UCAT Abstract Reasoning: The Definitive Guide

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What is the UCAT?

First thing’s first, let’s start with the basics.

The UCAT is the ‘University Clinical Aptitude Test’, a 2-hour exam sat between the 1st July and 1st October just before you send off your medical school application.

The UCAT is part of the entry requirements for nearly every medical and dental school in the UK and aims to set apart applicants based on mental aptitude rather than academic knowledge.

The idea behind this is that it sets a level playing field for all candidates and doesn’t discriminate based on your academic background.

Different universities weight your UCAT score differently in their admissions criteria, meaning getting a good score matters if you’re applying to certain Medical Schools but not others. The test consists of 5 sections which are all weighted slightly differently.

These sections are Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.

This article focusses on the Abstract Reasoning section.

Introduction to Abstract Reasoning

Abstract Reasoning is the fourth and penultimate section of the UCAT. The aim of this section is to assess your ability to identify patterns in sets of shapes and decide which shape comes next in the sequence.

This sounds pretty reasonable, but the test tries to throw you off by also including some irrelevant data that may lead you to make the wrong decision if you’re not careful (sneaky, I know).

With this section, it’s important to note that just because you’ve found one pattern in the shapes, it doesn’t mean that it is the right pattern.

According to the UCAT website, this section measures your ability to ‘change track, critically evaluate and generate hypotheses’.

Abstract Reasoning is sometimes the section of the UCAT that some people struggle with the most.

There are lots of questions in a very short space of time, so you have to be really on it with identifying the right pattern if you’re going to get through everything.

At first, this section can seem the most unfamiliar because there aren’t any words anywhere, you just get given a set of shapes and have to go from there.

If you have an abstract brain you’re really lucky because you’re likely to enjoy this section and do really well in it.

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Why is Abstract Reasoning included?

Like all the other UCAT sections, Abstract Reasoning is a skill you’ll use throughout your whole career as a doctor.

It involves the use of your non-verbal and visuo-spatial ability, which is actually a lot more common in medicine than you’d think. Non-verbal skills are essential for patient interactions as what you don’t say can be just as important as what you do (actions speak louder than words!).

A good visuo-spatial ability will help you with anatomy and visualising parts of the body, especially where there are complicated components inside a small space.

The other application of Abstract Reasoning in medicine is in diagnosis.

You’re often presented with a large amount of complicated information, some of which is more relevant than others. You’re required to pick out the important bits of information and use them to guide your judgement, which is similar to what you do in the Abstract Reasoning questions.

Making decisions and judgements based on the information you’re given will allow you to make the best decision for the patient, and the one that’s most likely to work the best too.

The third application of this type of reasoning is in research (much like the other sections of the UCAT). The field of research progresses by researchers studying trends and patterns in data and drawing up new hypotheses based on this.

Abstract Reasoning Question Set

What are the questions in Abstract Reasoning like?

Number Of Questions55
Total Time1 minute reading + 13 minutes testing (total 14 minutes)
Time Per Question14 seconds

At first glance, 14 seconds doesn’t seem like much time at all, especially in comparison with other sections of the UCAT.

However, Abstract Reasoning questions come in sets, so once you’ve understood the rules of the pattern, you can quickly answer the remaining questions in the set.

Each part of this section provides you with a series of shapes and requires you to answer four questions on it.

There are a number of data sets presented with 55 questions to answer in total. You only have about 14 seconds to answer each question if you’re going to get through them all, so you need to be fairly speedy!

Luckily, once you’ve figured out the right pattern, answering the questions only takes a few seconds. The problem with this section is that there is a lot of other ‘distracting’ material included in the sets of shapes, to try and throw you off.

Abstract Reasoning Question Types

There are four different types of questions you can face in this section.

TYPE #1

You’ll be given two sets called ‘Set A’ and ‘Set B’. The question will ask you which set the shape belongs in (A, B or neither).

TYPE #2

You’ll be given a series of shapes and asked which shape is the next in the sequence.

TYPE #3

You’ll be given a statement about a set of shapes with the shapes shown below the statement. You’ll be asked to select the shape that completes the statement.

TYPE #4

Again, you’ll be given a ‘Set A’ and a ‘Set B’, you’ll then be asked which answer option belongs in one of the sets.

Abstract Reasoning Answer Types

As I’ve mentioned above, each question type has a different way of formatting their answers.

With questions of Type 1 and Type 4, you will have the options of ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘neither’.

Type 2 and Type 3 will have four shapes that could complete the sequence and you’re expected to choose the correct one.

The key to discovering the correct answer is to come up with a set of questions to ask yourself for each set of shapes. Having a systematic way of looking at each question will help you to eliminate what isn’t the connecting factor.

