Dissecting the UCAT Abstract Reasoning Section

ucat abstract reasoning subtest feature image

The Abstract Reasoning subtest is the fourth section of the UCAT.  It includes 55 questions and is scored out of 900. In this article we will look at the subtest in more detail  and discuss how to prepare for it.

The UCAT Abstract reasoning was my strongest section, working out pattern similarity comes naturally to me. Everyone is different and might view each set differently, so the goal during practice is to discover  your own approach in spotting patterns . With enough  practice, you can improve your accuracy and speed in the exam.

What Is The Abstract Reasoning Section?

According to the official site ‘This section assesses how you infer relationships from patterns of abstract shapes’.  Usually, examiners may include irrelevant and distracting shapes to mislead you into selecting the wrong answer. Therefore, the subtest measures your ability to change, track, critically evaluate and generate hypotheses that may requires you to query judgements as you go along trying to work out the correct pattern.

Type of Abstract Reasoning Questions

The Abstract reasoning section includes four different types of questions:

Type 1 ​– You are presented with two sets of shapes labelled “Set A” and “Set B”. You will be given a test shape and asked to decide whether the test shape belongs to Set A, Set B, or Neither.

Type 2 ​- You are presented with a series of shapes. You will be asked to select the next shape in the series.

Type 3 ​- You are presented with a statement, involving a group of shapes. You will be asked to determine which shape completes the statement.

Type 4 – Your are presented with two sets of shapes labelled “Set A” and “Set B”. You will be asked to select which of the four response options belongs to Set A or Set B.

How To Prepare For The UCAT Abstract Reasoning Section

1. Have a Mnemonic That Works For You

There are many components to consider during the pattern finding process, such as:

  • Shape of components
  • Type of edges on each component
  • Number of corners on each component
  • Colour of each component
  • Number of components
  • Orientation of components
  • Consistent position of one component relative to another
  • Size of components

During the live exam I recommend using a mnemonic to help ensure you are considering all the possible components. The most commonly used ones are SCANS and SPONCS, I recommend picking one and  practise using it during preparation. 

2. Practice Using Flagging

The Flagging tool in the UCAT is underrated, they are great for saving time during the exam especially in the abstract section. If you do not identify a pattern in the first 10 seconds flag it and move on. then return back to it at the end of the subtest. You will be surprised how easily you spot it the second time! I think it is because your eyes have been trained from answering more questions .  

3. Find Patterns Do not Match

If you try to simply match the test shapes to a similar looking box in one set  you will lose marks. Marks come from finding patterns, not matching. Occasionally they will be overlap between patterns in Set A and Set B. A test shape might look similar to one box in one of the sets, but actually fit  the pattern for the other set.  

4. Start with The Question Sets Not The Test Shapes 

Do not start with the test shapes, they do not help with pattern finding, they might not even have the pattern for either shapes. Start with the Boxes in  each set, develop a hypothesis then check if it complies with the test  shapes.   

5. Start With The Simplest Box First

This approach will help improve your pattern finding skill because   distracting shapes are minimisedand will contain the pattern. For example,  if a box contains one shape then your task becomes easier, if gives you more of a clue on what the pattern might be. For instance, if a box only had  a single shaded circle in the corner of the box, you now have a clue that the pattern is either about circles, a shaded shape or about arrangement in the  corner. By checking other boxes in the set for the same characteristics, you  will find patterns quickly.

For more UCAT tips check out the rest of the blog and join our free UCAT Study Group. You can opt-in for our UCAT Virtual Tutor – 30-day Study plan designed to get you from zero to scoring in the top percentile within 30-days. For in-depth exam strategies and actionable techniques grab our new UCAT Study Guide, includes 200+ exam strategies and techniques for each subtest.