12th July 2023
The key to scoring well in the Abstract Reasoning
section of the UCAT
is being able to spot patterns and tune out irrelevant or distracting information. Find out how with these UCAT tips
for Abstract Reasoning.
Learn Common Abstract Reasoning Patterns
An important Abstract Reasoning tip is to learn the four categories of pattern types:
- 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.
- Shape: This could involve there being particular shapes in each box (for example, each box has two hexagons and a circle) or 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.
- 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.
- 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 won’t 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 from a UCAT course.
You can usually work it out with six key questions:
- Is there a colour pattern?
- Does the pattern concern the number of shapes?
- Does the pattern concern the types of shapes (e.g. all rectangles, all stars)?
- Does the pattern concern the size of shapes (e.g. three big, one small shape)?
- Is there symmetry in each panel of the set?
- Is there a ratio of shapes (e.g. two black squares for every circle)?
You might want to come up with your own set of questions to suit your style of thinking. Once you have this set of questions, it should become easier to recognise patterns.
Learn Some Abstract Reasoning Mnemonics
To help you identify patterns in the Abstract Reasoning section, there are a number of mnemonics which are widely used. They can help you narrow down the possible relationships between the test shape and sets, as well as sequence-type questions.
It’s a good idea to learn:
CPR: Common and Colour, Position, 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/anticlockwise 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 can 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.
Try To Improve Speed Over Time
Speed is important in the UCAT test, but our advice 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.
Know When To Flag For Review
If you get stuck on a pattern for more than a minute, flag it so you can come back to it later. Most patterns will jump out at you within the first 30 seconds – and it’s much more important to answer every question than waste minutes trying to answer one of the more complicated questions.
You can go back and review any flagged questions when you reach the end of the test.
Practise In Test Conditions
The best way to practise for Abstract Reasoning is to use a UCAT Question Bank because it most closely replicates the real test. It allows you to pay close attention to your timing and practise using functionality like flagging questions for review.