Complete Guide to passing UCAT's Abstract Reasoning

This guide has been created to help you understand and be confident in tackling the abstract reasoning section of your UCAT test.
UCAT-style Abstract Reasoning Tests

The UCAT/UKCAT abstract reasoning test is a very popular psychometric test used for medical and dental students/applicants.

The UCAT test, previously known as UKCAT, is used by a variety of UK medical and dental schools in their selection process.

There are various sections to the UCAT test assessing one’s mental abilities, attitudes and behaviours, with one section being abstract reasoning. Read on to follow our tips and advice and find practise tests to help you develop your abstract reasoning skills.

What is UCAT abstract reasoning?

UCAT Abstract Reasoning is used to assess your spatial awareness and lateral thinking.

The UCAT test is designed to assess your potential ability as a doctor/medical professional. In the medical profession, you will have to make accurate decisions based on a selection of accurate and misleading information, the UCAT test is created with the aim of assessing your ability to evaluate all this information and make accurate decisions.

There are both static and dynamic shapes and you have to identify the patterns among distracting material. UCAT, 2020

UKCAT practise questions - the following images are example questions taken from our full question bank:

UCAT abstract reasoning questions

There are four different types of questions you can face in the UCAT abstract reasoning test. Each type assesses your abstract reasoning skills but will require you to perform different tasks.

UKCAT question types are as follows:

Question Type 1

You will be presented with two sets of shapes, labelled ‘Set A’ and ‘Set B’. You will also be given a single shape and be asked to choose whether it belongs to ‘Set A’ or ‘Set B’ or neither.

Question Type 2

You will be presented with a series of shapes. You must figure out the sequence to then select the next shape in the series.

Question Type 3

You will be presented with a statement involving a group of shapes. Specific changes have been applied to one set of the shapes. You must then determine which shape completes the unfinished statement by following the logic presented to you by the first set of shapes.

Question Type 4

This question is similar in format to ‘Type 1’. You will be presented with two sets of shapes, ‘Set A’ and ‘Set B’. You must then select which of a selection of four answer options belongs to Set A or Set B.

If any of these test types seem confusing then don’t worry. It’s now time to familiarise yourself with them. You must now take this free UCAT practise test to better understand the format and have an actual attempt at tackling these types of questions.

UCAT abstract reasoning tips

We've outlined our main tips and advice for the UCAT abstract reasoning section. Ensure you absorb in all of this advice and try to replicate it for when you start attempting more practise questions.

The same rule could come up more than once. Just because a rule has been used before such as certain shading of shapes, this doesn’t mean that it can’t appear again. If you think it’s correct, don’t doubt yourself because it was the same rule used previously.

There could be more than one rule for a question. This can seem daunting but try to make it a positive, this means that there are various opportunities for you to find the correct answer.

A rule only counts if it can be applied to both sets. A rule that works for Set A must work for Set B for it to count e.g. if there is a rule about shading/colour of a shape then it must also apply to Set B for it to work.

Practise is going to take time. Don’t be stressed or worried if your first few practise questions don’t go the way you wanted them to. You’re not going to immediately understand these questions and be an expert. Follow these tips, take as many tests as you can, and then you’ll be in good shape to take the test - you will know when you feel ready and prepared.

Use SCANS to help you start to identify patterns quickly. We would reccommend you use the mnemonic SCANS at the beginning of your training to help you understand what to look for - with time you will be able to do this automatically without having to literally go through each of the SCANS letters one at a time. Here is what SCANS stands for:

  • Shape - Look at the shapes, what shapes are present?
  • Colour - What colour are these shapes? Are there any clear patterns of switching/alternating colours?
  • Arrangement - How is everything arranged in each box? Are certain shapes in certain places? Does their position and colour have any relevence?
  • Number - How many shapes are there? Are the numbers changing? Is there a pattern in the number of sides/angles in each box?
  • Size - What size are the shapes? Is there anything that likely affects their size such as colour or position?

Replicate the test conditions. Practise without test conditions will only get you so far. In order to be exam-ready, you need to time yourself, and time yourself strictly. Once you’re relatively familiar with how to navigate a practise test, you can then start timing yourself. Slowly become more and more strict with the time you’re allowing yourself. It’s good practise to get to a stage where you can answer the test with some time to spare and having been highly accurate with your answers.

Don’t spend too much time on one pattern. If you’re starting a question and you can’t see what the pattern is, don’t spend minutes trying to find out what it is. It’s important to move on and come back to it later. Most of these patterns will become evident to you quite quickly and so spending more time than you should forcing yourself to see it won’t be helpful for your results. Move on, and come back to it, you may see it more clearly once you return to it.