An experiment explored the impact of explicit guidance (instruction) on the use of abstract symbols or life-like depictions to represent engineering problems. The study examines the effects of guiding learners in the use of abstract or contextualized representations of engineering problems. The study had a 2 (representation conditions: abstract text with abstract diagrams (AA) and contextualized text with contextualized diagram (CC)) x 2 (no guidance or guidance) design. Instruction was provided by a computer-based module that taught the analysis of parallel electrical circuits by using the respective combination of representation and guidance/no guidance on the representation of the electrical circuit components. Among conditions without guidance, the AA representation had significantly higher near-transfer posttest scores compared to the CC representation. These results indicate that novices to engineering (such as high school students and undergraduate non-engineering majors that are unfamiliar with the abstract engineering symbols), learn better with abstract symbol representations than with representations with life-like depictions of engineering system components. Comparing guidance conditions to no guidance conditions revealed that the CC representation with guidance significantly outperformed the CC representation without guidance. This result indicates that guidance on the use of life-like depictions to represent electrical circuit components aided in generating problem solving schemata that allowed the learners to more effectively transfer their problem solving skill to novel contextualized problem settings.