21 UCAT ANZ Abstract Reasoning Tips: Save Time and Boost Your Score

Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Abstract Reasoning (AR) is all about pattern recognition. As it is unlike most tasks you do at school, it does take some practice and knowledge of common question types.

So how can you get your head around this unusual section?

Don't forget to bookmark these pages to get an overview of the UCAT before delving into each section: UCAT frequently asked questions, UCAT top preparation tips, free UCAT practice questions
Top five UCAT AR tips infographic

1. Understand what AR is testing and how it relates to medicine or dentistry

An illustration of the UCAT AR test screen

The AR section tests your spatial reasoning and awareness to identify patterns within abstract shapes that are surrounded by distracting and irrelevant content. This section is about viewing things from different angles and critically thinking of possible and likely hypotheses by evaluating information within a short time.

A doctor or a dentist needs these skills to come up with a correct diagnosis and treatment strategy based on medical tests and patient interviews. Use these points to boost your motivation for the AR section.

2. Familiarise yourself with the question types

There are four question types in the AR section:

Set A, Set B or Neither

Two sets of shapes are displayed as Set A and Set B and five test shapes are offered. Decide where each test shape belongs, if at all.

Complete the Series

Guess the next logical step following a sequence of shapes. There are four new shapes to choose from.

Complete the Series question type in the UCAT AR section

Complete the Statement

Choose the appropriate image for Shape D that completes the statement ‘Shape A is to Shape B as Shape C is to Shape D'.

Complete the Statement question type in the UCAT AR section

Set A or B

Decide which of the four given shapes belong to Set A or Set B.

Set A or B question type in the UCAT AR section

3. No time to waste

You only have 14 seconds per question on average (50 questions in 12 minutes). You must think quickly and not get stuck on a question.

Get a handle on UCAT timing (the hardest part of the exam).

4. Look for the pattern first

Instead of focusing on the test shape straight away, look at the sets of images provided first to identify any patterns.

5. Check for common or repeated features

When looking for patterns, check for:

  • Repeated shapes within the boxes
  • Repeated sizes of the same shape
  • Repeated number of the same shape


Example UCAT AR question to look for repeated shapes, repeated sizes or repeated number of the same shape

Set A: There is always an upward pointing arrow, and each frame has a white circle.

Set B: There is always a leftward pointing arrow, and each frame has a black square.

6. Beware of colour

While colour can be a repeated element used within a pattern, it is often used to distract you from finding the correct pattern. Ignore colour if it is obvious that the pattern does not include it.

7. Observe positions of shapes

Ask yourself, is a certain shape always:

  • At the same position in the boxes?
  • Positioned opposite to another shape?
  • Placed within another shape?
  • Placed between other shapes of the same kind?


Example UCAT AR question to observe positions of shapes

Set A: There is always a quadrilateral to the left of a crescent.

Set B: There is always a quadrilateral to the right of a crescent.

8. Pay attention to rotation and orientation

Sometimes the shapes rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise in a set pattern, or the orientation of the whole box changes.


Example UCAT AR question to pay attention to rotation and orientation

Set A: An arrow that points upward indicates no rotation of the shape on the top left corner. An arrow that points to the right indicates that the shape rotates clockwise by 90° when it is mirrored in the bottom left corner. An arrow that points downward indicates that it is rotated clockwise by 180°. An arrow that points to the left indicates that the shape is rotated clockwise by 270°. 

Set B: An arrow that points downward indicates no rotation of the shape on the top left corner. An arrow that points to the right indicates that the shape rotates anticlockwise by 90° when it is mirrored in the bottom left corner. An arrow that points upwards indicates that it is rotated anticlockwise by 180°. An arrow that points to the left indicates that the shape is rotated anticlockwise by 270°.

9. Use the CPR mnemonic

Use the following mnemonic to remember the tips covered above when checking for patterns in AR questions.

CPR mnemonic: common and colour, position, rotation and orientation

10. Or use the SCANS mnemonic

SCANS is another mnemonic which many students use to identify the pattern of given shapes.

SCANS mnemonic: shape, colour/fill, arrangement/angles, number, symmetry

11. Look at the ‘emptiest’ box first

It's easier to identify patterns in the box with the least number of images as there are fewer distractors (shapes that are seemingly random and have no bearing on the pattern).

12. Learn the number of sides of common shapes to save time

When you come to timed UCAT mocks, even saving seconds is absolutely central to success.

Common irregular shapes: arrow (7 sides), star (10 sides)

13. Don’t be afraid to guess and move on

With so little time per question, you likely won’t have time to flag a question and come back to it.

14. No negative marking

There is no negative marking in the UCAT, so leave no question unanswered. If you run out of time at the end, quickly guess all the remaining questions.

15. Use keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are an essential time-saving skill (this also goes for the UCAT VR and UCAT QR sections).

Alt+P = return to a previous question
Alt+N = move on to the next question
Alt+N = move on to the next question
Alt+F = flag a question for later
Alt+F = flag a question for later

16. Use the whiteboard and pen

Write down notes about any patterns you’ve identified in case you forget them.

You can also write down the CPR and SCANS mnemonics during the instruction reading time to remind yourself.

17. Know your prime numbers

A common pattern type involves shapes with a prime number of sides/symmetry, or shapes/objects.

It is important to know that 0 and 1 are not prime numbers, while 2 is.

Prime numbers between 1 and 25

18. Change perspective

For some questions, it can be useful to change your perspective to identify patterns more easily.

Change perspective to identify patterns more easily in the UCAT AR section

19. Don’t jump to conclusions too hastily

If you think you’ve found a pattern, check it against a number of shapes in each set.

Be aware that there may be secondary rules so don’t move on too quickly.

20. Practise, practise and practise

If you're an avid reader, the Verbal Reasoning section is much easier for you. Likewise, an adept mathematician will find the Quantitative Reasoning section a walk in the park.

However, the Abstract Reasoning section is completely different to the skills you learnt in school. Take advantage of Medify’s huge question bank and give yourself as much exposure to the AR questions as possible.

We’ve updated all of our mocks and mini-mocks to reflect the latest changes to the UCAT ANZ Abstract Reasoning section.

21. Use progressive stimulation

Follow the steps below in order. This is called ‘progressive simulation’, which is a gradual increase in difficulty, as opposed to diving straight in the deep end before mastering the doggy paddle.

A graduated approach helps to avoid frustration and burnout.

UCAT AR practising steps


  • The types of questions in the AR section are likely to be very different from anything you’ve seen before. Expose yourself to as many questions as possible.
  • Use the CPR and SCANS mnemonics to identify patterns systematically.
  • You only have 14 seconds per question – keep moving fast and don’t get stuck on a question. Guess if you need to.

Do you need help with preparing for the UCAT? Head over to our UCAT ANZ Online Course and we’ll get you signed up to guide you through the whole process.

We provide a huge bank of 20,000+ questions, 24 unique full mock exams, 40+ mini-mock exams, 50+ hours of video tutorials, and performance feedback. We've also upgraded our UCAT mock exams 13-24 and revised our practice question bank to enrich your preparation journey.

What should I do one month before my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar showing one month left

Keep practising! A month sounds like a long time, but time will quickly vanish. Set SMART  (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals such as reaching a certain score by a certain date or time. 

Niche down even further on your weaknesses – by this stage you should just be focusing on what you find hardest. Make sure you factor in breaks and days off into your schedule, as well as any important events which you need to attend.

Read the 'Good medical practice' by the Medical Board of Australia if you haven’t already. It will inform you about the different duties of healthcare professionals and how they should respond to different scenarios, which is essential for the Situational Judgement Test section of the UCAT.

Try Medify's Skills Trainers, such as inference scanning for Verbal Reasoning, to maximise your score (these are included in our UCAT ANZ Online Course). Make sure you've also completed plenty of UCAT practice tests.

The UCAT exam is two hours with no breaks in between, so practise at least two hours each time to build your mental stamina. You should also simulate the exam environment as closely as possible – this means treating every mock test as if it were a real one. 

For instance, you should sit mock exams at the same time of the day as your actual UCAT exam and ensure there are no distractions. By mirroring the test conditions, not only will it prepare you for what to expect on test day, it should also help to decrease any anxiety leading up to the exam. Otherwise, your brain has to process the ‘new’ way of completing the test.

What should I do one week before my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar showing one week left

At this point, you'll know the format of the exam inside out and will have practised the questions enough times to get used to UCAT timings. Don’t give up – keep preparing in an environment where you cannot be interrupted.

Remember, a lot of your preparation will have been done in the weeks and months before this final week, so be careful not to overdo it and become too fatigued. Your motivation may drop or you might ‘peak’ before the test. Your body needs rest too. 

Now is a great time to introduce or increase self-care in your regime. Whether it’s watching Netflix, gaming, or just running a bath, it’s important to detach yourself from UCAT revision from time to time to avoid the risk of burnout.

In this week you should also prioritise your nutrition and sleep. Eat well, do not miss meals and keep hydrated. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep in the days before the test by avoiding late night cramming or staying awake into the early hours.

If it puts your mind at rest, you can check last year’s UCAT scores, but remember that this is all about your personal journey and performance, so don't get hung up on that information!

What should I do one day before my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar showing one day left

We do not advise doing a mock this close to the exam. Revision won't help you much at this stage and can actually leave you worse off. Instead, use this time to wind down and get yourself into a relaxed state. This will enable you to perform at your best on test day.

Try to get to bed early and avoid things that can affect sleep, such as looking at your phone before bed. If you think that you will struggle to sleep on time, you could try doing some exercise during the day to tire yourself out. 

Exercise can boost your brainpower by oxygenating your brain, helping you learn and aid sleep. Plus, activity makes your body release endorphins, which can reduce anxiety and stress levels.

Make sure you double check your UCAT test centre information, the travel route to the test centre, the time of your UCAT exam, and so on, so you’re well prepared for test day. If someone else is giving you a ride to the test centre, it’s worth reminding them.

What should I do on the day of my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar circling today's date

You should start the day off with a nutritious breakfast and give yourself enough time to arrive early to the test centre to avoid feeling flustered, rushed or stressed.

Remember that buses and trains can be late and that traffic may be heavier than you had hoped, so allow extra time whichever way you are travelling. Find out how to choose a UCAT test centre.

Make sure you know how to get to the test centre – for instance you could consider taking a map with you. If you’re using your phone for directions, make sure it’s sufficiently charged and that you have spare data (otherwise you can download the map ahead of time to use offline).

On test day you will be expected to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled test time to complete the check-in process.

You need to bring:

  • Your test confirmation email
  • Photographic ID from the approved list

When you arrive at the test centre, it’s likely that you’ll be experiencing a heightened sense of adrenaline. his is completely normal, but it could be helpful to learn some strategies for adopting a winning mindset on test day to reduce your stress levels, and enable you to perform at your best. For instance, you could focus on your breathing to help you relax.

Don’t forget, during your test there are one minute introductions between each subtest. You can skip these, but we recommend using the time to mentally refresh yourself.

If you’ve stuck to your revision plan, and followed our advice above, the best thing you can do on test day is to try and keep as calm as possible. Take solace in the fact that you have prepared for weeks/months to get to this point, and channel any nervous energy into doing the best you can during your UCAT test. 

What should I eat and drink leading up to the UCAT?

You should think about your diet well ahead of UCAT test day. Focus on foods that release energy slowly (that is, which have a low glycaemic index, or GI) which will stop you from feeling hungry. These are ideal for UCAT preparation, as well as on test day itself.

