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What is the Rotations test?
What is the Rotations test?
Mike Battista avatar
Written by Mike Battista
Updated over a week ago

When you read a map, do you find yourself rotating the page? Or is it just as easy to navigate when the world is turned upside down?

Rotations measures your brain's ability to mentally rotate objects. Two boxes appear on the screen, each filled with red and green squares. If you could rotate one of the panels would it be identical to the other or would it be different?

Click MATCH if they could be identical, or MISMATCH if not. If you get it correct, the next problem will be more difficult. If you get it wrong, the next problem will be easier. Solve as many problems as you can in 90 seconds.

Optimizing Performance

In this test:

  • Accuracy does matter; wrong answers subtract from your score, and lower the difficulty of the next puzzle.

  • Speed does matter; you have 90 seconds to solves as many puzzles as you can.

So to get maximum points, take care to answer accurately, but do it as quickly as you can.

Video instructions.

Performance tips:

  • More difficult puzzles are worth more points—one per square. But the same points will also be subtracted from your score if you get the puzzle wrong.

  • One strategy is to take more time with more difficult puzzles, to avoid losing a lot of points. However, you can also make a big difference in your score with just one more difficult puzzle as the timer counts down. Finding the right balance of risk and reward, based on your own certainty in your response, is part of the challenge!

  • Experiment with other strategies. Methodically rotate one part of the box at a time to rule out differences in each square. On the next run, throw caution to the wind and go with your gut. Try new things to find the mental steps that result in your best score.

Domain Scores

Your score on this test contributes to:

  • Your reasoning score (a lot).

  • Your short-term memory score (a bit).

The contribution of each test to each performance category is based on a "factor analysis" that looked at how tests tend to clump together when measuring a massive set of data. The results were published in Neuron in 2012 (Hampshire, Highfield, Parkin, & Owen, 2012). The exact contribution of each test to each performance category may change as more data is collected.

The Science Behind Rotations

A lot of people find it easier to turn a map so that it matches the direction of travel, even though the map itself (and the words on it) may end up upside down as a result! If you don't do this, as you try to imagine how the map (or any object) would look rotated away from its original presentation, you are exercising "mental imagery." That imaginary movement in your brain is called "mental rotation."

Mental rotation is at play when navigating using a map.

Shepard & Metzler (1971), who were the first to introduce mental rotation tasks into the psychology literature, went some way to help explain the cognitive processing behind this ability. Participants were presented with pairs of geometrical line drawings and had to identify whether they were the same object rotated two different ways, or different objects. Response times were found to increase in proportion to the angle the image was rotated. This suggests that we perform these tasks using an analogue rotation strategy; that is, the mental image of the object is literally rotated, just like it would be in the outside world.

Rotations in the Real World

Go left! No, your other left!

Mental rotation abilities are linked to performance in real-world navigation. In particular, mental rotation skills have been found to significantly correlate with route learning. People who perform better at mental rotation tasks are also better at finding the most direct route out of a wooded terrain (Silverman, 2000).

Further evidence for this link comes from those suffering from Parkinson's disease, who are impaired at mental rotation tasks. These patients are also less able to learn new routes during driving tasks and make many more navigation errors than healthy volunteers (Ergun et al., 2007).


Ergun, Y., Rizzo, M., Anderson, S., Sparks, J.D., Rodnitzky, R.L., & Dawson, J.D. (2007). Impaired navigation in drivers with Parkinson's disease. Brain, 130, 2433-2440. Download PDF 

Shepard, R.N., & Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science 171, 701-703.

Silverman, I., Choi, J., Mackewn, A., Fisher, M., Moro, J., & Olshansky, E. (2000). Evolved mechanisms underlying wayfinding: further studies on the hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences. Evolution and Human Behavior, 21, 201-213 .

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