What is Non-Verbal Reasoning?
Non-verbal Reasoning is the ability to solve problems that have been expressed in shapes. They usually entail skills such as finding patterns, similarities, differences and how a shape has changed. Initially, these were problems centered around 2D shapes. However, the CEM exam board (for 11 plus) has introduced questions using 3D shapes as well. The ability to decode non-verbal reasoning questions is closely related to mathematical ability.
As with anything, a student’s chances of being successful in an exam is greater with prior knowledge and familiarity of question types, particularly as these skills are not taught in school.
Furthermore, non-verbal reasoning test papers with answers along with clear explanations are useful as they enable students to learn from their common mistakes.
Where is Non-Verbal Reasoning found?
Non-verbal reasoning questions are most commonly found in Key Stage 2 (KS2). KS2 is years 3 to 6 of primary school. However, non-verbal reasoning is not taught in schools but rather is a part of the eleven plus exam. It can also be found as part of certain job application processes and graduate scheme exams as it is a way of testing aptitude when it comes to interpreting written information. The UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) has abstract reasoning questions. Abstract reasoning and non-verbal reasoning are the same.
How to Solve Non-Verbal Reasoning Questions
Schools do not teach non-verbal reasoning as a subject, although some questions are incorporated in maths. In theory, this is supposed to be an, ‘either you can naturally do it or you can’t’. In practice, however, non-verbal reasoning is probably one that can be taught as a large part of it involves logical steps. It is called reasoning for a reason!
Non-verbal reasoning questions (just like verbal reasoning) are all based on spotting patterns, specifically spotting similarities and differences between shapes. Logical and critical thinking are key components to success and improving these skills will allow you to be able to solve non-verbal reasoning questions quickly.
Similarities and Differences
Similarities and differences in non-verbal reasoning can occur within certain criteria. They can be found in how the shapes are arranged, how they may or may not transform, be symmetrical or alter. As all non-verbal reasoning questions are based around similarities and differences, they all come down to one thing; change.
Take a look at this simple explanation between similarities and differences in terms of non-verbal reasoning.
This is a base level example of how non-verbal questions are formed. All of the question types boil down to this one simple principle.
How to Solve Non-Verbal Reasoning Questions Quickly
1. Know the type of question
2. Analyse the shapes in the question
3. Look for similarities and differences
4. Eliminate options
Eleven plus exam boards vary in their use of non-verbal reasoning. Non-verbal reasoning may form an entire paper (GL) or parts of a paper (CEM) or even just a question or two (CSSE).
In the GL exam board; the paper is timed as a whole. In The Kent Test (among others), there are individual test papers for each of the four disciplines (maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning). There are six main question types used in the GL exam board, some of which overlap with the CEM exam board.
Here are some simplified explanations of how each of these question types of work. For an in-depth step-by-step explanation along with worked examples and answers, see Non-Verbal Reasoning Book 1.
Similarly to verbal reasoning analogy questions, non-verbal reasoning analogy questions give you one item which turns into another. You have to find the relationship between the two and apply it to the third item to find the fourth. In the example above, the solid line circle turns dotted. Therefore, the solid line square should turn into a dotted square. The example below is a more realistic example of an analogy question from an exam paper where more than one change occurs.
Again codes do appear in verbal reasoning, but obviously non-verbal reasoning codes questions involve shapes! Each figure is given a group of letters. Each letter represents a certain feature of the shape. Once we know what each letter represents, we apply this to the question shape to find its code.
The example above is a simple one. The example below is a more realistic example of a codes question which could appear in an exam paper. Codes questions may be laid out differently and they can have anywhere between two and four letters but the principles stay the same.
A matrix is a square grid where one of the squares is empty. This could be a 2×2 or 3×3 grid. The squares all relate to each other in some way, and you have to find the missing figure. The shapes could relate to each other in any number of ways and will not always go from left to right.
Odd One Out
The odd one out question is fairly self-explanatory. Find the shape which is least like the others. There could be more than one shape that is the ‘odd one out’ but there will only be one that is ‘least like’ the others.
Again, a fairly straightforward concept. A series is a set of shapes which are linked together by a pattern where one figure has been removed. Although the concept of a series of shapes may be simple, these questions can have various changes to follow within any individual question. Depending on which figure has been removed you may have to work from left to right, right to left or even both if the middle shape has been removed.
