21 UCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips and Techniques To Save You Time And Boost Your Score

UCAT Section Advice

2021-04-22

Including UCAT Abstract Reasoning Practice Questions

Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Abstract Reasoning is all about pattern recognition. As it is unlike most tasks you do at school, it does take some practice and knowledge of common question types.

So how can you get your head around this unusual section?

Top five UCAT AR tips

1. Understand what UCAT AR is testing and how it relates to medicine or dentistry

An illustration of the UCAT AR test screen
An illustration of the UCAT AR test screen

The AR section tests your spatial reasoning and awareness to identify patterns within abstract shapes that are surrounded by distracting and irrelevant content.

This section is about viewing things from different angles and critically thinking of possible and likely hypotheses by evaluating information within a short time. A doctor or a dentist needs these skills to come up with a correct diagnosis and treatment strategy based on medical tests and patient interviews. Use these points to boost your motivation for the AR section.

Learn more UCAT preparation tips or read our UCAT FAQ.

2. Familiarise yourself with the question types

The best way to familiarise yourself with Abstract Reasoning is to try some free UCAT practice questions, but here is a general overview:

There are four question types in the AR section:

Set A, Set B or Neither
Set A, Set B or Neither: Two sets of shapes are displayed as Set A and Set B and five test shapes are offered. Decide where each test shape belongs, if at all.
Complete the Series
Complete the Series: Guess the next logical step following a sequence of shapes. There are four new shapes to choose from.
Complete the Statement
Complete the Statement: Choose the appropriate image for Shape D that completes the statement, ‘Shape A is to Shape B as Shape C is to Shape D".
Set A or B
Set A or B: Decide which of the four given shapes belong to Set A or Set B.

3. No time to waste

You only have 14 seconds per question on average (55 questions in 13 minutes). You must think quickly and not get stuck on a question.

Get a handle on UCAT timing (the hardest part of the exam).

4. Look for the pattern first

Instead of focusing on the test shape straight away, look at the sets of images provided first to identify any patterns.

5. Check for common or repeated features

When looking for patterns, check for:

  • Repeated shapes within the boxes
  • Repeated sizes of the same shape
  • Repeated number of the same shape

Example:

Example UCAT AR question

Set A: There is always an upward pointing arrow, and each frame has a white circle.

Set B: There is always a leftward pointing arrow, and each frame has a black square.

6. Beware of colour

While colour can be a repeated element used within a pattern, it is often used to distract you from finding the correct pattern. Ignore colour if it is obvious that the pattern does not include it.

7. Observe positions of shapes

Ask yourself, is a certain shape always:

  • At the same position in the boxes?
  • Positioned opposite to another shape?
  • Placed within another shape?
  • Placed between other shapes of the same kind?

Example:

Example UCAT AR question

Set A: There is always a quadrilateral to the left of a crescent.

Set B: There is always a quadrilateral to the right of a crescent.

8. Pay attention to rotation and orientation

Sometimes the shapes rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise in a set pattern, or the orientation of the whole box changes.

Example:

Example UCAT AR question

Set A: An arrow that points upward indicates no rotation of the shape on the top left corner. An arrow that points to the right indicates that the shape rotates clockwise by 90° when it is mirrored in the bottom left corner. An arrow that points downward indicates that it is rotated clockwise by 180°. An arrow that points to the left indicates that the shape is rotated clockwise by 270°. 

Set B: An arrow that points downward indicates no rotation of the shape on the top left corner. An arrow that points to the right indicates that the shape rotates anticlockwise by 90° when it is mirrored in the bottom left corner. An arrow that points upwards indicates that it is rotated anticlockwise by 180°. An arrow that points to the left indicates that the shape is rotated anticlockwise by 270°.

9. Use the CPR mnemonic

CPR mnemonic: common and colour, position, rotation and orientation

Use this mnemonic to remember the tips covered above when checking for patterns in the AR questions.

10. (Or…) Use the SCANS mnemonic

SCANS is another mnemonic which many students use to identify the pattern of given shapes.

SCANS mnemonic: shape, colour/fill, arrangement/angles, number, symmetry

11. Look at the ‘emptiest’ box first

It is easier to identify patterns in the box with the least number of images as there are fewer distractors (shapes that are seemingly random and have no bearing on the pattern).

12. Learn the number of sides of common shapes to save time

When you come to timed UCAT mocks, saving time is absolutely central to success - even seconds.

Common irregular shapes: arrow (7 sides), star (10 sides)

13. Don’t be afraid to guess and move on

With so little time per question, you likely won’t have time to flag a question and come back to it.

14. No negative marking

There is no negative marking in the UCAT. Leave no question unanswered. If you run out of time at the end, quickly guess all the remaining questions.

15. Use the keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are an essential time-saving skill (this also goes for the VR and QR sections).

Alt+P = return to a previous question
Alt+P = return to a previous question
Alt+N = move on to the next question
Alt+N = move on to the next question
Alt+F = flag a question for later
Alt+F = flag a question for later

16. Use the whiteboard and pen

Write down notes about any patterns you’ve identified in case you forget them. You can also write down the CPR and SCANS mnemonics during the instruction reading time to remind yourself.

17. Know your prime numbers

A common pattern type involves shapes with a prime number of sides/symmetry, or shapes/objects.

It is important to know that 0 and 1 are not prime numbers, while 2 is.

Prime numbers between 1 and 25

18. Change perspective

For some questions, it can be useful to change your perspective to identify patterns more easily.

Change perspective to identify patterns more easily

19. Don’t jump to conclusions too hastily

If you think you’ve found a pattern, check it against a number of shapes in each set.

Be aware that there may be secondary rules so don’t move on too quickly.

20. Practise, practise and practise

If you are an avid reader, the Verbal Reasoning section is much easier for you. Likewise, an adept mathematician will find the Quantitative Reasoning section a walk in the park.

However, the Abstract Reasoning section is completely different to the skills you learnt in school. Take advantage of Medify’s huge question bank and give yourself as much exposure to the AR questions as possible.

21. Use progressive stimulation

Follow the steps below in order. This is called ‘progressive simulation’, which is a gradual increase in difficulty, as opposed to diving straight in the deep end before mastering the doggy paddle. A graduated approach helps to avoid frustration and burnout.

UCAT AR practising steps

Summary

  1. The types of questions in the AR section are likely to be very different from anything you’ve seen before. Expose yourself to as many questions as possible.
  2. Use the CPR and SCANS mnemonics to identify patterns systematically.
  3. You only have 14 seconds per question - keep moving fast and don’t get stuck on a question. Guess if you need to.
Stay up to date with UCAT and admissions news for the latest developments.

Succeed in your Medical School interview. Start today for only £20

Membership will expire on Wed 31 Mar 2022 23:59 UK time

Enroll Now

Helping you prepare. Try Medify BMAT Today

Buy Now

Write your personal statement. Try Medify Today

Buy Now

2 in 3 students prepared for UCAT with Medify. Try Medify Now

Buy Now

2 in 3 students prepared for UCAT with Medify. Try Medify Now

Buy Now

Helping you prepare. Try Medify BMAT Today

Buy Now

Write your personal statement. Try Medify Today

Buy Now

2 in 3 students prepared for UCAT with Medify. Try Medify Now

Buy Now

2 in 3 students prepared for UCAT with Medify. Try Medify Now

Buy Now

2 in 3 students prepared for UCAT with Medify. Try Medify Now

Buy Now

Study medicine in Europe. Try Medlink Students Now

Buy Now