into a list of smaller challenges and finding a solution for the same, critical thinking uses not only the data that is presented but as well use research methodologies to obtain additional information. Analytical reasoning methods thus use a fact based reasoning to find a solution. On the other hand critical thinking uses a more fact finding type approach and finally come to a conclusion where whether or not a statement or conclusion is correct or not is validated.
Honing Your Analytical Reasoning Skills
Being able to solve analytical reasoning questions is a pre-requisite to get admission to good graduate schools. If you have good scores in GRE you have a better chance of getting admitted to one of the top schools. There are a number of ways in which you could practice your analytical reasoning skills. One of the best ways to develop this skill is by practicing it against both real and fictional problems. A person with good analytical reasoning skills can see patterns and trends in the problem much easier than anyone else.
Books are probably the best source of test cases that are devised categorically for developing analytical reasoning skills. It is no wonder that people with good skills in mathematics, algebra and or geometry tend to have better analytical reasoning skills as well. Mathematics forces a person to use more than one logical approach to solve a problem. It is a basic requirement to viewing a problem from more than one angle. The same way, a person with good puzzle solving skills also have good analytical reasoning skills. In fact children are encouraged in primary schools to solve puzzles that develops their analytical thinking abilities.
Diagramming and Its Effectiveness in Solving Analytical Reasoning Tests
If you are going to sit for a GRE test you need to have a clear understanding of how to draw diagrams in order to solve tests which are directed towards analyzing your analytical reasoning abilities. Very few people can actually play around such tests and or attempt to solve them without using some form of diagrams. Thus one of the critical requisites to hone your analytical reasoning skills is to practice drawing diagrams following the following three considerations.
There are three important considerations to perfectly draw diagrams that can help you solve analytical reasoning tests. You have to be (a) quick, (b) you need to be precise and last but not the least (c) your diagrams need to be easily understandable. Speed is the essence when it comes to drawing meaningful diagrams for solving reasoning tests. Keeping it simple and quick is a skill that is acquired only through practice so be prepared to spend hours honing your diagraming skills.
Let’s say you have been given a problem where there are five key entities and several conditions to fulfill. Mr. Adams, Mr. Brian, Mr. Dwayne, Mr. Flintoff and Mr. Gerrard. They have to be seated in such a way that Mr. Adams and Mr. Flintoff are not seated beside each other and either Mr. Brian or Mr. Dwayne should be seated next to Mr. Gerrard. You are also given a condition that this is a round table. Additionally, you are told that after having the above conditions satisfied you will need to have them seated in the most logical alphabetical order. Without a diagram it would be difficult to find out the logical siting positions that would satisfy all of the above conditions.
While writing down the entities you should use the first letter of the names in capital. In the above example this would be A, B, D, F and G. You don’t need to use additional letters as that will unnecessarily confuse you and complicate matters. Certain tests are given to confuse you deliberately. In the above example the names are given ‘almost’ in alphabetical order except that a name with C and E are missing. This is one of the things that you need to watch out for. Some students appearing for the exam will commit a mistake and include the alphabets C and or E in the list of entities while making the diagrams, which will make it incorrect.
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