6 Very Smart Tips To Pass The UKCAT Abstract Reasoning Subtest

ukcat abstract reasoning tips

The Abstract reasoning subtest was my strongest section in the exam and I was able to achieve a score in the 9th decile, with the right preparation and approach you too can achieve a score in the top percentile. The following are my UKCAT abstract reasoning tips

1. Start with the Simplest Box and Use the Three Square Rule

The three square method is a really effective strategy for identifying patterns, it involves solving patterns by starting with the simplest box and comparing the two other boxes either side of it. 

  1. Find the simplest box out of either set – normally the one with the fewest things inside it. (You have to remember that every box, however simple, must contain the rule used. The simpler the box, the fewer the number of distractors inside it -see below!)
  2. Look at two boxes either side of it
  3. Compare the three boxes, looking for any similarity with regards to the shapes, patterns, colouring or edges.
  4. Check if this works for the rest of the boxes in that set, and more importantly, not for any of the boxes in the other set.
  5. If this works, Great! If it doesn’t then repeat process again.

You will need some sort of checklist for recognising patterns amongst the boxes – I recommend using a mnemonic because it will help save time.

3. SCANS Method (or any Mnemonic)

SCANS is the mnemonic I personally used as a checklist to spot patterns. I saved so much time in the exam because I was applying it constantly and thinking about what to look for next across the boxes in a set.

SCANS stands for

S – Shape

C – Colour

A– Angle/Arrangement

N – Number of (shapes,sides,intersections…)

S – symmetry.

I recommend using this as a checklist when trying to spot patterns, it’ll help get you out of trouble with difficult sets. 

3. Flagging

Avoid spending too long on questions. It most likely you are dealing with a set with distractors or a conditional pattern.  If a pattern doesn’t come to you within 10 seconds make a guess,  flag it and come back to it later. By answering a few more questions you train your brain and eyes a bit more and will be more likely to spot the pattern when you return back to it. 

4. Make Better Use Of The 1 minute Instructions

If you are preparing with an online UKCAT course or the official practice tests you should already know what the instructions are for the abstract reasoning subtest. Instead of wasting time reading the instructions write out your mnemonic on the board provided in the exam, it will serve as your go to checklist when you come across a difficult set of questions. Find below the list I wrote down during the the 1 minute instuction period, you will notice it builds on the SCAN method:

  • Shape of components
  • Type of edges on each component
  • Number of corners on each component
  • Colour of each component
  • Number of components
  • Orientation of components
  • Consistent position of one component relative to another
  • Size of components

Everytime I came across a difficult set I would go through my list to work out the pattern.

5. Know The Most Common Form  of Distractors 

This comes with practice, knowing the most common form of distractors  to keep an eye out for. I recommend during practice take note of any question that uses distractors to trick you into selecting the wrong answer.  Review them carefully and come up with a few techniques to reduce the likelihood of you making them again. 

6.  There’s Always a Pattern 

Before the exam you probably would attempt over  a thousand abstract questions, I strongly advise to review your performance regularly, which type of questions do you answer incorrectly most of the time? is there an examiners trick you always tend to fall for? Deep-dive into your performance there is always a pattern.  I remember when I was preparing for the subtest I discovered that most of the time that  I couldnt find a pattern right away it was most likely because the set was using a conditional pattern, so in the live test if I couldn’t work out a pattern right away my next step would be to look out for conditional patterns, which was hugely successful.

For more abstract reasoning tips, techniques or exam strategies get your copy of the UKCAT Study Guide includes hundreds of exam strategies, used by 8,000 candidates to date with 100% positive feedback. Best of luck!

About Mike 106 Articles
My name is Michael and I'm a Pharmacology graduate from the University of Manchester, I was able to improve my UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) score from 2400 to 2840 and get offered a place at Warwick’s graduate-entry medical programme.