Initial Publication Date: May 12, 2020

Spatial Thinking Assessment Instruments

Over the course of this project, we developed some instruments for assessing spatial thinking skills. Two of them have been adapted by instructors and researchers across the US. Both are multiple-choice instruments that measure the test-taker's proficiency in identifying what a specific two-dimensional slice through a three-dimensional geological feature would look like. We used these instruments, in conjunction with standard psychometric spatial thinking measures, to assess students' spatial thinking skills prior to and after engaging in the teaching activities developed for the Spatial Thinking Workbook project (Ormand et al., 2017). Both instruments have subsequently been used by Geoscience instructors at a variety of colleges and universities, primarily as diagnostic tools but sometimes as research instruments (e.g. Gold et al., 2018; Hannula, 2019).

We are making these instruments available to faculty as a service to the educational community. If you would like to use either or both of these instruments to assess your students' spatial thinking skills, please contact Kristin O'Connell ( or John McDaris (

We also invite everyone who takes these tests to participate in a research project, described toward the end of each of the tests. This project has been approved by the Carleton College IRB. Participation in the research project is optional, and we will not share with faculty any information about who has opted to participate in the research project.

Crystal Slicing Test

This 15-item multiple-choice test measures the ability to visualize a slice through a three‐dimensional solid. Each problem consists of a diagram of an idealized, symmetrical mineral crystal intersected by a plane passing through the crystal. The test-taker is asked to determine the shape of the surface that would be made by cutting the crystal along the plane indicated (i.e., the intersection of the plane with the solid). Three mutually perpendicular (x, y, and z) axes are also shown on each diagram for reference.


Geologic Block Cross-sectioning Test

This 16-item multiple-choice test measures the ability to visualize a vertical slice through a three‐dimensional geologic structure expressed in a block diagram. There are two versions of the test. Many instructors use one version as a diagnostic pre-test, at or near the beginning of a course, and the other as a post-test, toward the end of the course.




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