This abstract reasoning exam is probably the most disliked exam to practice for, but surprisingly one of the best-performed tests overall. Most people find that doing 55 questions in 13 minutes is just criminal!

They simply struggle to find the visual patterns with the given time constraints. It’s not a test you can easily revise for, because you can easily become demotivated when you are struggling to find patterns quick enough.

The key to this UCAT subtest is breaking it down into its individual components, and realizing that there are only so many ways to organize patterns in a box.

In this blog we will go through the format of the test, the various different question types you will encounter. We will also go through the different ways that a pattern can be recognized.

How to Ace The Abstract Reasoning Subtest

First things first, we must get to grips with the format of the exam!


  • 55 items in 13 minutes
  • Just over 1 minute to complete each set
  • Most time-constrained subtest on the UCAT (14 seconds per question)
  • Most items are in type 1 which comes in a set of 5, corresponding to whether a group of shapes belongs to set A or set B. More on question types later.
  • Focus on type 1 questions as these are the majority you will see (9/11 sets).
  • Even though it is worth practising type 2,3, you will get very few marks from them since they are much harder to answer correctly within the allotted time.

Now lets get a bit more specific with the different question types.

Question types

  • Type 1
    • Composed of set A, and set B which both contains six boxes. Each box in set A shares one or more attributes, and each box in set B shares one or more attributes. 
    • Set A and B will never have the exact same pattern – they each have distinct patterns sometimes quite subtle but always distinct.
    • Answer choices are always the same. There will always be 3 options.
      • Set A – fits set A exactly, but not set B
      • Set B– fits set B exactly, but not set A
      • Neither – fits neither set, nor both, or partially for either set.
  • Type 2
    • You are shown 4 question boxes in a line, and given 4 answer options and asked to pick which one comes next in the sequence of the 4 question boxes.
  • Type 3
    • 2 pair of boxes are presented. The first pair shows a progression. The second shows the same progression but one box is blank and you have to pick the right progression based on the first box pair. You have an option of 5
  • Type 4
    • Very similar to type 1 in that there is a set A and B with unique patterns, but instead of assigning a box to set A or B, you are given 4 boxes and must pick which one fits set A or B depending on the questions. 


  • Timing
  • Can’t find patterns quick enough
  • Getting demotivated and ending up guessing everything


  • Don’t start with the test shape, start with the sets
    • The test shape (single box to assign to a set) does not on it own tell you anything about the pattern.
  • Check the simplest box first
    • There are less distracting shapes in this box which makes it easier to focus on finding the pattern
    • Even the simplest box will still follow the pattern which will be much more straightforward if there was only one shape. Instantly it decreases the possibilities. You now have a clue on whether it’s positional (if shape in a corner), sides, symmetry etc.
  • Spend no more than 1 minute per set
    • 30 seconds to find each set and 5 seconds to evaluate and put each answer.
    • After 45s it is unlikely you would see a pattern with more time so it is important to make an educated guess and move on. You must be ruthless to score the best in this section!
    • Do this strategy of 30s and 5s and you will have 2 minutes at the end to look back and sometimes you will see a pattern with fresh eyes
  • Partial patterns
    • Can get correct answers based on partial patterns so don’t feel bad if you don’t see every pattern in its entirety.

Spot patterns by knowing the basics

  • Type – The type of shape (polygon, circle, arc, path, squiggle, dashed lines, arrows)
  • Feature – colour, size, and number of shapes, orientation, symmetry
  • Arrangement – position of shape in the box, and position relative to other shapes

Most will use 1 or 2 of these patterns but the harder ones will use more. Make sure you can spot which ones will take too long and just put an answer and skip.

They will waste your time. Most of the questions are relatively straight forward. Don’t fall into the trap of always overthinking, and always beginning the set by doing the most time-consuming check like counting all the sides.

Sometimes its the really simple patterns that are the answer.

How the patterns are implemented

  • Multiple categories in 1 question – most questions will have only 1 or 2 categories so don’t overthink the questions. They are likely easier than you think. Don’t look for complexity in all sets. Try looking for simplicity instead.
  • Conditional patterns – if one item is odd for example, it causes another item to be black. Essentially it dictates the other item in the box – they are rare so don’t look for them in every set. If you see arrows, it might be a conditional.

Re-iterate Strategy

  • Know the common patterns – type of shape, features, position, arrangement
  • Start with the simplest box – since this box must also contain the pattern but with less distractions from other elements
  • Search for simple patterns first – Most sets have only 1 or 2 categories that form the patterns. People make the wrong assumption of looking for complexity, whereas in actuality you will see many straightforward sets on test day. Don’t overcomplicate it, simplify it.
  • Type 2 and 3 are progressions, not patterns – easier to spot possibly. As soon as you see a progression in colour, rotation, or moving shape, eliminate answers, pick the one that follows and move on. 
  • Be ruthless in moving forwards – the best test-takers know exactly when to crack on with their exam.


now that you have a decent grasp, lets see if we can do a little example question.

Which set does the test shape to the right belong?

Hopefully that wasn’t too much of a challenge. Unfortunately one question just isn’t going to do it! Go over to the free practice section to continue drilling questions. I update the practice sets now and then while I work on a full test interface for you guys! happy practicing!

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By UCAT_admin

Hi, I'm Josh, admin and creator of the site. Hopefully, you find some value using all the resources I worked very hard to create!

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