Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the big picture.
Abstract Reasoning (AR) 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?
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
The best way to familiarise yourself with Abstract Reasoning is to try some free UCAT practice questions, but we've provided a general overview below.
There are four question types in the AR section:
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.
Guess the next logical step following a sequence of shapes. There are four new shapes to choose from.
Choose the appropriate image for Shape D that completes the statement ‘Shape A is to Shape B as Shape C is to Shape D'.
Decide which of the four given shapes belong to Set A or Set B.
You only have 14 seconds per question on average (50 questions in 12 minutes). You must think quickly and not get stuck on a question.
Get a handle on UCAT timing (the hardest part of the exam).
Instead of focusing on the test shape straight away, look at the sets of images provided first to identify any patterns.
When looking for patterns, check for:
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.
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.
Ask yourself, is a certain shape always:
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.
Sometimes the shapes rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise in a set pattern, or the orientation of the whole box changes.
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°.
Use the following mnemonic to remember the tips covered above when checking for patterns in AR questions.
SCANS is another mnemonic which many students use to identify the pattern of given shapes.
It's 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).
When you come to timed UCAT mocks, even saving seconds is absolutely central to success.
With so little time per question, you likely won’t have time to flag a question and come back to it.
There is no negative marking in the UCAT, so leave no question unanswered. If you run out of time at the end, quickly guess all the remaining questions.
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.
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.
For some questions, it can be useful to change your perspective to identify patterns more easily.
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.
If you're 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 AR questions as possible.
We've upgraded our UCAT mock exams 13-24, revised our practice question bank, and updated all of our mocks and mini-mocks to reflect the latest UCAT UK changes, to enrich your preparation journey.
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.