How to Score Highly on the Abstract Reasoning Section of the UCAT

Abstract reasoning (AR) is the fourth subtest section in the UCAT. It tests your critical evaluation skills by testing your ability to sense and identify patterns. In this subtest you will be required to spot trends, ignore the irrelevant data and figure out the next pattern of shapes in the sequence given to arrive at the correct answer.

The average score for this section from the years 2018-2021 ranged between 637-651, however, ideally a high score in this section would be considered as 750+. Generally speaking, having a score of 700+ in the 4 cognitive sections (abstract reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning) or a 2840+ total score with a band 1 in situational judgement would very likely put you in the top 10% of test-takers and put you well above the UCAT cut-offs set by various universities.

About

  • This section has 50 questions
  • Total time given – 12 minutes (plus 1 minute for instructions)
  • Rough time given per question – 14 seconds

As these questions come in sets, once a pattern is figured out, you will be able to solve the rest of the questions in the set in a matter of seconds. Therefore, what is crucial in this section is to not waste precious seconds by panicking and to instead think rationally in order to understand the pattern otherwise this section can feel quite time pressured. However, this is one section where plenty of practice comes in handy as you will then be able to easily figure out the different patterns since they tend to repeat themselves throughout the questions.

Types of questions

There will primarily be 4 types of questions you will get in this section.

  1. Type 1 (Set A, B or Neither) – You will be given two sets (‘Set A’ and ‘Set B’). You will also be given a shape in the question and be asked whether the shape belongs in ‘Set A’, ‘Set B’, or ‘Neither’. 

This is the most common question type with roughly 45-50 questions being of this type. (9-10 sets of 5 questions each)

  1. Type 2 (Complete the sequence) – You will be given a set of shapes and will be asked to choose the next in the sequence.
  2. Type 3 (Complete the statement) – You will be given a statement using two shapes in a this is to that way and will be asked to complete the remaining statement.
  3. Type 4 (Set A or Set B) – You will be given two sets and will be asked to choose which of the 4 answer choices will belong to either Set A or Set B.

Tips for a high score in AR

Plenty of practice

This is an obvious one but plenty of practice is crucial the develop the skills and speed needed for this section. Practising can help you figure out the common patterns and rules. This will in turn help you develop effective strategies to tackle this section with ease. As per usual the same strategy may not work for everyone and so what is most advised is that once you have familiarized yourself with the different types of patterns, try using a few different strategies to solve similar types of questions to find out which one works best for you and helps you solve the problem quickly. Once a strategy has been decided, it is often best to stick to it as it can help your brain focus and recognise patterns more regularly as it will become a sort of muscle memory and will ensure you do not panic if a pattern seems tricky.

Think of Mnemonics

Coming up with mnemonics is an easy way to ensure you consider all the important bits when remembering what you should be looking out for to figure out different patterns. This will help you to have a structured approach and consider all the different angles you should be approaching the problem from. Given below are some common mnemonics that most students use. You are of course free to come up with your own if those are easier to remember, however, for FutureDoc’s personal favourites, you will have to attend our course to get guidance from our tutors.

CPR – Common and Colour, Position and Rotation and Orientation

SCANS – Shapes, Colour, Arrangement, Number and Size

BADCAT – Borders, Arrangement, Dimensions, Colour, Angles and Transitions

SSSPNShape, Size, Shading, Position, Number

SPONCSShape, Pattern, Orientation, Number, Colour, Sides

NSPCANumber, Shapes, Position, Colour, Arrangement

Identify the least filled box

Once you have identified the box that is most empty, it will be easier to detect patterns in the box as there will be less information to consider. It might even help you figure out what the irrelevant details in the more filled up boxes are.

Use different perspectives

Sometimes it might not be very obvious what the pattern is and even using tried and tested strategies/mnemonics might not help. In such situations, it might be helpful to zoom out a bit and view the set as a whole instead of individual shapes. You could look at the computer from a different distance (go closer or farther out) or you could perhaps tilt your head a bit. If this still does not help, your best bet would be to make and guess, flag the question, and move on. If you have time at the end, come back to the question and view it with a fresh pair of eyes (as you would have done several questions after) and a new perspective.

Begin with the end

In addition to trying different perspectives, if you are having difficulty finding the pattern, it might help to shake things up a bit. Flag the question you are having difficulty in. When you come back to it, start with the answer choices you have been given and figure out what the pattern is there. What is the thing that keeps changing in each answer choice? Is it the number of shapes? The rotation?  That thing is likely to be the pattern you are supposed to be on the lookout for. Once you have figured this pattern out, go back to the question sets and try to apply the pattern.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It is quite easy to fall in the trap of overconfidence and choosing an answer as soon as you figure out the pattern in one or a couple of images in the set. However, it is crucial to check the pattern against the other images as well since it may sometimes only hold true for a few but not all of them and this would lead to you making careless mistakes. It will only take a few seconds to cross-check the pattern and will ensure you got the pattern right. 

Avoid distractions

Don’t get carried away trying to overcomplicate things in order to incorporate each and every small shape given in the sets. Some details would have purposely been put there to distract you from the main pattern and it is up to you to figure out what these are. With practice, you would automatically start seeing patterns and ignoring the irrelevant details and using the mnemonics would help. Once you find a pattern, check it with eh other boxes and move on, don’t try to fit the other small shapes into the pattern. Also, more often than not, colour can be a distractor so be wary of this.

Common shapes and numbers

Figure out what the common shapes that show up are and memorise how many sides it has. For example, an arrow has 7 sides, a star has 10 sides, and a circle has 0 sides. This could help increase your speed in the numbers part of the set. For instance, there could be a pattern where each shape in a set could have 2,3 or 7 sides (these are all prime numbers) whereas the other set could have shapes with 2, 4 or 6 sides (these are all even numbers), so the same pattern would follow in whatever shape comes next.

Strategy Steps

  1. Start with the simplest box in one of the sets and try to figure out the pattern using the help of mnemonics and different perspectives.
  2. Compare the first box to the next simplest box to help determine the pattern. 
  3. Check to quickly see if the pattern holds true for the other boxes in the set.
  4. Move to the next set and repeat the above steps.
  5. Both the sets would have different but similar types of patterns, so once you have figured out the pattern for the first set, the second set should be relatively easy. 
  6. If you are unable to find the pattern in the first set after the first couple of steps then move on to the second set right away. If still unable to find a pattern, then make a guess and move on to the next one so as to not waste time.

Summary

Abstract reasoning questions can seem time-pressured as this is the section you are given the least time for. However, knowing what strategy works for you is half the game. Once you have figured this out and have done sufficient practise, your speed will improve greatly and so will your mind’s ability to sense patterns.

As mentioned earlier on in the article, a competitive UCAT score would be getting 700+ in all 4 sections (verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning) and a band 1 in SJT. If you want to have a competitive score on your UCAT, check out our brand new ‘Ace the UCAT’ course, which includes:

  • 200+ lessons
  • 20 hours of video lessons
  • 350+ practice questions, with Dr Hilton walking you through the answers and the best way to tackle them
  • Lots of support and help with the UCAT
  • UCAT advice

If you want help getting into your dream university then also be sure to check out our Elite Coaching Programme. As part of this programme, you will get in-depth help with the entire application process from whatever stage you join at till you get into the medical school of your choice. This is done through 1-on-1 mentoring and the founder of the course, Dr Ashley Hilton is always available for any questions. You can find out more about the Elite Programme here. 

However, if you choose not to join the FutureDoc team and this article is the last time you engage with us then best of luck for the future and I hope you’re able to get into the medical school of your choice!

 

Written By Muskaan Sharma