The UCAT is an extremely difficult exam consisting of 5 main components. Of these, UCAT Abstract Reasoning is considered by most the hardest. I mean, how many other times in your life do you need to pick out patterns in pictures of shapes? Here are my 3 top tips to help prepare you for one of the most challenging obstacles on your way to getting into medical school.
There are a few of my peers who claim that as soon as they saw the first set of shapes, they could immediately see a pattern, and from then on they got every other question after this correct. It is not that easy!
From my point of view, it is best to not time yourself for at least the first 10 or 15 shapes as this can become very stressful very quickly! Take your time, scan the whole set of shapes, and put each set through a set of questions to rule out obvious patterns. For example:
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. 3 big, 1 small shape)?
Is there symmetry in each panel of the set?
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.
As I mentioned above, it is important first to master the technique of looking at each set as a whole. After this, timing becomes a factor. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will fly through this section because as soon as you spot a pattern you will be able to answer 5 or 6 questions in a short amount of time. There will be at least 1 or 2 patterns which you will have to make educated guesses on. These are the real areas which will test your time management skills.
In total, you have 13 minutes to answer 55 questions, averaging at just under 15 seconds a question, which is not a lot of time. Once you become accustomed to answering questions, time yourself.
Most importantly, be strict; the UKCAT is a computer based examination and it will NOT wait if you don’t manage to answer all the questions! As per my schedule, I started timing myself a month before my scheduled examination, then a couple of weeks before, I gave myself exactly the amount of time I would be given in the exam, before then giving myself 2 or 3 seconds less for each question to take into account the practicalities of answering the questions on a computer, without paper.
3. You can come back to each set at the end of the section!
This is probably my most important advice. If you get stuck on a pattern for more than a minute, LEAVE IT. Most patterns you spot will jump out at you within the first 30 seconds, and it is much more important to answer each pattern than get stuck for 3 minutes trying to answer one of the more complicated ones.
Words: Ben Fox
Want more UKCAT Abstract Reasoning tips? Read more here: