Verbal Reasoning in the 11+

What is Verbal Reasoning?

Verbal Reasoning is the ability to logically solve problems that have been expressed in words or letters (and occasionally numbers). It usually entails skills such as recognising patterns, gathering information, analyzing and applying a change, inferring from information and understanding meaning.

The Verbal Reasoning Test

Verbal reasoning questions are most commonly found in Key stage 2 (KS2). Key stage 2 is years 3 to 6 of primary school. However, verbal reasoning questions are not taught in schools but rather is a part of the eleven plus exams. It can also be found as part of certain job application processes as it is a way of testing aptitude when it comes to interpreting written information.

Verbal Reasoning Questions

Recognising Patterns

Being able to recognise patterns is a core skill in many verbal reasoning questions.


Example of how to answer verbal reasoning questions on word patterns, taken from Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books

Gathering information

Sometimes students will need to gather the information required before being able to find the answer.


Example of how to answer verbal reasoning questions on alphabet logic, taken from Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books

Analysing and Applying a Change

In this style of questions, students will need to first analyse the information provided and apply the change to find the answer.


Example of how to answer verbal reasoning questions on working out the sum, taken from Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books

Inferring from Information

Inferring is one of the more challenging skills, especially as each question has a unique set of information that needs decoding. Each problem requires a different approach, so it is up to the student to find a solution that works best. In the example below, making a table is a dependable method.


Example of how to answer verbal reasoning questions on inference, taken from Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books

Understanding Meaning

A student’s ability to answer questions that explore meanings is dependent upon their knowledge of words. This involves students building a diverse vocabulary, grasping definitions, recognising parts of speech, and identifying synonyms and antonyms. Students should practise vocabulary exercises as some items appear regularly in exams such as seldom and often, ancient and modern, etc.


Example of how to answer verbal reasoning questions on similar meaning, taken from Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books

All examples have been taken from the Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books

Tips for Verbal Reasoning tests

The ability to answer verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning questions is dependent upon a student’s skill in recognising patterns. Logical and critical thinking are thus crucial to achieving success in these subjects.

However, logical and critical thinking alone will only take a student so far. They also require knowledge of all question types they may encounter, as well as a wide range of vocabulary.

Furthermore, practice tests with answers along with clear explanations are important as it is here where students can find common mistakes and learn.

11 Plus Exam Boards

Verbal Reasoning can be overwhelming at first, initially due to the sheer number of question types and secondly knowing which question types your child will be required to be familiar with based on the exam board their grammar school uses.

All of the eleven plus exam boards use verbal reasoning in one form or another.

GL 11 Plus Exam Board

In the GL exam board; the Kent Test, the paper is timed as a whole. In fact, in The Kent Test, there are individual test papers for each of the four disciplines (maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning). There are many more verbal reasoning question types used in the GL exam board; in fact, there are 21 types of questions in the original GL question bank. There are now additional styles used in some of the boards.

But don’t panic; they all mostly boil down to the same core skills; patterns, vocabulary, explanations and practice.

CEM 11 Plus Exam Board

In the CEM exam board, invigilators time the paper section-by-section, and there is usually a short time in which to do many verbal reasoning questions. These sections include synonyms and antonyms, as well as a couple of newer question types:

Mixed/shuffled sentences – where a sentence is jumbled and has had one extra word added which the student needs to find.

For example:

Example of how to answer verbal reasoning questions on mixed shuffle sentences, taken from Redbridge Publishing CEM style Verbal Reasoning Book

The full sentence should read:
The greatest tennis players have fantastic hand-eye coordination.

Therefore the answer would be the extra word; B (rackets).

Cloze – where words or letters have been removed from a passage which need to be placed back in correctly. This ranges from choosing words from a word bank and multiple-choice options.

Example of how to answer cloze verbal reasoning questions, taken from Redbridge Publishing CEM style Verbal Reasoning- Cloze Book 1

Above, is an extract from a multiple-choice style Cloze passage. The answers would be ‘centuries’ and ‘machines’.

