Tips & tricks: How to prepare your child for 11+ non-verbal reasoning questions

by | May 20, 2022 | Exams, Non-verbal reasoning, Teach | 0 comments

The eleven-plus (11+) exam includes three “reasoning” sections—verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, and spatial reasoning.

If you’re anxious about your child’s ability to understand and answer these reasoning questions, you’re not alone. Non-verbal reasoning tends to elicit a particular kind of stress, since it’s not obvious how to teach non-reasoning skills to children.

But don’t worry, we can help.

What is non-verbal reasoning (NVR)?

According to the Kent 11+ Familarization Booklet, “non-verbal reasoning asks you to look at the relationship between shapes—their similarities and differences—as well as identifying changes between shapes shown in a sequence … non-verbal reasoning questions test how well you deal with new and unusual information without using words.” Spatial reasoning questions (a newer type of 11+ question) test how well a child can picture a shape and manipulate (move it around) in their head.

The answers to these kinds of non-verbal, inductive reasoning questions come naturally to some people, but if your child isn’t a natural at this type of problem, don’t fret.

Any child can be taught these skills to a reasonably high level, enough to pass the non-verbal reasoning portion of the 11+ or entrance exam for grammar school.

For starters, recognize that while historically non-verbal reasoning tests (and other forms of logical reasoning) were considered “intelligence tests,” today we understand that there are many different ways to be a brainbox! (Just because you can’t picture what a slice of a sphere might look like at an angle, or how many changes have been made to a pattern, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a sparky type!)

The key to mastering this part of the 11+ test is understanding and practicing the common types of questions on the modern UK exam. Once you know the list of question types, consult the list of recommended resources below, including links to the best workbooks, apps, and practice papers. With a little practice (probably less per day/week than you think) your child will be prepared to answer the non-verbal and spatial reasoning sections of the exam with confidence.

Non-verbal reasoning question types

Shape transformations: In this type of NVR question a shape (or pattern) is given and transformed. A child is asked to apply the same transformation to a different, new shape.

example of a shape transformation multiple choice exam question
In this example, the shape on the far left transforms into a new shape.
Following the same rules, find the shape that the second example transforms into.

Find the odd one out: 5 shapes are given, but one is different in some way. The child is asked to identify which shape is different.

example of a odd-one-out exam question, a type commonly found in the eleven-plus UK exam
Find the shape in the set of 5 shapes above that does not fit the pattern of the other options.

Codes: Three shapes are presented, and each shape is given a 2, 3 or 4-letter code. The child has to “crack the code” to code a fourth shape.

an example of a "crack the code" style of non-verbal reasoning (NVR) exam question
In the “codes” question above, you are given four shapes, each with 3-letter codes based on their features.
Find the code for the fifth shape.

5-bars: A pattern is spread over 5 boxes, with one box missing/removed. The child picks out which box belongs in the missing box.

an example of a five-bar non-verbal reasoning exam question
In the 5-bar sequence above, find the figure on the right which best completes the sequence on the left.

Matrices: A pattern is spread over a 2X2 or 3X3 grid, with one of the boxes in the grid empty. The child chooses which shape belongs in the empty grid square.

an example of a grid or matrix-style non-verbal reasoning question
In the matrix question above, find the figure on the right which best completes the box matrix on the left.

Spot the group: A set of shapes or patterns is given as the model. The child picks which one of five options “matches” the model set (fits the same rules).

an example of a "spot the group" style of non-verbal reasoning question
In the “spot the group” example above, find which of the five options on the right fits best with the two figures on the left.

Spatial reasoning question types

Shape slicing/cross sections: An image of a solid 3-D shape is shown with a slice/cross-section cut through it. The child chooses which 2-D shape matches the cross section.

an example of a cross sectional/3D slicing spatial reasoning question
In the shape slicing question above, a blade has sliced through a 3D shape. Identify which option on the right best represents how the cut face would look along the surface of the blade.

Combining 3D Shapes (building blocks): The child is presented with a 3-D image of a shape built from a set of identical blocks. For example, the base shape may be a cube and a set of cubes are used to create solid “L” or “S” shapes. The child is asked to state how many blocks were used to create the aggregate shape.

an example of a "building blocks" style of spatial reasoning question, also called combining 3D shapes.
Count the total number of blocks in the pile.
Some may be hidden from view, but you can be sure they are there as they are holding up the blocks in view.

Recommended non-verbal reasoning resources

Workbooks

We highly recommend the Stephen C. Curran Non-Verbal Reasoning Workbooks:

We don’t recommend the Bond books, unless your child only needs light practice. The books themselves are great, but the style in which the questions are presented isn’t close to the exam format, which can confuse some children.

If you need help choosing which practice materials would be the best fit for your child, get in touch—we keep our resource lists up to date to match the latest developments in the tests, and would be glad to point you in the direction of the best resources for your child.

App

Webrich Software produces an excellent smartphone app called “11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning” which includes 210 questions. It’s just £2.99.

Practice papers

It’s always best to begin with workbooks/apps and then move onto practice papers. Practice papers prepare children for the actual experience of taking an exam from start to finish, but the answer key does not explain how to solve each problem (they just provide the answer.)

As such, it’s best to leave practice exams for after your child has had enough experience with NVR questions to be able to answer them confidently.

Once your child is ready for exam papers, we recommend:

When to start practicing non-verbal reasoning

Having walked hundreds of children (and their parents) through the 11+ prep process, we highly recommend not even starting to teach your child non-verbal reasoning until year 5—before then, it’s just a waste of time.

Instead, we recommend starting reasoning training in September of year 5, but only spending about 5 minutes per day on it, or up to 30 minutes per week. Some questions will likely strike your child (and you) as tricky, but the learning begins once you both fully understand the correct answer.

What we’ve found is children’s non-verbal and spatial reasoning skills improve dramatically with recent practice, so the best time to study is in the summer before the test. The content itself isn’t difficult, but children need to experience it before they sit down to take the test.

Answering these questions correctly (within the time allowed) is actually more dependant on being familiar with the types of questions and strategies for solving them than it is skill or innate ability.

Don’t panic!

So, if seeing the strange shapes and patterns in the reasoning examples above strikes fear in your heart—don’t panic! They might look strange, but often just a little practice at a time (done often) is all a child needs.

And if you need any help with it, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.