11th June 2021
The key to scoring well in the abstract reasoning part of the UCAT is being able to spot patterns and tune out irrelevant or distracting information. Find out how with these abstract reasoning tips.

Learn Common Abstract Reasoning Patterns

The best attract reasoning tip is to learn the four categories of pattern types:

  1. Number: This could simply be about the number of (certain) shapes there are in each box, the number of sides or the number of intersections. Alternatively, it could be more complex and require you to work out that the number of circles + the number of triangles = the number of squares in each box.
  2. Shape: This could be about there being particular shapes in each box (e.g. each box has 2 hexagons and a circle) or that there is a feature of a shape applying to each box – e.g. angle measures, such as there being a right angle, or an acute angle; concave or convex shapes, squiggly patterns, straight sides etc.
  3. Colour: If you can see that there are different colours in the boxes, the pattern may have something to do with it. It could also just be distracting you from the real pattern, so don’t fixate too much on it.
  4. Arrangement: These patterns could be anything from how the shapes in each box are positioned relative to each other, how they are rotated or reflected, if they are arranged in a clockwise or anticlockwise fashion, etc.

Learn How To Spot The Pattern

Abstract reasoning may not make sense to you until you learn how to spot the pattern and work out the answer. It’s the kind of thing you’ll learn in detail in a UCAT course.

You can usually work this out with six key questions:

  1. Is there a colour pattern?
  2. Does the pattern concern the number of shapes?
  3. Does the pattern concern the types of shapes (e.g. all rectangles, all stars)?
  4. Does the pattern concern the size of shapes (e.g. 3 big, 1 small shape)?
  5. Is there symmetry in each panel of the set?
  6. Is there a ratio of shapes (e.g. 2 black squares for every circle)?

It is often best to use your own set of questions to suit your style of thinking, but once you have this set, it can make recognising patterns easier.


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Learn Some Abstract Reasoning Mnemonics

In order to help you identify patterns in the AR section, there are a number of mnemonics that are widely used to help you narrow down the possible relationships between the test shape and sets as well as sequence-type questions.

You should learn:

CPR: Common and Colour, Position and Rotation and Orientation

  • Common: Is there a common shape in every box of the set? Is there a common number of shapes? Are there arrows in every box? Is there a common size of shape in each box?
  • Position: What is the position of a shape within the box? This could simply be a circle always positioned in the top left corner, for example, or one shape may always be opposite to another shape in every box.
  • Rotation and Orientation: Are the shapes rotated or has the orientation shifted? For example, is there a simple clockwise/anti-clockwise change of shapes and orientation where shapes are positioned at 12 o’clock or 3 o’clock? If arrows are involved, the direction in which the arrow points is important as well as the arrow length.

SCONE: Symmetry, Colour, Order, Not There? Extras

  • Symmetry: Consider both general and rotational symmetry. One set may contain shapes with a certain number of lines of symmetry, whilst the other set may contain zero, for example.
  • Colour: This is guaranteed to be involved in at least some abstract reasoning questions but it’s also often used as a distractor.
  • Order: This is particularly useful for sequence and “x to y” is to “a to b” type AR questions. Is the order in which the shapes appear part of the rule? Do the shapes change direction or move in a fixed order?
  • Not There: Consider features that are not there. This is particularly useful when you are struggling to recognise the pattern and you will make an educated guess on features that aren’t present.
  • Extras: Consider other things like angles (right angles or sum of), obtuse or acute angles, intersections (especially if there is a set with only lines), reflection, and curved or straight sides

Practise Abstract Reasoning Questions

Try our free AR questions or practice every section in our Question Bank

Free AR QuestionsUCAT Question Bank

Try To Improve Speed Over Time

Speed is important in the UCAT test, but our tip is to try to get faster over time. The first thing you need to focus on is getting the answers right, and then you can start introducing time pressure.

When you’re ready, you can use a UCAT Question Bank to start timing yourself. 

Know When To Flag For Review

If you get stuck on a pattern for more than a minute, flag it so that you can come back to it later. Most patterns will ump out at you within the first 30 seconds, and it’s much more important to answer each pattern than waste three minutes trying to answer one of the more complicated ones.

By flagging it, you can review any flagged questions when you reach the end of the test.

Practise On A Computer

The best practice for Abstract Reasoning is done on a Question Bank. It most closely replicates the real test, as well as allows you to pay closer attention to the timing and practice using functionality like flagging questions for review.


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