This is only one style of cloze questions, there are other styles, where you need to either complete the spelling or choose from a bank of words.

Example has been taken from Redbridge Publishing CEM Style Verbal Reasoning – Cloze Book 1

CSSE 11 Plus Exam Board

Finally, there’s CSSE; the Essex papers.

In the CSSE tests, verbal reasoning is now combined with the English paper. This section usually comes after the main comprehension and writing tasks. The CSSE tests now have much less focus on verbal and non-verbal reasoning than either of the other two exam boards. These questions usually entail problems such as filling in missing letters or finding synonyms. These question types, more often than not, overlap with the 21 types used in GL, so if you are familiar with these, you should not have a problem tackling the CSSE verbal reasoning questions.

Once you know which exam board(s) your child will be sitting, you will know which question types they will need to be familiar with.

Verbal Reasoning Question Types

Once you know which exam board/s your child is taking as well as the requirements, the student will need to learn how to answer questions as well as practise and review.

The first thing to do is to learn what each question type is actually asking and the best way to do this is to read a comprehensive and simple explanation of the question type. Our set of verbal reasoning books which include many verbal reasoning questions are great for this, and have helped hundreds of students find success in verbal reasoning and the eleven plus exams.

Here is how they work:

Book 1 contains 30 types of verbal reasoning questions with easy-to-understand explanations (see above), worked examples and 20 verbal reasoning questions on each question type for some initial practice.

Book 2 contains the same 30 types of questions.

They each contain an additional 40 questions on each question type followed by a verbal reasoning practice paper based on these questions.

All of our books come with mark schemes so there is no need to purchase another book for the answers.

They can be found here: Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books.

Verbal Reasoning Book 1

Verbal Reasoning Practice Tests

Once the topics are learnt, and the student knows what is being asked, it is time to practise a verbal reasoning test!

Practising is the most effective means of becoming better at verbal reasoning or anything for that matter!

Students should work through topics, obtain scores for each one, and target his/her weaknesses. If any particular topic/s are a significant weakness, students should re-read the explanations carefully, 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.

Example of how to analyse verbal reasoning practice tests, taken from Redbridge Publishing Verbal Reasoning Books

Taken from Redbridge Publishing Non-Verbal Reasoning Book 2


Timing is a key element in the 11 plus exams. Students will have up to 30 seconds per question in the final exam. In some exams, however, this can be as low as 20 seconds.

Students need to keep practising verbal reasoning 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 if you run out of time.  Likewise, there is no point in being able to do all of the questions with time to spare, but getting most of them incorrect.

Practising the eleven plus mock exams at home is useful. However, this is only useful once you are familiar with the question types and have practised them. Mock exams will help sort out any timing issues and give you familiarity with that pressure. You can do this using our CEM 11 plus mock exams. This will also help with the CEM exam as it has all four subjects in the same papers.


CEM Set 1 Mock Exams

Conclusion: Preparing your Child for Verbal Reasoning Tests

To prepare your child for the verbal reasoning test, there are a few steps to take:

  1. Find out which 11 plus exam board your child will be sitting.
  2. Get them familiar with the verbal reasoning question types.
  3. Build their vocabulary.
  4. Practise
  5. Evaluate
  6. Time them
  7. Practise!

Practise the different types of verbal reasoning questions 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 tips for verbal reasoning tests in terms of answering questions and exam techniques.

The Benefit of Tuition

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 in order to obtain success in the final verbal reasoning test. It will also mean they are able to learn from their classmates.

Time yourself. To achieve a good balance between speed and accuracy it is imperative to time yourself. This can be done with verbal reasoning 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 your strengths and weaknesses. You will receive a detailed report with a peer comparison.

Example of verbal reasoning practice test report created by Redbridge Tuition Group to montior your child's progress

Make sure your child is fresh on the morning of the exam. They should not do any work the day before the exam as this will only result in panic and stress. Make sure they get an early night! They should have a healthy breakfast in the morning, and again, do not do any revision.

All information is correct at the time of publishing.

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