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UKCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips - Type #1 Questions

“I just can't seem to spot the pattern!” Is this how you feel whilst practising Abstract Reasoning questions? You are gaining confidence and getting quicker in the Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Decision Analysis sections, but just can't seem to be improving in Abstract Reasoning? Don't worry – you're not alone. The UKCAT Abstract Reasoning section has long been the nemesis of many a UKCAT student.

Here at JobTestPrep, we have put together some of the most useful tips, guidelines and bits of advice that will most certainly help you solve some of the Type 1 Abstract Reasoning questions. “Whoa whoa whoa there’s more than one type of question in Abstract Reasoning?!” In fact, three new subtypes of questions were added to the Abstract Reasoning section in the 2012 updates (keep a look out for more on this in future blog posts!) Today, we will be focusing upon tackling the type 1 Abstract Reasoning questions.


The Type 1 Abstract Reasoning questions essentially require you to identify the logic behind one set (A or B), identify the logic of the other set, whose pattern is usually linked to its counterpart, and then place 5 test shapes into either set A, set B or neither set. It’s worth clearing up a fairly common mistake made here. The answer will be ‘neither’ if the test shape does not match either set, OR, if the test shape matches both sets. But it’s spotting the pattern that can be the real difficulty…

A few UKCAT Abstract Reasoning Tips…

The three square rule:

With just over 70 seconds to work out both patterns and then place the 5 test shapes into a category, it is fundamental that you have an efficient method of working out the rule. Perhaps the most useful method to use here is the three square rule:

  1. Find the box out of either set which is the most simple - normally the one with the fewest things inside it. (You have to remember that every box, however simple, must contain the rule used. The simpler the box, the fewer the number of distractors inside it -see below!)
  2. Look at two boxes either side of it
  3. Compare the three boxes, looking for any similarity with regards to the shapes, patterns, colouring or edges.
  4. Think you're on to something? Great, check this works for the rest of the boxes in that set, and more importantly, not for any of the boxes in the other set.
  5. If this works, voila, you're probably onto something…
“That’s all well and good, but what do I look for in the three boxes?”

Going through the fairly repetitive task of recognising patterns amongst the boxes requires some sort of checklist of things to look out for – a mnemonic. Using a mnemonic, be it a short simple one or a longer more advanced one, will help save you time constantly thinking about what to look for next across the boxes in a set. Use a mnemonic like:

  • Shape
  • Colour
  • Angle/Arrangement
  • Number of (shapes, sides, intersections…)
  • Symmetry
Do remember, that this mnemonic is by no means exhaustive, but serves as a useful basis upon which you can work out what the rule really is!

“I thought I had the pattern, but it didn't quite fit one of the boxes.” 

You've probably stumbled across a distractor. As if some of the patterns are not complex enough, distractors are used to divert your attention away from the real pattern. Being able to spot a distractor will not only save you time, but help make your attempt at finding the pattern far more efficient. Let’s take the example of one of the most common distractors used - colour. Quite simply, if you see a box where all the shapes are the same colour, colour is most likely being used as a distractor, so move on! Quickly eliminating distracter answer options will help increase the time you have, and thus the chances of finding the correct answer!

This is a very general overview of some just some of the methods that you can use to help decipher the rule used within each of the type 1 UKCAT Abstract Reasoning Questions. For much more information on methods of spotting distractors, a more advanced mnemonic, and a list of some of the most common patterns and features to look out for, head over to our UKCAT section. Here you can take a free UKCAT test online; sign up for our UKCAT online packages (notes, in-depth explanations and thousands of questions) and even speak to one of our experienced UKCAT tutors for some extra guidance!

Written by Akash, a member of JTP’s UKCAT tutors team.

~ JobTestPrep Team ~