Designed by J.P. Guilford in 1967, the Alternative Uses Test asks you to think of as many uses as possible for a simple object, like a brick or a shoe or a paperclip. The test is usually time-constrained. Practicing this widely used divergent thinking test will help you develop your ability to think creatively. Why not try it out for yourself!
Take an object, give yourself a time constraint, for example two minutes, and try to come up with as many alternate uses for that object as possible.
To give you an example, below are some alternative uses for a brick:
- A step
- A paperweight
- A diving aid
- A cheap dumbell
The test measures divergent thinking, as it is looking for the participant to generate lots of ideas. This contrasts with most traditional exams, which focus on convergent thinking i.e. our ability to reach a single, correct solution to a problem.
Results of the test are measured across four sub-categories:
- Fluency – the number of alternative uses you can think of;
- Originality – how unusual those uses are – evidence of ‘thinking different’;
- Flexibility – the range of ideas, in different domains and categories;
- Elaboration – level of detail and development of the idea
You score the results of the test based on a number of criteria – the first being the number of uses generated for the object. You can then rate each use in terms of how well it performs across the sub-categories.
Take the Test:
Why don’t you try it for yourself? You’ll probably find that your uses get more creative and original the longer you go on.
All you need is some paper and a pen, as well as something to time yourself with. Give yourself two minutes for each object and list as many possible uses as you can think of. Three objects are listed below – try each one and be sure to stick to the time limit.
- A ping pong ball
- A plank of wood
- A paperclip
Marking the test yourself is slightly trickier. If you have no one around, try and mark your answers according to the criteria we listed earlier and be as honest as possible. Remember they are fluency, originality, flexibility and elaboration. Firstly, give yourself a score out of ten for fluency (how many did you create?) and then mark each answer for the other three attributes.
It really helps if you have someone else to mark this test for you, but if this isn’t possible you can still have great fun seeing how many ideas you come up with. If you want to get really accurate results it’s best to get an experienced professional to administer the test. However, practicing at home is a great way to improve your divergent creative skills and you should find your ability to generate novel solutions improves as you continue.
When Is The Test Used?
This test is used frequently in creativity research today – for example a recent study asked participants to think of alternative uses for ping-pong balls. The study in question, which aimed to establish whether people are more creative in messy office environments, received widespread media coverage:
- The Telegraph: Having a messy desk makes you ‘more creative’
- Forbes: Messy-Deskers Unite: New Study Hints That We’re More Creative
- The New York Times: What a Messy Desk Says About You
Interestingly the study suggested that working at a messy desk might stimulate and encourage creative thinking! (This can also be used as a handy excuse when being reprimanded at work for your lack of cleanliness.)
The Alternative Uses Test is a great way for measuring divergent creative thinking. Unlike convergent thinking tests such as the RAT Test, this test highlights how we can generate a wide range of answers and solutions to a single problem.
Being able to come up with novel ideas is a great skill to have in today’s idea based economy, and practicing this test will help you develop your ability to think creatively.