The Art of UCAT Abstract Reasoning: How to Prepare

10/11/202310 minute read
The Art of UCAT Abstract Reasoning: How to Prepare

Written By Team MedView
Reviewed By Thomas Nicolson (Currently studying Doctor of Medicine - MD at the University of Queensland)

Abstract Reasoning, which makes up 1 of the 5 parts of the UCAT, is designed to gauge your use of convergent and divergent thinking to infer relationships from information. It sounds complicated but with study and preparation, you'll become familiar with this.

Navigating the maze of the UCAT Abstract Reasoning (AR) subtest may seem daunting but we have good news: AR is the one subtest that can be improved most easily with practice.

In this article, we'll shed light on the essential components and structure of the AR subtest as well as explore strategies to prepare for it and provide examples of questions you might find in this part of the exam.

What is UCAT Abstract Reasoning?

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning Section is a subtest designed to evaluate your aptitude for pattern recognition, critical thinking and hypothesis development — all of which are important for those in the medical field.

When diagnosing patients as a medical practitioner, you're given a series of symptoms or results and from here, you need to make judgements about this information and come to a conclusion based on it. This is what the AR subtest gauges.

Why is Abstract Reasoning important in medicine?

Abstract reasoning is a highly valued skill in the medical field, as it helps practitioners identify patterns from collections of symptoms, which could potentially have multiple diagnoses.

Analysing images and looking for patterns systematically is a key skill, particularly as part of radiology where you interpret X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds and MRIs to look for abnormalities.

Through its use, clinicians can anticipate possible biases and reduce diagnostic errors for improved patient care. These skills are considered invaluable among those working within healthcare. Researchers also benefit greatly when utilising abstract thinking strategies during their data analysis processes.

What is the UCAT Abstract Reasoning structure?

Abstract Reasoning is the fourth subtest in the UCAT, with the order as follows:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Decision Making
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Abstract Reasoning
  5. Situational Judgement

The AR subtest includes 50 questions, a 1-minute instruction section and a 12-minute test time. A correct answer is worth 1 mark each.

What are the questions you can expect in Abstract Reasoning?

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest has been designed to assess your spatial reasoning, non-verbal and visuo-spatial competencies.

It focuses on recognising patterns in sets of shapes as well as applying rules that could help you answer questions successfully while categorising shapes too. Completing sequences and analogies are the 2 important elements along with best fit questions for this specific subtask.

There are 4 types of questions you can expect to see in the AR subtest. These are:

  1. Choose the set questions (A, B or Neither)
  2. Choose which belongs questions (Sequence and series)
  3. This is to that questions (Analogies)
  4. Complete the sequence questions (Best fit)

Choose the set

This is the most common type of question in the AR subtest, where you'll be presented with 2 sets of shapes — 1 is labelled Set A and the other Set B.

From here, you'll be asked if the image or test shape belongs to set A, Set B, or neither set. This isn't about matching the shapes, but rather discover the pattern that connects these shapes.

Choose which belongs

Similar to the first type of questions, these ask you to determine which of these shapes belongs to a particular set.

To answer these different types of questions accurately, it is essential that you recognise any patterns before attempting the subsequent queries. Practicing with many kinds of questions helps build understanding about how they work, which in turn increases your chances at selecting the right response when taking this part of the UCAT exam.

It’s crucial to familiarise yourself with all sorts of abstract reasoning problems — key aspects here are being able to quickly identify patterns then choosing an appropriate answer accordingly without hesitation or confusion.

This is to that

These questions are based on the transformation of images — you'll be shown an image that has been changed to form another image. From here, you'll need to answer what the new image would look like if it underwent the same transformation.

Complete the sequence

In these style of questions, you'll be shown a series of images and will be asked to answer which shape comes next in the sequence.

What is the Abstract Reasoning scoring system?

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning score is transformed into a scale from 300 to 900. All of the 5 subtests in the UCAT are scored on the same scale.

The total cognitive section score serves as a significant gauge of your overall UCAT performance. This score is derived from the sum of your individual scaled scores from the first 4 cognitive subtests (minus the Situational Judgement Test), ranging from 1200 to 3600.

