Alex | Founder of Medfully
22 May 4 min read

5 UCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips to Boost Your Score

UCAT: Abstract Reasoning Section Explained

Abstract reasoning is the 4th section that you’ll face on your UCAT exam. It will consist of 50 questions and you’ll be given 12 minutes to solve them all. Although 14 seconds per question doesn’t sound like a lot, with enough practise you’ll be able to go through the easier puzzles at the speed of light.

As the name suggests, the Abstract Reasoning section will test your ability to spot abstract patterns. Although seemingly unrelated to medicine, the skill to think abstractly is key in medicine - interpreting X-rays is based on the same principle!

There are two main types of questions - Type 1, where you have to assess if a box fits with the pattern in set A or in set B (or in neither) or Type 2, where you’ll have to state which pattern completes the series.

Initially, you may find Abstract Reasoning puzzles to be really daunting and time-consuming, but don’t be discouraged by that. We’ve all started from that point. Simply expose yourself to as many questions as you can apply the tips we’ve listed below and see yourself improve.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips:

📝 Keep track of patterns

With the Abstract Reasoning section, practice makes perfect - the more shapes you’ll expose yourself to, the easier and faster you’ll be to spot new patterns.

However, with the number of patterns being close to infinity, it can get overwhelming.

Therefore, you can keep track of all patterns you got wrong, to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again and remember the trickest patterns. Review that list each time before attempting AR questions to solidify that information

🔲 Start with the simplest box

Remember that the patterns hold for each box in the set, no matter how complex the box is.

You can save a lot of time by starting with the boxes having the lowest number of shapes/combinations. With fewer shapes to distract you, you should be able to spot the pattern with more ease.

Once you work out the pattern based on the simplest box, don’t forget to check if you can apply it to other boxes from the set.

⚠️ Learn key triggers

Although the number of boxes and sets that you can face is nearly endless, there are a few patterns that the UCAT consortium likes to use repeatedly:

  1. If you see a lot of arrows/triangles think about a pattern relating to their orientation.
  2. If you see 9 shapes, think about their position relative to each other (e.g. a star is always on the top of the square)
  3. If you see large shapes, think about a pattern related to size
  4. If you see clocks, chances are the pattern has something to do with the angles between the hands of the clock.
  5. If you see many similar shapes, think symmetry.
  6. If you see weird, unusual shapes think about curved shapes vs straight ones.
  7. If you see a quarter, half, 3/4 and full circles, think about a dependency pattern (e.g. 1/4 circle when one other shape, 1/2 circle when 2 shapes etc.)

Learn those triggers by heart, so that you don’t have to waste time trying to recall what the trigger was.

🔢 Expose yourself to loads of questions

Practise, practise, practise. Although that can apply to each section of the UCAT, it’s especially true for Abstract Reasoning.

You need to expose yourself to hundreds of questions to develop a hunch, an ‘AR intuition’. In other words, it won’t be enough to simply learn a list of patterns or triggers by heart, as you’ll waste time trying to recall the list.

You need to involve your unconscious, your System 1 thinking. And you can only get that by exposing yourself to as many questions as you can.


➡️ Be ruthless about skipping

Even if you are already a pro at pattern recognition, some sets can be incredibly tricky and insidious. The UCAT Consortium likes to set a few traps in each AR test for those candidates who are overconfident and think they can spot any pattern.

During the AR section, you need to be constantly looking at the clock and evaluate how much time you’ve spent on the question so far. Although you have around 14 seconds per question, it’s only an average - you’ll be able to answer some within 5 seconds and some within 35.

However, if you’re stuck and if you haven’t figured out a pattern within 40-60 seconds you should flag, guess and skip the set. You can always come back to it by the end if you have time, but you don’t want to miss the simpler points (which can sometimes hide by the end).

✅ UCAT Tips:

Did you learn something from the tips above? Take a look at our tips for other sections of the UCAT: