UCAT PREPARATION

UCAT Abstract Reasoning

WRITTEN BY
Medistudents Team
Apr 14, 2021

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The UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest aims to assess your ability to identify patterns within abstract shapes. The inclusion of irrelevant and distracting information within this subtest can lead to incorrect conclusions being drawn; therefore, familiarity with the types of questions you’ll be asked will improve your pattern recognition and your ability to identify unnecessary information.

This guide will provide you with more information about the Abstract Reasoning subtest, including the types of questions you’ll be asked and how to answer them, where to find quality practice questions, and tips to prepare and do well in the exam.

What is the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

Within the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest, you’ll be required to identify patterns within the shapes presented; you can find guidance on identifying patterns below. The purpose of this subtest is to test your ability to not only make judgements and hypotheses, but to critically evaluate and query these as you work through the information, and to change track where required.

Why is there a UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest? What does it test?

As with the other sections of the UCAT, the Abstract Reasoning subtest assesses skills which are required for working within the medical profession.

When considering diagnoses for patients, doctors need to be able to make judgements about the information they’re presented with, to identify which information is useful and will help them reach a conclusion, and which is irrelevant and/or distracting from the real issue. This involves being able to identify reliable and relevant information from a set of symptoms and/or test results.

These skills are also needed when carrying out research involving data, where you could be required to identify patterns within results to allow you to generate further hypotheses.

What is the structure / format of the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

The format of the UCAT Abstract Reasoning section is as follows:

  • 55 multiple choice questions
  • Each multiple choice question will relate to sets of shapes
  • There are 4 different types of questions within the subtest

How much time do you get for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

You’ll have 13 minutes (plus a 1 minute instruction section) to answer the 55 multiple choice questions, giving you approximately 14 seconds per question and making time a crucial factor in this subtest. Although time is limited, you’ll have up to five questions for each set of shapes, meaning that once you’ve identified the pattern/s you’ll be able to answer subsequent questions more quickly.

What types of questions are included in the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest has the following four types of questions:

  1. Type 1 – which set does the test shape belong to?
    For these questions, you’ll be presented with two sets of shapes, set A and set B, and a test shape. You need to decide whether the test shape belongs to set A, set B or neither, by decoding the rules applied to each set of shapes.
  2. Type 2 – which figure completes the series?
    You’ll be presented with a series of shapes and asked to choose the next shape in the series, from a selection of four shapes. You’ll need to decode the pattern in the series to determine which of the selection would be the next shape in the series.
  3. Type 3 – which figure completes the statement?
    For type 3 questions, you’ll be presented with a group of shapes and a related statement, which highlights their relationship to one another. For example this shape is to that shape as this shape is to _____. You’ll need to decode the relationship between the first two sets of shapes, to determine which shape from the selection has the same relationship to the third shape. Again, you’ll be given four shapes to choose from.
  4. Type 4 – which of the following test shapes belongs in set A/B?
    You’ll be presented with two sets of shapes, set A and set B, and four possible answer options. From these options you’ll need to select the shape which belongs to the set identified in the question, either set A or set B. You’ll need to identify the ‘rule’ for the set of shapes and match the answer choice which follows the same rule.

How do you answer UCAT Abstract Reasoning questions?

Having a clear understanding of the rules you’re likely to encounter within the Abstract Reasoning questions will help you to decode them easier and quicker during the exam. Often for the sets of shapes there will be more than one rule applied, which you need to identify and apply to the question.

The UCAT website outlines the following keywords for the rules relating to the Abstract Reasoning shapes:

  • Opposites – relating to how shapes are positioned, for example vertically or horizontally opposite one another.
  • Adjacent – relating to how shapes are positioned, for example alongside one another.
  • Reflection – relating to shapes that are mirrored in the box.
  • Rotation – relating to shapes which follow a rotation pattern, for example each shape is rotated 90 degrees clockwise.
  • Symmetry – relating to shapes with symmetrical patterns, for example at least one line of symmetry.
  • Shape – this relates to the repetition of shapes, for example every box having at least one square.
  • Position – this relates the positioning of the shapes in relation to the box and one another, for example there always being a square in the top right hand corner of the box.
  • Shading – this relates to a shading pattern, for example all squares being shaded and all circles unshaded.
  • Enclosure – this relates to shapes within shapes, for example a four-sided shape always surrounding a three-sided shape.
  • Equivalence – this relates to shapes following equivalency rules, for example each square being equal to two triangles or three circles.
  • Mirror image – as you’d imagine, this relates to shapes that are mirror images of each other, for example there always being a mirror image to the right of each shape.
  • Ratios – relating to any pattern with the number of shapes, for example there always being 1 circle to every 2 squares, therefore being a ratio of 1:2.

Often candidates find it useful to use a mnemonic (a phase or pattern of letters) to remember key rules for identifying patterns. This can be a helpful tool, allowing you to work systematically, and increasing your speed and accuracy when identifying patterns.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning Scores

For each of the Abstract Reasoning multiple choice questions, there is one correct answer and one available mark, resulting in a total of fifty-five marks for this subtest. As with the other ‘cognitive subtests’, the raw mark that you achieve will be converted into a ‘scale score’ between 300 – 900, allowing for a common range for each of these subtests.