For example:

  1. How many shapes are there in each box?
  2. What colour or colour order are the shapes in?
  3. How many sides do the shapes have?
  4. Do the shapes or colours rotate around in an order?
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Worked Example Abstract Reasoning Practice Questions & Answers

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 1

Which is the next shape in the sequence? Get the answer.

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 1

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 2

Which is the next shape in the sequence? Get the answer.

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 2

Answer choices:

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 2.1

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 3

Which set does each shape belong to – set A, set B or neither? Get the answer.

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 3

Answer choices:

Abstract Reasoning Practice Question 3.1

Careful scrolling beyond this point if you are working through the questions yourself!

Abstract Reasoning Worked Solution

Q1 Answer: A.

The pattern involves the ‘L’ shape only. The L shape moves clockwise as you go down the boxes, and each time is reflected. There is no pattern to the circle and star, they just move randomly to try and distract you.

Therefore, by following this rule, the only logical answer is A

Q2 Answer: C.

In the original pattern, the outer shape (pentagon) and the inner shape (triangle) switch over. This means that the pentagon becomes smaller and moves inside, and the triangle becomes bigger and contains the pentagon. The four arrows that were pointing to the outside of the main box are moved inside the pentagon, and point in a clockwise direction.

The only answer option that follows this pattern is C. You’ll see that the cross from the first box ends up inside the other shape, and the smaller circles and triangles are the innermost shapes that point in a clockwise direction. The change in colours just serves as a distraction from the pattern in the shapes. You’ll find that none of the other answer options follow this pattern.

Q3 Answers:

  1. Set A
  2. Neither
  3. Set B
  4. Neither

Set A – the common theme here is that the vertical arrows have horizontal stripes, the horizontal arrows have diagonal stripes and the diagonal arrows are white.

Set B – there are 2 white diagonal arrows in each box. The vertical arrows have diagonal stripes going up from left to right, and the horizontal arrows have horizontal stripes.

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How is Abstract Reasoning scored?

For every section of the UCAT, you’ll be given a score between 300 and 900 (300 being the worst, 900 being the best).

This makes 600 the median score for each section. Each question is worth 1 mark, making the section worth 55 points in total. This score is then scaled up to give your final score.

The average score for the Abstract Reasoning section generally sits between 630 and 640.

Each year, this information is published along with all the other test statistics on the UCAT website.

Below is a table showing the average scores for the Abstract Reasoning section over the last 4 years

YearAverage score for Abstract Reasoning Section
2016630
2017629
2018637
2019638
doctors-looking-at-a-patients-chart

Top Tips for Abstract Reasoning

Abstract Reasoning can be a difficult section if it doesn’t suit your style of thinking.

Here is a list of our top tips to help you do well in this section.

1

Know your time limits.

When you first realise that you only have about 15 seconds to answer each question, it may seem like this could be the most time-pressured part of the test. It often isn’t because you don’t have any reading to do, but it’s useful to know what sort of time pressures you’re working against.

2

Have a set method to go through in your head.

This will save you so much time and make you more comfortable as you go through practice questions.

3

Come up with a mnemonic.

Lots of people come up with mnemonics to help them remember what questions to ask themselves on each question. Come up with a set of questions to ask yourself and create a way to remember them that works for you. Here are some common ones candidates use;

CPRCommon and Colour, Position and Rotation and Orientation

SCANSShapes, Colour, Arrangement, Number and Size

BADCATBorders, Arrangement, Dimensions, Colour, Angles and Transitions

If none of these tickle your fancy, just make your own memorable mnemonic.

4

Practice, practice, practice!

This section may seem difficult at first but it’s probably the one that you’ll improve most on over time. As you learn the most common sequence pattern in practice questions, you’ll know what to look for and be able to find it more quickly!

Just like any other section of the UCAT, you’ll get quicker and better the more you do.

5

Flag and move on!

If you’re not sure about an answer, flag the question, move on and come back to it at the end (if you’ve got time). It’s always more worthwhile getting through more questions than getting through only half the section, even if you get that half all right!

6

Don’t let the “distractors” do their job!

Remember that there are some shapes and colours there to distract you! Don’t get bogged down if you can’t figure out why certain aspects of the sequence are there, it’s likely that they’re not relevant at all!

Closing Notes For UCAT Abstract Reasoning

We hope this short guide has given you a good idea of what the Abstract Reasoning section of the UCAT is about.

This is arguably the simplest section of the test, as you’re able to use a set method (asking certain questions) to go through the shapes systematically, unlike with other sections where arguments can be open to interpretation and it’s more difficult to be sure of the correct one.

Don’t forget that Abstract Reasoning is an important part of medicine and you’ll improve with time – even after you sit the UCAT, you’ll be using this skill for the rest of your career.

Finally, all of us at 6med want to wish you good luck with your prep and we hope you ace it on test day!

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