Abstract Reasoning: Types of Questions

Type 1 Questions: Sets

Type 1 questions require you to analyse two sets (A and B) which each contain 6 boxes of shapes. The pattern in one set will apply to each of the boxes in the set and will be unlike the pattern in the other set. Once you identify the pattern, you can answer each of the 5 associated questions – simply determining whether each test shape given holds the same pattern as set A or set B.

Note: For the correct answer to be Set A, the test shape in question cannot also apply to Set B, and vice versa. If it happens to apply to both, you are either missing one of the patterns, or you must say that it applies to neither.

Example 1

Determine whether the test shapes (1-5) belong to Set A, Set B or neither.

Answer 1

If this is your first time looking at Abstract Reasoning, you will find it very difficult to find the pattern here. Throughout this book, you will learn various strategies that will help you in pattern recognition. For now, understand the pattern is as follows:

Set A: There are 3 shapes in each box which have an odd numbers of sides (triangle has 3, circle has 1, arrow has 1, pentagon has 5, etc.) and 1 shape which has an even number of sides (square has 4, heart has 2, leaf has 2, etc.).

Set B: There are 3 shapes in each box which have an even number of sides and 1 shape which has an odd number of sides.

Notice how the pattern in Set B is the “inverse” of Set A. You will commonly see this type of relationship between Sets A and B throughout Abstract Reasoning. So, once you decipher the pattern in one set, it becomes much easier to find the pattern in the other. Furthermore, once you have found the patterns, it becomes easy to answer the 5 associated questions. If you keep in your mind, or potentially on your whiteboard, “A= 3 odd, 1 even; B= 3 even, 1 odd” you can answer the questions as follows:

  1. The correct answer is C. Each of the 4 shapes has an odd number of sides, therefore, it does not fit into either Set A or Set B.
  2. The correct answer is A. 3 shapes have an odd number of sides, while the crescent moon has an even number of sides.
  3. The correct answer is A. The square has an even number of sides, while the other 3 shapes have an odd number of sides.
  4. The correct answer is B. There are 3 shapes with an even number of sides, and the triangle has an odd number of sides.
  5. The correct answer is C. You can see that the circle and the pentagon have an odd number of sides, while the square and the leaf have an even number of sides. This does not fit in with any of the patterns.

If this does not make sense to you, don’t worry! You will understand it much more as you progress through this section of the book.

Type 2 Questions: Series

The majority of questions in Abstract Reasoning are Type 1 – an example being the previous question shown. Type 2 questions will always make their appearance, but far less frequently than the first type. In this question type, you will be given a series of shapes, normally 3 or 4, and will be required to assess the sequence of changes, or the differences between the shapes, rather than the similarities. This will allow you to decipher which shape is next in the series by applying the pattern rules demonstrated.

Each question is only worth 1 mark, compared to Type 1 questions that have 5 marks each, therefore you should spend far less time on this type of question – ideally, no more than 15 seconds. The strict time limit makes these questions much more difficult, although given endless time to solve, they are not too tricky.

A very straight-forward example is shown below. See if you can identify the pattern, then answer the question.

Example 2

Answer 2

The correct answer is A.

The circle moves one place in an anti-clockwise direction with each subsequent shape in the series. The line also follows the exact same pattern.


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Type 3 Questions: Relationships

This is another type of question that makes a minimal number of appearances, but will undoubtedly come up. You are presented with an image on the left which is directly related to an image on its right, connected by the words “is to”. There is then a second image on the bottom left, and you must apply the pattern that links the top two images together in order to determine the image that will appear on the bottom right. You have roughly 15 seconds, as there is only one mark for this type of question. An example of this is shown below.

Example 3


Before answering this question, let us determine the strategy that should be used to maximise efficiency.

The best part about this type of question is the lack of distractors – you only have 2 images that you can use to identify a pattern, therefore, adding any distractors would be very cruel, although possible.

This question type is similar to Type 3, as you must identify the pattern behind the “change” that occurs from left side to right side, and apply that pattern to determine your answer. The strategy you can utilise is as follows:

  1. Take a glance at both sides to see if there is any obvious change you notice – look out for all of the characteristics you have learned, such as size, shape, number, colour, etc. (covered in more detail in our UCAT book)
  2. Select one aspect that appears to be changing and verify the change between the boxes. Identify any further characteristics of the change.
  3. Apply that change to the box underneath, using the answer options to confirm. If the same pattern that you have identified in the top column is applicable to any of the answer options that fit into the bottom column, that is your answer.
  4. If you are unable to select an answer based on this single pattern, you can:
    • Assess which aspects have not changed between the boxes, i.e. the immobile aspects. If this immobile aspect happens to change in any of the answer options, you can immediately eliminate it.
      • For example, if there is no change in colour between the boxes, but one of the answer options has a change in colour, that option is immediately eliminated.
    • Assess for a second pattern.

