Abstract Reasoning Time Saving Strategies

Advice & Insight From UCAT Specialists

Of the 4 UCAT subsections the Abstract Reasoning is the most time pressured section. Each year one quarter of candidates fail to finish this section, losing easy marks.

Although you cannot “revise” for abstract reasoning there are several techniques you can learn to speed up your approach to questions.

Familiarise yourself with how many sides the commonly used shapes have:


Number of sides



Call out: single arrow (box with an arrow attached)


Call out: double arrow (box with an arrow pointing in both directions)


5-pointed star


6-pointed star


7-pointed star


Lightning Bolt


Familiarise yourself with the number of lines of symmetry of common shapes:

There may be a common number of symmetry lines in each box or an ascending/  descending number of lines of symmetry.


Lines of Symmetry







Isosceles trapezoid








Equilateral Triangle


Isosceles Triangle


Regular Pentagon


Regular Hexagon


Regular Octagon




As part of your preparation, you should try to familiarise yourself with as many pattern variations as possible. Year on year the patterns are repeated so the more questions you are exposed to the more likely you are to quickly pick up on the pattern.

As part of your preparation create a pattern list where you note down any unique patterns that have arisen as part of practice questions. Try to use a strategic approach where you screen the stimulus for several different patterns. This logical approach will save time as you are not wasting time trying to remember what patterns you have observed in the past. There are several useful mnemonics you can utilise when screening the questions:

  • CPR: Common and colour, position and rotation and orientation.
    • Do shapes repeat themselves?
    • Is there a common or changing colour of shapes?
    • How are shapes positioned in the figure independently and relative to one another?
    • What is the orientation of the shape, which direction do arrows point, what is the arrow length, and are shapes rotated clockwise or anticlockwise?
  • SCONE – Symmetry Colour Order, Number, Extras
    • How many lines of symmetry are there?
    • Is there a common or changing colour?
    • Order/ orientation – do the shapes move?
    • Number of – consider the number of shapes, number of shapes of each colour and number of sides of the shapes.

Extras – consider if the lines intersect with each other or the box border, what is the sum of the number of each type of angle, are there reflections, what is the number of curved and straight sides?

Also look for patterns using ascending, descending or constant numbers of shapes or sides etc.

Questions may also utilise ratios where there is a ratio correlation between the number of 2 types of shape or sides of shapes of different colours.

Be aware that for many sets there may be 2 or more rules. Initially this may be frustrating as it feels more time consuming to identify two patterns. However, you are more likely to identify at least one of the patterns, often meaning that you get ¾ of the answers correct. Remember rules can be repeated and in order for a rule to be correct, it has to be applicable to both sets.

Using a process of elimination may reduce the number of stages in the pattern identification. Rule out any figures which are incorrect. Also be aware of distractors – you do not want to fixate on one theme or potential pattern if it is purely there to distract.

Although you may be trying to take a rapid approach it is still worth scanning through all the answer options, even if you immediately spot the correct answer. Answer options may only vary discretely by the colour or positioning of one shape. Make sure you are aware of how each answer option varies.

For question types 1 and 4 where the stimulus contains 12 different figures it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin. Start by looking at the simplest box in each set.

Although you want to make sure you have time to attempt all the questions, racing through every question putting a guess will waste valuable seconds. Be aware and flexible with your timings. It is useful to return to questions with a fresh perspective. However, you may not remember which previous patterns you have excluded, meaning you have to begin your cognitive processes from scratch. Utilise the flagging question tool to highlight which questions you want to return to, meaning you will not have to click through the whole test subsection. A useful approach is to decide how many questions you want to have attempted when half of the time has elapsed, this strategy means that you can take a flexible approach where you may spot patterns more quickly in some questions than others.

It is natural that as you progress through the UCAT exam you begin to fatigue and your question answering rate may decrease. Initially it is useful to practice untimed questions to familiarise yourself with patterns, and strategic revision may involve discretely revising for each subsection. As you progress with your preparation, practice doing whole mock tests to improve your concentration abilities over 2 hours.

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