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Top Abstract and Spatial Reasoning Exercises For a High UCAT Score

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The term ‘Abstract’ can be defined as characters or art in general that doesn’t represent the physical manifestation of reality. Instead, abstract concepts use shapes, patterns, colours and textures to achieve its tone of messaging. In layman's terms, abstract is a word used to describe patterns that appear asymmetrical or irregular in nature, but can be accurately interpreted and studied if you don't deviate from its objective.

Sounds a tad bit confusing, doesn’t it?

Truth be told, UCAT Abstract Reasoning test is a unique subtest that has convoluted patterns, which is not like your everyday school syllabus. This section measures your ability to interpret across a plethora of random shapes and patterns to arrive at a logical solution. The way to approach Abstract Reasoning patterns is to try and generate fresh concepts rather than clinging onto a concrete idea. Therefore, attuning abstract thinking as a skill is not only a vague concept but has no coherent strategy for one to achieve it. 

After brainstorming some potential strategies, we have generated a list of abstract reasoning exercises that we believe can tailor your thinking and reasoning styles to help you connect the dots between an array of patterns to reach the correct answer in your UCAT exam. 

Abstract Reasoning Strategies

Use Metaphors and Analogies

An abstract way of thinking about patterns and shapes is not necessarily meant to be out-of-the-box or a ground-breaking concept. It is really more about making sense of the provided shapes and deciphering the ‘why’ behind their composition. A great way to improve your abstract reasoning skills is to start using metaphors and analogies during your UCAT preparation and in your real-life interactions too.

A metaphor, as you may know, is a figure of speech that is used to symbolically describe an object, rather than in its literal meaning. Therefore, start engaging in activities that encourage you to understand the metaphorical sense of a context. This can help you develop fresh perspectives each time you approach a visuo-spatial question. For instance, interpreting poetry is a really good place to start. 

By gradually deploying these techniques, you will notice that your ability to correlate to different shapes in UCAT Abstract Reasoning is also steadily improving as you start noticing shapes for ‘how’ and ‘why’ they are presented the way they are.

Now when we talk about analogies, we don’t imply a mere comparison between two pattern-types but it is more about being able to identify any partial similarities, be it in their orientation or placements within the box. You will have to recognise significant aspects of these symbols in order to interpret their intention. A good example where you would have done something similar would be finding similarities between two identical looking images, this was a common trend in a majority of past newspapers. 

How Do You Practise Abstract Reasoning? Through Diffused Thinking 

Unlike a focused mode of thinking, which involves concentrated and conscious execution of your observations, in diffused thinking you provide space in your thinking for innovation. These gaps in your thinking can subconsciously trigger you to form connections between discrete ideas. This is the very foundation of UCAT Abstract Reasoning, building logical ideas from unfamiliar concepts.


Another way to look at the diffused style of approach is to deviate from the concept of finding or getting stuck on a single pattern, which could impact your ability to address the patterns as a whole.  

Here’s an Abstract Reasoning example:

In a ‘Set A, Set B, or Neither’ question format, you will have different alternating patterns under each Set A and Set B, and you will have to identify whether the pattern given in the answer section falls under either of these sets. In order to be able to locate the shifts you need to analyse the sets as a whole, i.e., both Set A and Set B rather than getting caught up in the smaller details. It is also important that you take a step back from the problem if you feel like one idea is consuming too much of your time and creativity. 

Ponder Upon the ‘Why’ Behind the Patterns

You may wonder, ‘Can abstract reasoning be trained?’ and although it seems far-fetched, there is an effective strategy that can train you to become an abstract thinker.

For instance, the construction of patterns within UCAT Abstract Reasoning are vague, and to a large extent confusing, but there is an ultimate pattern integrated within each question - be it a repetitive occurrence of a shape or a change in orientation with the introduction of a new shape. No matter the nature of the changes in pattern, figuring out the ‘why’ behind the pattern can lead you to a plethora of possibilities, from which you need to pick the most realistic one. 

To be good at UCAT Abstract Reasoning, you need a multi-faceted approach to tailoring your higher-order thinking skills. This involves analysing the given pattern from different perspectives, where each perspective or the question when mapped out leads you to a number of ways to decipher the pattern. And by further exploring each perspective, you will either hit a dead end or find your way to the solution.

Some of these questions include:

  1. Why does the pattern have this specific feature?
  2. Why is the pattern shifting or changing in certain circumstances?
  3. Why is the pattern composition different/similar across different boxes?

The purpose of the ‘why’ behind pattern recognition is to better understand the bigger picture at stake, which is not primarily focused on a single problem itself. 

How to Instantly Improve your Abstract Reasoning: Solve Riddles and Puzzles 

Brain teasers, riddles and puzzles are effective brain exercises that play a pivotal role in shaping your concentration and logical thinking power. Besides, their framework is designed to encourage lateral thinking abilities as well as build new perspectives when you feel stuck in a problem. This is precisely one of the core skills of UCAT Abstract Reasoning

Some of the cognitive challenges like critical thinking, fast processing of information and thinking outside-the-box thinking can be attuned to a good degree through ‘brain teasers’. Not only that, you keep your mind active and engaged, and increase your creativity levels without succumbing to burnout. After all, riddles and puzzles are hard to crack but highly interactive activities!

Abstract Reasoning UCAT Test Strategy: Rephrase the Problem

Re-framing or re-thinking the problem is a really effective way to get to the roots of the issue to help you generate innovative methods and find potential opportunities. 

Especially, in UCAT AR, where timing is of the highest priority, it is crucial for you to change the framing of the question to your liking and comfort, so you can understand the problem on your own terms. Now, this does not mean you change the question to an extent that it loses its context and purpose entirely, instead it should retain all the basic information but only add on newer pathways to identify the problem.

Interestingly, the method of re-phrasing also allows you to break free from a restricted way of analysing a problem and encourages an influx of new perspectives that could improve your levels of abstraction.

For example, in a complete series question-style, if you have a question that states, ‘Which of the following figures complete the series?’, try to change the framing to, ‘Does image 2 match the sequence?’ or ‘Do they have common pattern traits?’ or ‘Can I make this simpler by focusing on one pattern only?’

These are all useful and smart ways of working through common UCAT abstract reasoning patterns.

Indulge in Abstract Reasoning Practice through Our UCAT Courses

We hope our 5 top tricks on the best abstract reasoning exercises have proven to be useful and can in some ways help you achieve a high score in UCAT Abstract Reasoning.

Before we sign off, here’s another great opportunity for you to groom your abstract reasoning and thinking capabilities, through our weekly skill workshops and skill trainer seminars offered in our highly detailed course packages. In our UCAT Concentrated and Comprehensive packages, we offer both the theoretical and practical framework required to succeed in the UCAT. And, as past UCAT test takers, we completely understand the intricacy in understanding cognitive skills development. Hence, our sessions provide different exercises that will go a long way to honing your abstract reasoning skills.

For more information regarding UCAT study, reach out to our friendly UCAT team who can provide significant insights to improve your UCAT score!

In saying that, we believe that the right UCAT resources can guarantee a strong performance on your test day. Check out our freely available articles and tools that can provide different insights on what you need for the UCAT. 

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