Interestingly, it's not common for universities to consider the Situational Judgement Test within the admissions process. Anecdotally, many of the universities prefer to test this skill in the interview versus the multiple choice format of the UCAT.

Strategies for tackling UCAT Abstract Reasoning questions

Creating strategies for your AR approach is important so you can accurately and quickly answer questions. A large part of this involves sharpening your skills in recognising patterns while working within a strict time constraint.

Identifying patterns and rules

We recommend employing a system to look for common patterns. For example, SCANSS is a common one you might like to try.

  • Shape: Is one type of shape consistent or more common?
  • Colour: Is there always a shape of a certain colour?
  • Arrangement: Are the shapes or certain shapes always in the same place?
  • Number: Is the number of shapes or certain shapes constant? what about the number of sides?
  • Symmetry: Is the pattern symmetrical?
  • Size: Is the size different?

If you can’t see a clear pattern within 10 to 15 seconds, guess it, flag it and come back — there are some harder questions within the exam so best to skip these and come back to them at the end.

Tips for preparing for UCAT Abstract Reasoning

It can be difficult to know when and how to start your UCAT preparation. So, here's what we recommend doing when it comes to AR revision.

Practice, practice, practice

We said it once and we'll say it again: practice is the most important part of your UCAT preparation.

Through regular practice, you'll become more knowledgable and familiar with different question types, while also enhancing your pattern recognition capabilities and gaining better time management skills.

MedView Spark is a great resource for this — our learning platform has over 4,500 practice questions as well as practice exams you can work through to become exam-ready.

Plus, our interface is designed to mimic the UCAT experience, right down to the keyboard shortcuts and calculator, so there are no surprises and it'll help you feel comfortable for the real deal.

Use these UCAT resources to help you both prepare for the content of the exam and become familiar with using the simple on-screen calculator that is used during the UCAT.

Practice your time management skills

This subtest has the least amount of time dedicated to it at just 12 minutes. In order to get through every Abstract Reasoning Question, your time management skills have to be sharp. In fact, you're looking at about 14 seconds worth of time per question (to get through all 50 questions).

The best way to get speedier and work on your time management is through repeated practice of these abstract reasoning skills. This means diving into practice questions and becoming incredibly familiar with the types of questions included in the AR.

Remember that there is no negative marking in the UCAT, which means you're not marked down for incorrect answers. So, even if you're not sure, try not to leave any questions unanswered.

Keep a journal

We recommend keeping a journal of all the patterns you come across and use the journal to develop a logical way of looking for patterns.

From here, you can rank them based on how common they are so you are in the habit of always looking for the most likely patterns. It's a simple technique but helps your brain start thinking about patterns.

Know your shapes

An easy way to save yourself time in the exam is to know your shapes and memorise exactly how many sides they have. For example, an arrow has 7 sides, while a lightning bolt has 11.

Knowing this information off by heart will allow you to save time on counting these during the test.

What is considered a competitive UCAT Abstract Reasoning score?

A 'good' UCAT Abstract Reasoning score is considered to be 750 or higher. This demonstrates an individual’s capability of interpreting and recognising patterns from abstract ideas, which carries considerable weight when striving for a medical program admission.

For comparison, when it comes to your overall UCAT score, students who score in the 90th percentile for their overall UCAT score are considered competitive. For the 2023 admissions cycle, a score that surpasses 3100+ is often required to be offered a medical school interview at many of the major Australian universities.

If you're after more personalised support on your UCAT journey, here at MedView Education, we take med school admission to a new level through application review, entrance exam and interview tutoring, and extracurricular mentoring for students in Australasia.

If you'd like guidance from industry professionals with years of experience, we can help — simply book a free consultation with our MedView advisors.

Frequently asked questions

What is an abstract question?

Abstract reasoning questions, which use a pattern of symbols to pinpoint the next symbol in line or establish what is missing, are among commonly employed pre-employment aptitude and psychometric tests. Identifying these nonverbal assessments takes longer than other types of reasoning exams.

What is the primary goal of the UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest?

The UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest seeks to evaluate one’s ability to recognise patterns, think critically and generate hypotheses — all skills that are necessary for those in the medical field.