In similarity questions, there are two or three figures on the left that all share one or more things in common. There are some figures on the right. You have to choose the one that is most like the ones on the left. Just like in the odd one out questions, there may be some which share certain characteristics, but the idea is to find the shape which is ‘most like’ the shapes on the left.
Newer CEM 2D Questions
In the CEM exam board, invigilators time the paper section-by-section, and there is usually a short time in which to attempt many questions. These sections include the questions we looked at earlier in the GL papers bar the codes questions, as well as a couple of newer 2D question types and ones with 3D shapes.
Find which shape is a rotation of the shape on the left.
Find which shape is a reflection of the shape on the left.
Similar to the square matrices, the hexagons all relate to each other in some way, and you have to find the missing figure. (Note that the centre hexagon will not always be black).
Newer CEM 3D Questions
There are four main types of non-verbal reasoning three-dimensional questions. These are the question types that appear most commonly.
Find the 2D shape which is a plan (top-down) view of the 3D shape on the left.
Find whether the question shape is a rotation of one of the five given 3D shapes or whether it is none of them.
Find which of the individual 3D shapes can be put together to make the shape on the left.
Find the cube which can be made from the net on the left.
Find the cube which can be made from the net on the left.
Nets questions are one of the most confusing questions to understand. There are three concepts you need to understand in order to be able to eliminate options to get to the answer (which should be done in every single non-verbal reasoning question).
1 – opposite sides (explained in the free download)
2 – joining edges (explained in the free download)
3 – rotated shapes (within an individual side)
To fully understand cube nets, you need to look at how they are formed.
This free download of 3D non-verbal nets explains exactly how they are made and also includes a net template you can use to make a cube out of paper. Practise is key. So it is important that your child practices these nets.
Examples have been taken from Redbridge Publishing CEM Style Non-Verbal Reasoning – 3D and Spatial Book 1 which contains practice questions for these question types with answers as well as 3D non-verbal reasoning test papers with answers.
The Essex Exam
The Consortium of Secondary Schools for Essex (CSSE) sets the exam for all of the Essex grammar schools Essex except for Chelmsford County High Schools For Girls.
Chelmsford County High Schools For Girls uses the CEM exam paper, which includes non-verbal reasoning as 25% of its exam.
The CSSE exam does not currently include any stand-alone non-verbal reasoning paper. Instead, the maths paper may or (may not!) contain some non-verbal reasoning questions taken from the question types we saw in the GL and CEM exam boards. More often than not these questions are usually net-based.
The verbal reasoning has been incorporated as part of the English paper and is no longer a stand-alone paper.
Once you know which exam board(s) your child will be sitting on, you will know which question types they will need to be familiar with.
The most useful tool when tackling any NVR question to be able to see into your mind’s eye and move and transform shapes. This visualisation process is second nature to some people but can require a lot of practice for others. Use the methods laid out in the books to eliminate multiple-choice options. Usually, there will be one option that is definitely not the answer. There will be two or three which are not the answer due to one or two features and then the correct answer
Getting your head around all of the differences between the exam boards and the different question types can be overwhelming. Essentially they all mostly boil down to the same core skills we discussed earlier; spotting patterns, changes, explanations and practice.
Becoming familiar with your question types
The student will need to learn how to answer questions as well as practise and review once you know which exam board/s your child is taking as well as what that exam consists of
First, learn what each question type is actually asking. The best way to do this is to read a comprehensive and simple explanation of the question type. Redbridge Tuition NVR books are great for this and have helped hundreds of students find success in non-verbal reasoning and the eleven plus exams.
Here is how they work:
Book 1 takes the abstract nature of non-verbal reasoning and breaks it down to its core level such as how shapes are formed and how they can relate to each other. Then it gradually builds up to full questions on non-verbal reasoning and then exam papers.
Book 1 also contains the original 6 question types with easy to understand explanation along with worked examples. The questions in book 1 are less challenging for some initial practice. This is followed by an assessment paper to make sure the foundational concepts have been learnt.
Book 2 contains mostly the same question types. They each contain additional harder questions on non-verbal reasoning followed by full non-verbal reasoning tests based on these questions.
