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Abstract Reasoning for UCAT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Published on
April 15, 2024

Abstract Reasoning is the fourth subtest you tackle on the UCAT test day. Amongst its counterparts, UCAT AR is the only subtest with a unique take on assessing an applicant’s aptitude through visuo-spatial patterns. 

We often come across a range of concerns from students around the abstract reasoning test. In our years of expertise in the UCAT, the common reason for doubt in AR is the ambiguity in question-styles and the lack of knowledge around how to develop abstract thinking skills. So our goal in this article is to resolve commonly asked AR questions as well as dive deeper into the foundation and importance of this subtest.

What is the Purpose of the Abstract Reasoning Test?

In order to get to the roots of the above question, we need to deliberate the objective of including an Abstract Reasoning assessment within the UCAT in the first place.

Since the UCAT made it to the front page of a majority of medical school’s admission guide, it was equally necessary that the type of questions included were challenging and unorthodox as opposed to the generic examination process to really gauge the potential of future medical practitioners. 

Having said that, one of the UCAT’s subsections - Abstract Reasoning though not the hardest, succinctly evaluates your practical cleverness and deduction skills, crucial for medical practice. Besides, in Abstract Reasoning you are meant to identify the shifting trends in a given twisted pattern which is similar to how you would come up with complex medical diagnoses for your patients. 

Often, you will integrate the best medical evidence - peer-reviewed journals and clinical research into your expertise and ensure all speculations are weighed to deliver quality patient care. This is precisely why it was crucial to include abstract reasoning questions in the UCAT.

How Many Questions are There in UCAT Abstract Reasoning?

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning consists of 55 questions and a standard test time of 13 minutes with additional 1-minute reading time given to all eligible students, unless you have a special request for access arrangements. 

The following flowchart summarises the types of questions you will encounter in Abstract Reasoning:


How to Improve Abstract Reasoning UCAT?

Abstract Reasoning, otherwise referred to as the ‘pattern recognition’ section, is intimidating. However, you need to realise that not all AR questions can be solved through out-of-the-box thinking and in reality, a nuanced analysis of what’s within the box will help you through most questions.

Let’s look into some of the Abstract Reasoning UCAT tips that you can reinforce during your practice sessions and on the actual test day.

1. Always start with the simplest box. 

Keep it simple. Be it in your strategy or thinking, start putting your deductive skills to use with a box that has the lowest number of alternating shapes. Abstract Reasoning patterns are unapologetically confusing and by giving into that distraction, you stray away from the real solution. Avoid making contact with a box that has too many shape distractors and instead focus on changing trends in the simplest box to compare it with a complicated looking box. Identify any relevance or common occurrence between them. On this basis, the time you spend per AR question-type will be relatively less!

2. Become Skillful at Using Abstract Reasoning Mnemonics.

Two commonly used mnemonics to swiftly identify the shifting trends in patterns are - CPR (Color, Position and Rotation) and SCAN (Symmetry/Shape, Colour, Arrangement, Number). As you can see, these abbreviations direct your focus in a disciplined manner. By using mnemonics, you have a preset trajectory to help decipher the arrangement of the shapes and trends.

3. Try the Periodic Interval Training Method.

This UCAT technique needs to be slowly mastered during your UCAT study period. In this periodic interval training, you begin by devoting 60 seconds (or more) per pattern question and gradually decreasing the time to 13 or 14 seconds. The ideal time to finish a question on the actual UCAT day. This technique reinforces the idea of repetitive learning as you are continuously introducing newly adopted measures to get to the bottom of the question. 

What is a Good UCAT Abstract Reasoning Score?

The UCAT is scored out of 3,600 marks. This total marks is spread across the first four UCAT subsections - Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning

You will receive scaled scores marked between 300 - 900 marks for each subsection which will then be added to give you the overall UCAT score. The Situational Judgement, however marked differently, classifies your performance into a band score from 1 - 4, where ‘1’ denotes high performance and ‘4’ a low performance.

Each year the UCAT Consortium releases the interim statistics, which is a predicted mean score for each section based on past student performances. Kindly note that the interim scores are not the final scores achieved in a year but a reflection of the possible changes within each section score. In addition to this, the increasing competition within your cohort and the relative efforts they put into one UCAT subsection over another is also responsible for fluctuation in the average UCAT scores annually.

Since the UCAT was conducted in 2020, there has been a notable increase in the individual section scores to be ranked in the 90th decile as per the interim statistics. This spike in the UCAT scores was distinctly visible in Verbal Reasoning (680)  and Abstract Reasoning (800). 

To put it simply, the statistics reflect that the cohort of UCAT students competing each year has devoted abundant time to attune their abstract thinking and reasoning skills. This brings us to our next point, how to master the art of abstract thinking.

The Importance of Abstract Thinking in Medicine

Abstract thinking, unlike concrete thinking which is a linear thinking style, is the ability to absorb, process and contemplate a magnitude of complex data to form logical connections to the wider world.

In simpler words, an abstract thinker puts things in perspective and has higher-order reasoning skills when challenged with absurd concepts. 

One of the strong reasons to develop abstract thinking abilities for a healthcare professional is to interpret and condense the information disclosed by a patient. Often this information will encompass the patient’s medical history, allergies to specific medications and other prior diagnoses. The plethora of information in a patient’s case file may deviate you from the original diagnosis and worse push you to overlook some important factors. 

In such cases, a practitioner who has attuned their abstract thinking skills is more likely to nitpick the relevant from the irrelevant information. 

Moreover, the term ‘Abstract Thinking’ is often misinterpreted as someone with a creative mind and although it is true to an extent, the underlying meaning of this phrase is solving problems based on relevance and lived experiences.

How can I Improve my Abstract Thinking?

As you can see, abstract thinking is integral to quality patient-care which is precisely why refining it during your premedical phase can prove to be beneficial in the long run.

When we analyse the relevance of abstract thinking in the UCAT, you will notice that in UCAT Abstract Reasoning, you are constantly working with convoluted shapes and patterns. Besides, the shapes are arranged in a vague manner and few boxes have new shapes introduced to challenge your thinking senses. 

Here are a few practical tips to improve your abstract thinking and reasoning skills for the UCAT:

  1. Take interest in solving riddles and puzzles. Try to quiz yourself on various themes and worldly topics to see where you stand intellectually.
  2. Learn to improvise when you are stuck in a problem. Our PBL sessions induced in our UCAT courses allow you to explore and interpret the concepts with open-mindedness.
  3. Explore the characteristics of optical illusions. Sometimes photographs or art, developed through abstract colours, streaks and patterns can help to deduce the intention of the artist. This can be a great mechanism to drill your abstract thinking skills.

Importantly, you can always undertake our UCAT diagnostic mock exams to implement the above strategies and get a fair idea of where you stand with UCAT AR. Besides, enrolling into our comprehensive and concentrated course packages will give you an edge to score well in the UCAT. These courses give you access to over 2000+ practice questions, 20 mini-mocks and 10 full mocks alongside a personal mentor who will walk every step of the way in your UCAT prep!

To understand more about the benefits of our course packages, get in touch with the Fraser’s faculty and book a 30-minute FREE one-on-one consultation to ace the 2022 UCAT with the right trajectory.