Try eating protein and low-GI carbohydrates, such as meat or baked beans, brown (whole grain) rice or pasta, or wholegrain breakfast cereals or muesli. However, do not stray far from your usual diet on the day of the test in case you feel sick. You may want to try these foods out at the same time of day a few weeks in advance.

Be wary of energy drinks and coffee. If you’re not used to them then don’t drink them, especially in large quantities. Caffeine can acutely increase anxiety, and the sugar rush of an energy drink is soon followed by insulin slamming on the brakes, leaving you feeling worse than before. These products are no substitute for a good night’s sleep, eating properly and exercising.

No food or drink is allowed in the test room so eat a healthy meal before your UCAT test and ensure you’re hydrated. While you should make sure you’re drinking enough water, do not overdo it, otherwise you might need the toilet while the timer is ticking.

Please note, access arrangements are available if you have a disability, learning difficulty or long-term medical condition. You may be entitled to extra time and/or rest breaks, and allowed certain items, such as water, at your test centre workstation. 

What happens at the UCAT test centre?

  1. At the registration desk, you will be asked to show a valid photographic ID and a printed/electronic copy of your confirmation email from Pearson VUE. 
  2. You will be asked to sign a signature pad and take a photograph.
  3. You will be given a laminated notebook and a black marker pen. You may also request earplugs.
  4. Do not take anything other than your ID into the examination room. A locker or a coat hanger will be available.
  5. Go to the bathroom if you need to.
  6. Once the staff have prepared your exam, you may enter the exam room. You may be asked to undergo a body check (e.g. turning up your pockets and rolling your sleeves).
  7. The staff will guide you to the seat, or you may be able to choose your desk. Take some time to prepare yourself and relax. Your two hours have not yet started.

What is the UCAT test environment like?

This image shows a typical UCAT test environment:

Taking the UCAT at a test centre

There is no audio element to the test, but you can request earplugs to block out any noise that might disrupt your concentration. 

You will have access to a basic onscreen calculator which may be useful for the Quantitative Reasoning and Decision Making sections.

You will be given a laminated notebook and marker pen. Consider using these for:

If you require an additional notebook and pen, you can raise your hand and ask the invigilator. Although the invigilator will check that your pen is working before the test, we advise double-checking this to avoid seeking assistance during the test.

What happens during my UCAT test?

  1. Once you are ready, follow the on-screen instructions.
  2. Your exam will be in the following order:
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Decision Making
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Situational Judgement
  1. You will have one minute before each section to read the instructions. You can skip it, but this will not give you an extra minute to answer the questions. Use this time to give your mind a quick break.
  2. If you have any issues, such as requiring a toilet break, you can quietly raise your hand. However, your time will continue running.
  3. After your exam, there may be an opportunity to answer a short optional survey on UCAT ANZ preparation and the quality of the venue.
  4. Raise your hand when you've finished and the examiner will guide you out of the exam room. You need to return your laminated board and marker pen.
  5. Collect your belongings and leave the test centre.
  6. Your UCAT ANZ results will be available in your Pearson VUE account within 24 hours. You will receive an email with instructions to access your score report through your account. All results will be delivered to UCAT ANZ Consortium universities automatically.
  7. If you’ve achieved the scores that you desire, well done.
  8. Even if you haven’t achieved the scores you wanted, congratulate yourself for getting through a really tough process. You've done exceptionally well just to get to this point. Plus, you can always take the UCAT again next year or consider graduate entry to medicine – do not give up on your dream!

Do you need help preparing for the UCAT ANZ? Head over to our UCAT ANZ Online Course and we’ll get you signed up to guide you through the whole process.

We provide a huge bank of 20,000+ questions, 24 unique full mock exams, 40+ mini-mock exams, 50+ hours of video tutorials, and performance feedback. We've also upgraded our UCAT mock exams 13-24 and revised our practice question bank to enrich your preparation journey.

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