The UCAT Abstract Reasoning section tests your pattern recognition skills with different types of shapes. The tricky aspect is to find the pattern amongst a whole host of irrelevant and distracting material. In a similar sort of way, this is what doctors go through on a daily basis.
In a consultation with a patient, doctors need to filter out any points that are not relevant, but at the same time keep an eye out for key pieces of information that will influence the patient’s diagnosis and treatment.
Tips to help you succeed in Abstract Reasoning
1. Get familiar with Abstract Reasoning question types
There are four types of abstract reasoning questions: Type 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Type 1 and 4 are similar in that there are two sets (A or B) of shapes given (see Figure 1 for an example of a Type 1 Question). Type 1 questions ask you to choose which set a given test shape will belong to. Type 4 questions are subtly different in that you need to choose the test shape which matches either Set A or Set B from four potential options.
Type 2 and 3 questions assess how you respond to dynamic patterns. Type 2 questions ask you to identify which test shape ‘comes next’ in a sequence, and type 3 questions ask you to extrapolate the change of pattern that occurs between two shapes, to a new test shape.
Once you practice and get familiar with each question type, you will automatically feel more confident in approaching them. This means you will be able to answer each question type very quickly, giving you more chance to boost your score in this section.
2. Look for the pattern!
This may seem obvious. But, remember that the untrained candidates’ eye drift onto the test shape first, which only serves to waste valuable time.
Instead, start by identifying the pattern present. Once you get the pattern, you will then quickly be able to identify which Set each test shape fits into.
Looking at the picture below. The pattern is based on the total number of sides of the shapes in each box. In Set A, each box has an odd number of sides whereas Set B has an even number of sides. Once you figure this out, you can quickly match the five test shapes with ease. The total number of sides in the test shape is 17, therefore it fits into Set A.
3. It’s all about perspective…
Some patterns are easier to see when you are actually further away from the screen, for example shading, or the type of shapes in each box. Other patterns are easier to see when you are up close, such as the number of right-angles or sides.
So, if you are finding it hard to identify a pattern, it’s a good idea to change your distance from the screen. Move in and out. Look at the sets from different perspectives. It might look a bit strange in the exam, but who cares!
4. Why start with A?
Most people instinctively start Abstract Reasoning by looking for the pattern in Set A. But why? The patterns tend to be reciprocal. So if it’s the number of intersections in Set A it will be something to do with the number of intersections in Set B.
This means if you’re struggling to find the pattern in Set A, look at Set B. it might be easier! Once you’ve identified the pattern, you can then apply the ‘rules’ back to Set A and hopefully it will now be easier to spot.
5. Practice on a computer
The best practice for Abstract Reasoning is done on a computer. It most closely replicates the real thing, as well as allows you to pay closer attention to the timing. Remember, you only have 14 seconds for each type 2 and 3 question! When using books, it’s easy to forget about the timing, tricking you into a false sense of security.
As you practice these questions, you are, in a sense, re-wiring your brain to scan down a list of patterns. The more you do this, the better you will get. Abstract Reasoning is often the most feared section of the UKCAT, but also the one with the steepest learning curve. You quickly get good with practice. So keep at it and good luck in the UKCAT!