3 min read

Miss Giulia Bankov • April 12, 2019

Giulia is a graduate medical student at the University of Glasgow. She previously studied Neuroscience at King's College London and completed her Cognitive Neurobiology and Clinical Neurophysiology degree at the University of Amsterdam 

One of the most dreaded subsections of the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is undoubtedly the Abstract Reasoning. The ability to spot patterns from a set of unknown information is an important skill for everyone looking to get into medical school or studies medicine and the AR section of the exam tests exactly that ability.


UCAT Abstract Reasoning timing

 Time Number of Questions
13 Minutes  55 Questions 

In the Abstract Reasoning, you will have 13 minutes to answer 55 questions, each associated with sets of shapes. You will usually be asked whether the given test shape fits in Set A, Set B or in neither, or what the next shape in the series of shapes provided is going to be. For more information on the Abstract Reasoning subtest, be sure to check out UCAT Consortium’s official website guidelines.


Always start simple

The important thing to remember when dealing with Abstract Reasoning questions is that the rule must hold true for every single box, even the simplest ones. So by starting with the simplest box, even if it contains only one or two shapes, you will know that those shapes have to conform to the pattern. It is a lot easier to spot this pattern in the simple boxes, as that means there are less or no distractors in there at all. Once you have identified what you might think is the pattern, check against the rest of the boxes in that same set - if they conform to the pattern too, you have discovered the correct answer. 

Be able to recognise patterns

As with everything else, mastering the Abstract Reasoning section of the UCAT comes with practice and preparation. You will quickly learn to spot the patterns if you know what patterns you are looking for. So keep a mental list of all the things you want to check for when looking for a pattern - are there recurring types of shapes, what is their size, colour or orientation, as well as the number of shapes.
Be wary of relationships between two or more characteristics of the shapes, e.g. every time the shape is rotated sideways, it is grey. To remember all possible characteristics that you are looking for, coming up with a unique mnemonic that you are able to readily recall during the exam is a helpful tool. 

Start slow… but pick it up as you go

Don’t get too bogged down with time in the beginning, especially if questions of this type are unfamiliar to you. Make sure you get comfortable with reading such sets of shapes and you feel confident in your knowledge of what you’re looking for before you incorporate timing into your preparation. 
Don’t be confused - timing is of the essence throughout the entire UCAT exam but it is better to be confident in your skills and answer 80% of the questions correctly, even if you have to guess the rest than getting nervous about the time constraints and failing to spot even the simplest of patterns. Start slow and work your way up as you go through the practice questions, incorporating the newly learned techniques.

Learn to spot the distractors

The UCAT and especially the Abstract Reasoning section loves to throw the occasional curveball at you with unnecessary information that is meant to distract you from your goal, which is finding the pattern. Often the difference between a good score and a great score is your knowledge not only into what techniques can lead you to the correct answer but insight into what the common traps are. So make notes as you go through practice tests of what common traps you come across and remember to look out for them on test day.

Practice makes perfect

You’ve heard this before and you will probably hear it again - but practice is the key to a high UCAT score. The more you see and study these patterns before test day, the wider variety of patterns you will have come across and the higher the chances that you will be able to spot a familiar pattern on the actual exam. Practising loads in advance will also make you more comfortable with the format of the exam and when the day comes, you will be ready to ace the Abstract Reasoning subtest of the UCAT.

For practising Abstract Reasoning and other subtests of the UCAT, theMSAG offers a comprehensive UCAT Course with loads of opportunities to practice tricky questions. We hope you found these tips for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning section helpful and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at hello@theMSAG.com

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