Top Tips for Improving Pattern Recognition for the UCAT ANZ Abstract Reasoning Section

UCAT Section Advice


Do you feel not too confident about tackling the pattern recognition questions in the UCAT ANZ? Need some help? Don’t worry. Here, we provide five specific and practical tips to master these types of questions.

We’ve compiled specific suggestions on effectively boosting your pattern recognition skills. Read on and apply these tips to your UCAT ANZ practice to boost your performance in the Abstract Reasoning section.

Make Use of the SCANS Acronym Checklist for Pattern Recognition

SCANS is an easy acronym that can aid in remembering the most common patterns found within the Abstract Reasoning section. This stands for:

SCANS mnemonic: Shapes, Colour/Fill, Angle/arrangement, Number, Symmetry/sizes

With practice, the process of using this mental checklist to work your way through identifying patterns will become quicker and quicker.

Attempt to Solve the Patterns Using the Simplest Box FIRST

Abstract reasoning question sets use the same pattern in each box. A useful technique is to solve by comparing the two simplest boxes of both sets as this reduces the risk of any distractors or more complex shapes interfering with the correct pattern.

Additionally, always start with the simplest relationship and then try to match patterns with increasingly complex relationships. This is because the simplest patterns are easiest to eliminate via trial and error. Complex patterns, however, should be identified and skipped for a later pass once the simple ones have been tackled.

Write Down Particular ‘Triggers’ That Can Allow Faster Pattern/Distractor Recognition

Specific arrangements or shape presence can give clues about what sort of patterns are contained within the question set. Similarly, shapes, such as stars or large crosses, are commonly used as distractors within patterns.

You can take note of specific shapes or items that commonly signify distractors or particular patterns categorised under each aspect of SCANS. 

Here is an example list of common distractors:

  • Circles
  • Shading
  • Several shapes (very small and numerous, making them hard to count)
  • Arrows

Example list of common shape-derived pattern triggers:

  • A large number of intersections triggers a pattern derived from the number of shapes/enclosed spaces.
  • Arrows trigger a pattern based on arrow direction.
  • Presence of right-angle triangles often indicates an angle-based pattern.
  • Presence of seemingly random lines trigger checks for patterns derived from parallel and perpendicular lines.

With practice and continuous review of collated patterns, recognition of such triggers will become automatic and instantaneous. Practised ability allows you to take shortcuts, whereby instead of chronologically going through the SCANS acronym, you can test the most likely patterns first associated with encountered triggers. This means the more patterns, distractors and triggers you encounter, the better your pattern recognition will be.

Memorise Features Surrounding Common Shapes to Save Identification Time

Memorising basic information can save precious seconds in solving patterns. For example, knowing the number of sides within a star, cross, or lightning bolt can save 

you time in the exam. 

Example list of common shape sides:

  • Cross: 12
  • Straight arrow: 7 
  • Double-sided arrow: 10
  • L-shape: 6 
  • Four-pointed star: 8
  • Lightning bolt: 11

Track One Element at a Time to Reduce Cognitive Load and See Specific Distinctions

For ‘complete the series’ questions, it is vital to reduce the cognitive load when tracking the movement or transformation of the pattern. A useful technique is to track one, unique element throughout the whole series of boxes to grasp the basic pattern first. You can then try to match the basic transformation with the wider pattern that governs all the boxes.

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