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UCAT: Introduction to Abstract reasoning (AR)

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Once you get the hang of it, abstract reasoning can be quite fun. But the more you try, and then get incorrect answers, the more frustrating it can be. This may lead to a belief that you can't do it, this is not true! You just need to learn some techniques and strategies to help you. But lets state the obvious before we start - if a question has thrown you or is taking too long, you guess and flag. During the time you are trying to figure it out, you could get 3 or 4 other questions right, maximise your marks by getting as many of the questions right as you can and heading back to the others if you have time.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning questions

There are four types of question. Type 1 questions show you two sets of shapes, Set A has one pattern and Set B has a different but related pattern. You are shown a shape and asked if it fits into Set A, Set B or neither, you will get about four questions on each Set A/Set B pattern. Type 2 questions provide a series of shapes and ask you which test shape completes the series. Type 3 questions give you a statement and you are asked which test shape completes the statement. Type 4 questions are a lot like type 1, you have a Set A group of shapes and set B. you are asked which of four possible test shapes fits a particular set.

As a general rule for the UCAT Abstract reasoning, do not divide your time equally for each question. Spend a little time at the start finding the pattern and then answering the questions should be quite rapid.

The general strategy here is to choose the simplest box in each set and work out the pattern. The pattern will be in every box and less clutter can help you see more clearly. Often Set B will be the opposite of Set A.


You can use the Mnemonic SPONCS to help you try to find the pattern. If it isn't immediately obvious, don't spend time trying to work it out. Use SPONCS and ask yourself: Is it about Shape? Pattern? Orientation? Number? Colour? Sides?

Other useful mnemonics include:

BADCAT - Borders, Arrangement, Dimensions, Colour, Angles and Transitions.

CPRO - Colour, Position, Roation and Orientation.

Rotation is particularly common in UCAT AR, so keep an eye out for it.

Looking at some UCAT AR examples

1. It is worth noting that there may be more than one pattern and the examiners may choose a shape which applies to any part(s) of the pattern. Below is an example of a shape pattern. Every shape in Set A has a curved edge, in Set B they have straight edges. This one is quite simple to see and there is only one pattern. If you look at the simplest box, you are less likely to get confused by other elements like colours.

If you are shown a shape which either has both straight edges and curved edges, or no straight edges or curved edges, the answer would be neither.

2. This is a PATTERN and ORIENTATION example. In Set A every square has a polka dot circle and if there is a white square it is always to the right of the polka dot circle. The three black shapes are always different from each other. There are also white octagons. Set B every box has two black shapes and a white circle. If there is more than one circle the second will be patterned and higher than the white circle. It would be easy to think that set B has a striped shape in every box, but remember set B is usually in some way the opposite of Set A. While set A always has a spotted circle, set B always has a plain circle. Most often the examiners will pick on the main point of the pattern, but they could pick on any part of it.

3. For both sets there is either a cross or an X at the center with two pairs of shapes. If Set A has one pair of shapes shaded, then it will be in a cross formation, if they are unshaded it will be in an X. In Set B if all the shapes are shaded it will be in a cross and if one pair is shaded it will be in an X. This is a colour and orientation example.

This pattern is more complicated and has several parts to it. Set A starts on a square, splits at a white circle, goes straight across on a shaded circle and ends on squares. Set B Starts on squares, splits on shaded circles, goes straight across on a white circle and ends in squares. Its all about SHAPES.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning type 2 questions

Here you are presented with a series where the shapes are almost the same box to box, the changes represent the pattern. You are then given four shapes to choose from and asked to select the shape which should come next in the series.

Below is a type four question. It is definitely better to think of things rotating that moving. It is very common in the UCAT that part of a pattern has rotated by a set number of degrees. Here the whole shape has rotated by 90 degrees and the shape in the corner appears inside the central shape, while the corner still contains the shape, but the colour is inverted.


  1. Spend time finding the pattern before answering the question.

  2. Use Mnemonics to logically list what traits you see and help spot the pattern.

  3. For Set A and Set B questions, check the pattern in Set B is related to Set A.

  4. If you try the mnemonics and feel really confused, flag, guess and move on. While you try to figure it out, you might get 3 or four other questions right.

The best way to get the hang of AR is practice. Start slow with the mnemonics and strategy to hand. Familiarity with the patterns will make you quicker. Then try times mocks. Note that there are free questions banks of Medicportal and the Pearson official UCAT site. No question bank will be as good or accurate as the ones on the Pearson site. Pearson do similar abstract reasoning for employers and employment agencies to use on job applicants. When we have mentored job applicants facing Pearson tests, we often refer them to the UCAT question banks to practice, so make the most of these! Good luck.

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