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5 UCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips to Save Time And Improve Your Score

Published on
April 15, 2024

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest is unlike other traditional exam questions that you will have encountered during high school. This UCAT subtest has a long-standing reputation with students for being one of the trickiest UCAT sections that demands a high level of accuracy and the ability to spot the shifting trends inside abstract patterns.

In addition, the Abstract Reasoning subtest helps the UCAT Consortium penalise students who spend more than the estimated time to identify patterns. Hence, this subtest is thought of as a highly time-pressured section as well.

In addition to time constraints, the Abstract Reasoning subtest has previously intimidated students because the abstract patterns are purposefully designed to confuse and, to a large extent, appear random in appearance. During the UCAT exam, students are required to draw solid insights from these alternating abstract shapes to provide the correct response.

The Abstract Reasoning section therefore measures your ability to work against the clock and while correctly recognising the right shift in trends. We will now discuss the five viable UCAT Abstract Reasoning tips that can improve your score and help you succeed in this section under time pressure.

1. Learn To Spot Different Abstract Reasoning Patterns

Making sense of Abstract Reasoning patterns may initially seem laborious, mainly due to the random composition of the shapes. However, the more Abstract Reasoning questions you solve, the more your recognition of the alternating shapes strengthens.

Although the shapes are abstract, you may want to acknowledge that these patterns have an innate commonality or follow a similar shift in trends from one box to another. The key here is to identify the change in shapes quickly. So, the most beneficial thing to master during practice in this section is speed.

It is somewhat reassuring to know that only a finite number of patterns exist within this UCAT subtest, so there is no need to panic that a vast array of new pattern-types may emerge during the exam and deteriorate your performance.

A good technique to use while you are preparing is to create a pattern list that is detailed and consists of different patterns you faced during your UCAT practice questions. Then, note down plausible techniques that could systematically help you solve such a question during the UCAT exam

Another Abstract Reasoning tip worthy of consideration is to learn the classification of pattern types.

Common Abstract Reasoning Pattern types:

  1. Numbers - This includes the number of shapes in a box or in total, the total number of sides, intersections, and number of circles/squares.
  2. Shapes - This signifies any particular repetition of a shape or addition of a new shape within a box, as well as changes in orientation, or the presence of ‘wriggly’ patterns. 
  3. Colour - Different colours in a box can be slightly distracting if you don't heed to them. Recognise the shift in shapes and don't fixate on the colours too much.
  4. Arrangement - This is particularly important as shapes can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, rotated 90 or 180 degrees, or changed in clockwise or anticlockwise format.

2. Mark The Duration Spent On Different Abstract Patterns

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning section is recognised to be the shortest section in the UCAT series, with only 12 minutes allocated to attempt 50 questions in total! However, this UCAT subtest constitutes the second largest number of questions, second only to the Situational Judgement Test, with 66 questions over 26 minutes!

So it is evident that time is of utmost importance in the Abstract Reasoning subtest, and it is best not to get carried away when you solve tricky question types. After all, some of the patterns are intentionally designed to be complicated, so you need to know how long you can invest per question to keep track of time. 

When you practice before the exam, you may observe that you can easily obsess over a single question and lose out on time. To prevent this, during your UCAT prep, mark the duration spent per pattern-type question and note which patterns are easy for you to identify, and the patterns that you often struggle to solve. This method is systematic and can highlight each pattern-type as well as the potential roadblocks you may encounter with them.

A good resource to note these questions down is to use the Fraser’s UCAT Question Log tool downloadable from the Fraser’s UCAT website.

Once you become accustomed to the varying question types and the applicable technique, you can accordingly adjust the time spent on each question. This technique helps you focus more on complex abstract patterns over lower yield questions. 

3. Flag Questions That Take Longer Than A Minute

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning challenges you to recognise visuo-spatial equations and abstract patterns quickly. So if you dedicate longer than one minute to resolve any Abstract Reasoning question, you are probably overthinking it. 

The key is to make an informed guess, flag the question, and move on. Flagging is often an overused technique in the UCAT exam but is observed as an effective method by UCAT test-sitters. It allows time at the end of the exam to readdress complex intricate patterns. Flagging or Ctrl + F, (a keyboard shortcut also helpful during the UCAT exam), mainly helps you to manage time and yield more marks on questions that you are comfortable solving. 

It is worthwhile to remember that the UCAT does not have negative marking, so do not hesitate to make an educated guess and move on. It is best not to leave any question unanswered as there is still a chance of guessing the answer correctly.

4. Knowing Common Abstract Reasoning Mnemonics

A Mnemonic is an efficient tool to learn concepts that are hard to remember by creating a simple pattern of letters or associations that can assist your memory. For example, in high school, you may have been asked to learn the order of the planets, and this popular mnemonic often worked wonders: 'My (Mercury) Very (Venus) Excellent (Earth) Mom (Mars) Just (Jupiter) Served (Saturn) Us (Uranus) Noodles (Neptune)'.

So, how are mnemonics essential to abstract thinking? Even though the Abstract Reasoning section is dissimilar to high school concepts, it is typically a measure of your pattern recognition skills. So this UCAT subtest, like others, can be mastered by revisiting the basics.

In order to help you identify patterns quickly, there are Abstract Reasoning mnemonics that you can memorise to improve your performance. These mnemonics come in handy when you have to figure out the relationship between two sets, (Set A and Set B), as well as in sequential questions. There are two types of Abstract Reasoning mnemonic that you can choose between, and they are classified as follows:

  1. The CPR Mneumonic - Colour/Common, Position and Rotation
  2. The SCAN Mneumonic - Symmetry/Shape, Colour, Arrangement and Number. 

5. Choose Study Materials That Suit Your Style Of Preparation

While preparing for the Abstract Reasoning section, the final and most crucial phase is to align your thinking to match the test requirements. It is good to remember that abstract thinking is often a learned skill, something that does not come naturally to everyone. You can achieve a high score in this section, provided that you maximise on good practice resources, and take time out to obtain insights from experienced UCAT tutors

As this section may seem overwhelming and intimidating to many, it is also advised to undertake mock exams, however, a tutor's supervision can be more beneficial. On this basis, you receive instant feedback that can enhance your learning experience by a great deal. Similarly, you should attempt numerous Abstract Reasoning practice tests and exploit the Fraser’s question bank to cultivate a knack for pattern recognition and to tailor your thought process for the day of examination.

Where To Next?

When you begin the initial preparation phase, focus less on time and build your accuracy in spatial equations and abstract patterns. Once you are familiar with the question types and are confident when posed with Abstract Reasoning questions, you can incorporate timing into your preparation.

Don’t forget to check out our Free Resources and tools to guide you on your UCAT prep and debunk myths around the UCAT exam.