The other cognitive subtests – Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning – are all scored in the same way, whereas the Situational Judgement Test is scored using a band system.

What is an average score for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

The UCAT website provides the following mean scores for the Abstract Reasoning subtest from 2016 – 2020:

Year Number of candidates Mean scaled score
2016 23,359 630
2017 24,844 629
2018 27,466 637
2019 29,375 638
2020* 34,153 653

*Note, scores from 2020 are for tests taken up to 25 October 2020.

For more information about how the UCAT is scored, including the scaled scoring, visit the UCAT Practice Test blog.

What is a good score for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

Generally, a ‘good’ UCAT score for each of the subtests is approximately 20 – 30 marks above the average score for that particular section. For 2020, a ‘good’ UCAT score for the Abstract Reasoning subtest, therefore, would be 673 – 683. Remember, while this general rule remains the same, what’s considered a ‘good’ score will vary, depending on how each year’s candidates perform.

How to prepare for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest

For all sections of the UCAT you should focus on gaining an understanding of what the subtest involves and the types of questions you’ll be asked. By focusing on practice questions and practice tests during your preparations, you’ll not only become more familiar with the questions and how to answer them, but also accustomed to dealing with the time pressure associated with the exam.

You can find more information about Abstract Reasoning practice questions and where to access our free UCAT practice tests in the example section below. You can also find information relating to our artificial intelligence powered, adaptive question bank, which offers personalised learning for more effective UCAT preparation.

How to improve on the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest

Initially, practice questions, rather than timed practice tests, will be most effective for improving your skills needed for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest. These will allow you to spend time identifying patterns and different rules within sets of shapes, enabling you to become familiar with the types of patterns you can expect within the test, and helping you to become more efficient in spotting them.

It’s important that you do eventually move on to timed practice tests, as these will help you to understand the time demands of the Abstract Reasoning subtest and to improve your speed and accuracy, ensuring that you’re prepared for the exam.

To improve your ability to identify patterns within the shapes provided, and therefore ultimately perform better within the Abstract Reasoning subtest, it’s useful to approach each set of shapes systematically. For example, this may include considering what shapes are presented, how many there are, their positioning in the box and in relation to one another, whether different colors or shading have been used, and so on. For questions with ‘series’ and ‘statements’ of shapes, this may include considering what changes have been made from one set to another and what has remained the same, including things like rotation, colour change and the repetition of shapes.

As discussed in the ‘how to answer’ section above, using a mnemonic can be helpful for remembering the keywords or ‘rules’ for identifying patterns, allowing you to work through them systematically. Experiment with systems for recognising patterns during your preparations, applying them to practice questions to identify what works most effectively for you.

Tips to do well in the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest

The following tips will support you to do well during the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest:

  • Don’t forget that more than one rule may be used
    As mentioned previously, more than one rule may be applied to sets of shapes, so ensure that you explore a variety of rule options. Although this seems like more work, it also offers opportunities to eliminate answers which miss rules and to identify which apply some rules, to narrow down your selection.
  • Don’t be put off by repetition of rules
    Rules can be used in a variety of questions. You’ll notice from the list of keywords given above that there aren’t 55 individual rules; therefore, expect to see the same rules applied in different ways to different sets of shapes.
  • Check that the rule can be applied to both set A and set B shapes
    Within the set A and set B type questions, the rule must apply to both sets of shapes for it to be a rule. Although this seems confusing, as the sets of shapes are different, they must have the same type of rule but applied differently. For example, a rule relating to the ‘rotation’ of shapes must be used in both for it to be a rule, although how it’s applied will be different.
  • Remember your time limit
    Time is an important element within all of the UCAT subtests; with 13 minutes to answer the 55 multiple choice questions, you don’t have much time to identify the patterns within the shapes. If you’re struggling to recognise the rules applied to the set of shapes, consider flagging the question and coming back to later if you can, to avoid wasting valuable time.
  • Remember there’s no negative marking
    As with all UCAT subtests, there is no negative marking, so for questions where you’re unsure or can’t identify the pattern, it’s still better to have a guess than to leave it blank. Of course, use the ‘flag’ function and revisit them later if you have time.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest practice / example questions

The most effective way of preparing for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest is with the use of practice questions and practice tests. Practice questions will help you to become familiar with the types of questions you’ll be asked and to develop strategies for answering them; whereas, practice tests will support you to deal with the demands of the exam, particularly the time pressure, as they’ll positively affect the pace at which you answer questions.

Our UCAT Practice Test blog provides general information about the UCAT, as well free practice questions, for all sections of the UCAT, including the Abstract Reasoning subtest. You can also support your UCAT preparations with our adaptive question bank which offers personalised learning through the use of artificial intelligence powered practice questions and practice tests. By adapting to your strengths and weaknesses, our question bank will ensure that you spend time focusing on the areas which you need to improve, and that are likely to have the biggest impact on your UCAT score, to make the most of your UCAT preparations.

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