Answer 3

Using the strategy above, at a quick glance, we can see the following features

  • Change in number of shapes.
  • Change in the types of shapes, so there is a likely change in the total number of lines.
  • No change in colour, symmetry, size, arrangement, or orientation.

Let us focus on one of these aspects: number of shapes. This is quick and easy to work with. There are 2 shapes in the first box and 3 shapes in the second. The box underneath also has 2 shapes, so its missing box should have 3 shapes. This immediately allows us to eliminate option C which only has 2 shapes.

  • Note: This exact number does not have to follow! You’re looking for a pattern. If the box underneath had 4 shapes, perhaps its missing box would have 5 (i.e. 5 is 1 more than 4, as 3 is 1 more than 2).

We are unable to decide between options A, B and D based on number of shapes alone, so we need to identify another pattern. Count the number of sides – there are 7 sides in the first box and 8 sides in the second. 8 is 1 more than 7, so we would expect the bottom column to also hold this same pattern. The pattern underneath has 9 sides in total, so the missing box should have 10 sides. Rather than counting all of the sides in each of A, B and D, look to see if there is anything obvious. Option D has the exact same shapes, with an additional circle. We know that a circle has 1 side, so we can safely select this option.

This may seem difficult so let us explore this type of question in further detail. (covered in more detail in our UCAT book)

Type 4 Questions: Set Selection

This question type is very similar to Type 1 questions. However, you will not be asked to decide between Set A and Set B for each of 5 given boxes. Instead, you will be given Set A and Set B, followed by a series of 5 questions that each have 4 boxes to choose from. In each of the questions, you will be asked one of the following:

  • Which of the following test shapes belongs in Set A?
  • Which of the following test shapes belongs in Set B?


The same basic strategy applies as for Type 1 questions.

  1. Move your head back and get a good overall view of the two sets.
  2. If you are unable to see a pattern, select the simplest box and follow the simplest box strategy. (Check out our UCAT book for the “simplest box strategy”)
  3. Answer each of the questions. There is only one correct answer, so when you find it, do not check any more of the boxes – you will be wasting precious seconds!

Example 4

Note: There are only 2 questions associated with this example for demonstrative purposes. In the UCAT, there would be 5 associated questions.

Answer 4

Following the strategy, if you look at the sets from a distance, you will see that there are large and small shapes. The simplest box in Set A is the middle right box. Let us identify the characteristics of this box in order to determine the pattern:

  • Shape – Large in size. Only 1 circle present – no other shapes.
  • Colour – Irrelevant as all boxes are the same colour.
  • Arrangement – Irrelevant as there is no specific arrangement in this box.
  • Number of sides – A circle only has 1 side.
  • Orientation – Orientation does not apply to a circle with a single colour.
  • Symmetry – Has infinite lines of symmetry. Symmetry is probably irrelevant as all shapes appear to have symmetry.

So, from this we can note that there is a single black circle with 1 side. It is hard to spot a pattern with this alone, so let us compare the next simplest box (the bottom right) using the same characteristics (shape and number of sides).

  • 1 large heart, 1 small circle.
  • Heart has 2 sides, circle has 1 side.

It is still difficult to identify a pattern here, although you may have some ideas. Let us look at the next simplest box – the top right:

  • 1 large triangle, 2 small circles.
  • Triangle has 3 sides, circles have 1 side each.

After going through all of these, the pattern should start to become more evident. It appears that the number of small circles present is always 1 less than the total number of sides in the large shape.

  • Large circle has 1 side. 1 – 0 = 0, so 0 small circles are present
  • Large heart has 2 sides. 2 – 1 = 1, so 1 small circle is present.
  • Large triangle has 3 sides. 3 – 1 = 2, so 2 small circles are present.

You can confirm this with any of the other squares.

To identify the pattern in Set B, we will look for something similar. Analysing the simplest square (top right), the large shape has 1 side, and there are 2 small circles. It appears that the rule in Set B is the inverse of Set A – the number of small circles is always 1 more than the total number of sides in the large shape.

Using the patterns identified, the answers are as follows:

  1. The correct answer is A. The large shape has 3 sides, and there are 2 small circles present.
  2. The correct answer is B. The large shape has 1 side, and there are 2 small circles.

An overview of the types of Abstract Reasoning Questions:

Question Type Time Needed Description
Type 1   ~70 seconds There are 2 sets of shapes given (Set A and Set B), each with 6 boxes representing the same pattern. 5 associated questions each show 1 box. You must decide whether the box demonstrates the same pattern as Set A or Set B.
Type 2 ~10-15 seconds There is a specific change that is applied to a series of boxes that contain shapes. You must identify the change in order to select the next box in the series.
Type 3 ~20 seconds A specific change is made to one box. You must identify the change and apply it to another box.
Type 4 ~70 seconds Similar to Type 1 questions. Rather than 5 questions with 1 box each, you are given 5 questions with 4 boxes each, and you must identify which box in each of the questions belongs to either Set A or Set B.

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