How To Work Out Patterns in the UCAT Abstract Reasoning Subtest

ucat abstract reasoning patterns

The abstract reasoning subtest is described as being intended to assess your ability to identify patterns amongst abstract shapes. The way the examiners do this is by asking you to identify to which group a particular shape or sets of shapes belongs.

Students often struggle to spot patterns in the UCAT abstract reasoning test with many claiming that identifying the correct pattern can prove difficult and time consuming. I highly recommend using a mnemonic method to help structure your approach to tackling abstract questions. It should serve as a useful basis upon which you can work out the rule governing patterns in a set. Here are some of the most common mnemonics:

Method 1 – SCANS Technique

SCANS is the mnemonic I personally used as a checklist to spot patterns. I saved so much time in the exam because I was applying it constantly and thinking about what to look for next across the boxes in a set.

SCANS stands for

– Shape

C – Colour

A– Angle/Arrangement

– Number of (shapes,sides,intersections…)

S – Symmetry.

Method 2 – SPONCS Method

This is another mnemonic for approaching abstract questions. It is pretty much the same as SCANS but in different order, where colour is lower than the line for consideration.

S – Shape

P – Position

O – Orientation

N – Number

C – Colour

S – Size

Method 3 – NSPCC Method

This is another mnemonic in different order, it stands for:

N – Number

S – Size

P – Position

C – Colour

C – Conformation

Where Conformation describes the arrangement of patterns.

Which Method Is Better?

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter which mnemonic you use, just pick one thats easier to remember and practice adopting it during preparation.

What to look out for within Each Category?

The possibilities are endless with each category, so here are some key relationships to keep in mind when exploring each possibility:

  • Are all the elements the same type of shape (e.g square, circle, etc)
  • Are the elements symmetrical or asymmetrical?
  • Do the elements have curved or straight edges?
  • Is there an object that consistently appears in each box?
  • Are some elements always a particular colour?
  • Does each box have a certain number of colours?
  • Does each element have certain shapes arranged relatively to each other?
  • Does each box have rotated shapes?
  • Are some shapes always in the same position?
  • Are some objects inside others?
  • Do some objects point in a particular directions?
  • Do some shapes overlap or intersect?
  • Do some shapes mirror each other?
  • Does each box have an odd ir even number of shapes?
  • Is the number of components of a particular shape the same in each box?
  • Is the number of one type of shape the same?
  • Is there a relative relationship between two different types of shapes (e.g the number of black objects = number of white objects +2)
  • Are some objects the same size or are they all different sizes?
  • Is a particular object small or big in each box?#

What to Keep An Eye Out For? 

Conditional Patterns

These are patterns where the characteristic of one object dictates the characteristic of another.  This is a popular trait of some of the more difficult questions in the abstract test. Conditional patterns are not common but if you cant find any relationships straightaway try looking for them.

Conditional patterns are not that common so only really look for them if you cant find any relationships straightaway.


These are shapes that have no relationships with other features in the box. You may find yourself paying attention to certain elements that have no bearing on the relationship between objects. However, with enough practice you will be able to recognise quickly when you have fallen for a distractor and switch hypothesis.

If a rule applies to a majority of the boxes in a set but there is maybe one box that doesnt fit the rule, you’ve probably fallen for a distractor.

Despite what some may believe you can improve your ability to spot patterns in the UCAT abstract reasoning test. The principles behind abstract questions have never changed.