The Abstract Reasoning subtest is commonly the most feared by prospective medical students, and for good reason. While the other sections involve skills that are familiar to candidates, such as verbal comprehension or logical problem solving, Abstract Reasoning seems completely alien and bizarre to those who see it for the first time.
It is for this reason that practice is absolutely crucial, as without a structured means of approaching these questions you are reduced to blind guessing under the time pressure of the exam. While in theory this would still net you 33% of the total possible marks for the section, that won’t quite be good enough to land you safely into medical school.
One of the most straightforward ways to approach the Type 1 questions wherein you are required to discern the pattern connecting all 6 boxes in Set A and B is the Simple Squares method. While you have no idea what the rules of the game are before seeing the question, you do know that there are rules, which is quite a powerful piece of information in the context of the UKCAT.
Upon seeing the six boxes that comprise Set A, simply look for the square that is the least complex, with the fewest elements. Fundamentally you know that whatever rules link the set together MUST apply to all boxes in the set, and therefore you are more likely to spot a pattern if there are fewer things to distract you. If you can identify something that connects the simplest boxes together, it is quite likely that it will link the more complicated ones too, but crucially it will take less time to form your hypothesis in a simple box.
As seen in the example above, the squares from each set with a reduced number of elements are highlighted. The rule in this case is rather simple, in Set A the total number of sides is odd, while it is even in Set B. It’s not a difficult question, but you’re still more likely to spot the patterns if you’re mentally counting a smaller number of sides when testing your developing theories, particularly under stress.
Let’s use a more complicated example [AR-9S]. In this case, going for the simplest squares will not immediately give you the answer because it is a conditional rule. For Set A, if a square is present the circle is black, and otherwise white. Equally for Set B, if a triangle is present the circle is black and otherwise white. Conditional rules obviously require comparison of multiple squares to identify, but the method still isolates important components. For instance in the first square of Set A, you know that either the circle, the square, or their properties must be important, or indeed the lack of the other shapes there. That starting point should lead to the realisation that the colour of the circle is dependent on the square.
I hope you found this article useful for your UKCAT preparation - if you did be sure to let me know via the contact form!