UCAT Abstract Reasoning: 6 UCAT Tips For Success

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James Gibbons

Senior Writer

Abstract Reasoning has long been thought of as one of the hardest and most frustrating UCAT sections. It has a reputation with students for causing confusion and eating up lots of time. The section can be intimidating at first as it can look quite different to traditional exam questions you’ve faced before, but do not let this deter you!

This section, like all the others can be mastered. All it takes is some well-structured practice and insight into the structure behind the questions. Remember that no matter how random the question shapes appear, there is always some pattern behind the. All you need to do is find that pattern and use it to answer the questions. Hopefully by following these five key tips you can start your mastery of this section. 

6 UCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips
6 UCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips

1.    Abstract Reasoning Pattern Tables

UCAT Abstract Reasoning tests your ability to recognise patterns in what appear to be random sets of shapes. When you approach this for the first time it can seem completely incomprehensible. But you need to remember these is always a pattern there. Not only that, there is ultimately a finite number of patterns that can exist within the UCAT Abstract Reasoning section.

To this end you should create a pattern table with a list of all the different types of patterns that you have come across. This will allow for you to approach each question more systemically. And to check for each pattern type one by one.

To begin with this technique may seem a bit laborious. But as you begin to memorise the patterns you will be able to speed up as you figure out some of the most common patterns. And hopefully over time it will allow for you to be able to move through the questions efficiently and accurately. 

UCAT Abstract Reasoning
A few of the key patterns

2.    Memorise The Key Triggers

As you practise this section you will begin to become more familiar with the different question types in UCAT Abstract Reasoning. And will start to see that different questions type will have certain triggers in common.

What I mean by this for example, is that if you see crescent moons, this should trigger you to start looking for a pattern based around curved and straight shapes. This is because the number of shapes with curved lines is quite small, so if they’re being included it is likely that the curved aspect is central to the pattern.

Another example is if you see lots of overlapping shapes, look for a pattern based on the number of intersections between these shapes.

UCAT AR Trigggers
Seeing pairs of shapes like this can trigger you to think about a pattern with a line of symmetry,

Once you have begun to recognise the triggers, you can then add these into your pattern table. So when you see one of the trigger it will help to remind you of what you are looking for.

This one of the key tips to help to increase your speed, as from the trigger alone you have already narrowed the possible pattern behind the question.

3.   Choosing Appropriate Resources

With UCAT Abstract Reasoning practise and becoming familiar with question types is key. This means that you need to have access to some high-quality resources or books to provide you with adequate practise material. We have articles on both these topics to help you to choose the right ones.

But it is important to remember that sometimes these practise question may be harder than the actual UCAT itself. For example, the ISC 1250 book is very hard. Some students may find this good preparation where as others may find this overwhelming. 

If you are struggling with the resources you have, or UCAT Abstract Reasoning in general, then you may benefit from one of our one-to-one tutors. They will be able to go through our extensive question bank with you, helping you to identify patterns and can tailor the sessions to your exact needs.

Try UCAT Tutoring today:
UCAT Tutoring

4.   Abstract Reasoning: Timing Tips

UCAT Abstract Reasoning is the shortest sections (13 minutes), but with the largest number of questions (55). So it is critical that you know how long you have per question and do not lose track of this. If you have not practiced ahead of test day, it is very easy to get caught up on challenging questions and run out of time.

There are several different question types in this section. And students need to adjust how long they spend on each question depending on the question type.

For example, Type 1 questions have 1 pattern with 5 questions. So here you have a minute to spend on the whole question set. Where as for Type 2 questions you just have 1 pattern and 1 question, giving you 14 seconds per pattern. This means you have to adjust how long you spend looking for the pattern accordingly, so as not to get stuck on these lower yield questions.

Type 1 Questions
1 Pattern
5 questions per set
1 minute per pattern
Type 2 Questions
1 Pattern
1 question per set
14 seconds per pattern

5.   Know when to move on

UCAT Abstract Reasoning is a very challenging section, and it is easy to get caught up on trying to solve tricky questions. But in the end some of the patterns are just too hard. If you are not lucky enough to spot them quickly you can waste minutes on one pattern.

These are deliberately put in by UCAT to try and slow students down. If you are finding a question like this too hard, put your best guess and move on – your time will be of better use elsewhere. 

And remember the UCAT is not negatively marked so there is no harm in guessing. You can also always use the flag function too. Then if you have time at the end you can revisit the question. And may find that looking at the question again, the pattern may be obvious the second time around.

6.   Always start with the simplest box

Whenever you get two sets and you have to identify the pattern, you should always look at the box in each set which has the fewest number of shapes in it. This will enable you to properly compare each set and keep you from getting distracted.

The simplest box doesn’t always have to be the one with the fewest shapes. It can also be:

  • Box with fewest colour variations e.g. striped, black etc.
  • Box with obvious pattern e.g. a very large shape
  • Box with repeating units e.g. 4 triangles
Abstract Reasoning simplest box
UCAT Abstract Reasoning – Simplest Box


UCAT Abstract Reasoning is one of, if not the hardest section of the UCAT. And it does not come naturally to a lot of students. But this does not mean you can’t do very well in this section. Methodical practice, a well thought out timing strategy and external input can make a huge difference.

This is one of the sections where the work you put in before the test can make the biggest difference. So, plan your preparation carefully, practice thoroughly, and you will succeed. 

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