UCAT Abstract Reasoning

Medistudents Team
Feb 6, 2024

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“I used the Abstract Reasoning section as I found the website the night before my test and I was pretty bad at AR. In my official exam my AR was my 2nd best section at 860! Overall, I thought the website was a very useful resource from what I saw and I liked the algorithm that showed skill in particular question types.”

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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 does UCAT Abstract Reasoning test?

As mentioned above, you’ll be assessed on your ability to identify patterns within the shapes presented, disregarding irrelevant information as needed. You can find guidance on identifying patterns below. The purpose of this subtest is to test your ability to make judgements and hypotheses, critically evaluate and query these as you work through the information, and change track where required.

Why is there a UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

As with the other sections of the UCAT, the Abstract Reasoning subtest assesses skills 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.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning format

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

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

You’ll have 12 minutes (plus a 1-minute instruction section) to answer the 50 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.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning questions

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 choice of four. You’ll need to decode the pattern in the series to determine which of the options 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 that 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 decode them more easily and quickly 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 that 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 to 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 surrounds 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 a ratio of 1:2.

Often candidates find it helpful to use a mnemonic (a phase or pattern of letters) to remember key rules for identifying patterns. This can be a useful 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 50 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 the average score for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

The UCAT website provides the following mean scores for the Abstract Reasoning subtest from 2018 – 2023:

Year Number of candidates Mean scaled score
2018 27,466 637
2019 29,375 638
2020 34,153 653
2021 37,230 651
2022 36,374 659
2023 35,625 652

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

What is a good UCAT Abstract Reasoning score?

Generally, a ‘good’ UCAT score for each of the subtests is approximately 20 – 30 marks above the average score for that particular section. For 2023, a ‘good’ UCAT score for the Abstract Reasoning subtest, therefore, would be 672 – 682. Remember, while this general rule remains the same, what’s considered a ‘good’ score will vary depending on how each year’s candidates perform.

Is UCAT Abstract Reasoning hard?

The UCAT is a challenging exam, and you may find some subtests more difficult than others, depending on your individual strengths and weaknesses. Your total score for the cognitive subtests –  Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning – can play a crucial role in your medical school application. Therefore, it’s vital that you perform well in all areas. For more information on how your chosen medical school uses your UCAT score in the application process, visit our UCAT Universities blog.

If you find the UCAT Abstract Reasoning hard, or any of the other subtests, it’s worthwhile dedicating more time to these so your total score is not affected. Our The free,  adaptive Medibuddy UCAT question bank makes it easy to identify which areas you need to focus on, and our artificial intelligence automatically selects personalised questions to help you develop the areas in which you need to improve the most.

Although a challenging exam, with the right UCAT preparation you can be confident that you can perform well and achieve the score you want.

How to prepare for the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest

Preparing for UCAT Abstract Reasoning

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 become more familiar with the questions and how to answer them, and also accustomed to dealing with the time pressure associated with the exam.

In the Abstract Reasoning practice questions section below, you can find more information and where to access our free UCAT practice tests. You can also find information about the free, AI-powered Medibuddy question bank, which offers personalised learning for more effective UCAT preparation.

How to do well in 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, so you become familiar with the types of patterns you can expect within the test and can spot them more efficiently.

It’s also worthwhile to include some timed practice tests in your revision, as these will help you to understand the time demands of the Abstract Reasoning subtest and 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 colours 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 determine what works most effectively for you.

5 top tips for UCAT Abstract Reasoning

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 that miss rules and to identify those which apply some rules, narrowing 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 50 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 in all the UCAT subtests; with 12 minutes to answer the 50 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 it 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 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 practice questions

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

On our website, you’ll find more information, tips and support for all sections of the UCAT, including the Abstract Reasoning subtest. For example, our UCAT Guide has everything you need to know about the exam, our UCAT Score and Decile Ranking blogs provide information on scoring, and to help you prepare there’s a step-by-step guide.

You can also support your UCAT preparations with The free Medibuddy UCAT question bank which offers personalised learning through AI-powered practice questions. 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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