All of our questions come with answers so there is no need to purchase another book for the mark scheme.
The student becomes more confident in answering questions through the application of a topic after learning that topic. Once the student knows what is being asked then it is time to practise.
Practising is the most effective means of becoming better at non-verbal reasoning tests.
1-work through topics and obtain scores for each one
2-target his/her weaknesses
3-re-read the explanations carefully for any topics where they are struggling
4-find the sources of their mistakes and practise again.
Once students are at a high-level in answering the questions in these topics, they should move on to timed-practice.
An analysis chart, such as the one shown below, is an excellent way to visually identify weak areas in different topics all in one view.
Timing is a key element in the 11 plus exam. Non-verbal reasoning is tough when it comes to timing. On average, students will have up to 30 seconds per question. In some exams now it could even be as low as 20 seconds per question!
Students need to keep practising test papers under timed-conditions. The aim is to have a good balance between speed and accuracy. There is no point in being able to answer every question perfectly but run out of time and be unable to complete the paper. Likewise, there is no point in being able to do all of the questions with time to spare, but getting most of them incorrect. In fact, one of our tutors starts every class with the phrase,’ maximum marks in minimum time.”
Practising mock exams at home is useful once you are familiar with the question types and have practised them. As a result of this, the scores will naturally improve. That is when papers are useful to work on your timing. You can do this using our CEM 11 plus mock exams. The CEM paper consists of all 4 subjects within the exam paper. Familiarisation through mock exams will help your child work through the final exam with greater ease and confidence.
Conclusion: Preparing your Child for Non-Verbal Reasoning
To prepare your child for non-verbal reasoning, there are a few steps to take:
1 – Find out which exam board your child will be sitting.
2 – Get them familiar with the relevant question types.
3 – Practise
4 – Evaluate
5 – Time them
6 – Practise!
Practise the question types and make sure your child understands as much as possible.
This can be done by using books or getting bespoke tuition where a professional can explain each of the concepts clearly and concisely as well as share with your child tricks and tips in terms of answering questions and exam technique.
Bespoke tuition will also give your child the added benefit of being able to see the levels of their peers. This will help them see the level they need to achieve to succeed in the final exam.
Time yourself. To achieve a good balance between speed and accuracy it is imperative to time yourself. This can be done with practice test papers with answers and, closer to the time of the exam, 11 plus mock exams. Mock exams will give you a clear idea of strengths and weaknesses. You can compare the score to the peers in the detailed you will receive.
On the day of the exam
Make sure your child is fresh on the morning of the exam. Working the night before an exam will lead to stress and pains, so avoid that! Make sure they get an early night and have a healthy breakfast in the morning, and again, do not do any revision the night before.
For more information on the best tips for taking exams please read our blog on ‘6 Steps to 11+ Exam Success’.
Holiday Courses and Non-Verbal Reasoning
During our Easter holiday course, the Year 5s were learning about 3D and Spatial Non-Verbal Reasoning. We were learning how to draw 2D elevations (plan view, side view and front view) from a given 3D shape, but we were also trying to figure out the 3D shape and draw it using only the given 2D elevations. This is much more complex and is a question type that appears in some of the 11 plus papers. Learning to answer these types of questions helps the child to fully understand the properties of 3D shapes which in turn helps them answer questions that are in the 11 plus such as the CEM style papers which include questions on 3D Spatial Non-Verbal Reasoning.
Our Non-Verbal Reasoning course is supplementary to the Non-Verbal Reasoning we teach in our regular Eleven Plus Exam classes. This gives children additional time to practice questions in a fun, interactive and challenging way.
Gl Assessment has recently updated their Non-Verbal Reasoning questions, but are not exactly the same style as the 3d CEM questions. Here is a sample of the new style paper from GL Assessment for The Kent Test.
Is 3D and Spatial Non-Verbal Reasoning taught in schools?
Yes and no.
3D shapes are taught in school as is reflection and rotation of shapes. However, complex 3D structures and questions about them is not taught. Only very basic types of shapes and some rotation of these shapes is taught.
For more some more tips on the 11 plus, visit our blog: ‘Eleven Plus – Secrets of Success’.
All information is correct at the time of publishing.