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Non-Verbal Reasoning is not taught in schools 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 (nvr) 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 in both non-verbal reasoning and verbal reasoning.

In addition, prior knowledge and familiarity of all question types can improve a student’s probability of achieving a higher score in the real exam 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 does Non-Verbal Reasoning Appear?

Non-verbal reasoning questions are most commonly found in Key Stage 2 (KS2). Key Stage 2 is years 3 to 6 of primary school. However, as mentioned earlier, non-verbal reasoning is 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 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.

What is Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning is the ability to solve problems which 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 centred 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.

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 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 Answer any Non-Verbal Reasoning Question

1. Know the type of question
2. Analyse the shapes in the question
3. Look for similarities and differences
4. Eliminate options

Knowing which question types your child will be required to be familiar with is based on the exam board their grammar school uses and is the first key step to eleven plus success.

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 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

Odd one out 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 which 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.

Examples have been taken from Redbridge Publishing Non-Verbal Reasoning – Books 1 & 2

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.

Newer CEM 2D Questions


Find which shape is a rotation of the shape on the left.


Find which shape is a reflection of the shape on the left.

Hexagonal Matrices

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 which appear most commonly.

Plan views

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.

Compound Shapes

Find which of the individual 3D shapes can be put together to make the shape on the left.

Nets (Cube)

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

3D Non-Verbal Reasoning Nets explanation

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.

Finally, there’s CSSE; the Essex papers.

The CSSE tests now have much less focus on verbal and non-verbal reasoning than either of the other two exam boards. This is especially true when it comes to non-verbal reasoning. These disciplines are incorporated into the English and maths papers respectively.

Where verbal reasoning has its own dedicated section in the English paper (see ‘Preparing Your Child for Verbal Reasoning’), in the maths paper, the non-verbal reasoning does not. Instead, the maths paper may or (may not!) contain a non-verbal reasoning question or two taken from the question types we saw in the GL and CEM exam boards. More often than not these questions are usually net-based.

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.

The most useful tool when tackling any non-verbal reasoning question is being 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. If you can not see the shapes in your head (or even if you can) use the methods laid out in the books to eliminate multiple-choice options. Usually, there will be one option which is definitely not the answer, two or three which are not the answer due to one or two features and then the answer.

Trying to get your head around all of the differences between the exam boards and the different question types can be overwhelming at first, but 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

Once you know which exam board/s your child is taking as well as what is required, 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 non-verbal reasoning books is 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 and then exam papers.

Book 1 also contains the original 6 question types with easy to understand explanations as you have already seen, along with worked examples and easier questions on each question type for some initial practice 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 versions of the questions types followed by full non -verbal reasoning test papers 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.


Once the topics are learnt, and the student knows what is being asked, it is time to practise.

Practising is the most effective means of becoming better at non-verbal reasoning.

Students should work through topics, obtain scores for each one, and target his/her weaknesses. If any particular topic/s are significant weaknesses, 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.

Taken from Redbridge Publishing Non-Verbal Reasoning Book 2


Timing is a key element in the 11 plus exams. Non-verbal reasoning is tough when it comes to timing. In the final exam, students are expected, on average, to spend 30 seconds per question in the non-verbal reasoning tests or sections (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 if you run out of time and are 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.

Doing eleven plus mock exams at home is useful once you are familiar with the question types, have practised them and have begun to work on your timing. You can do this using our CEM 11 plus mock exams
. This will also help you see where your child is across all four subjects as well as individually as CEM is done section by section.

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 in order to obtain success in the final exam, as well as 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 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 on strengths and weaknesses as you receive a detailed report with peer comparison.

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.

For more information on the best tips for taking exams please read our blog on ‘6 Steps to 11+ Exam Success’.

See also ‘Preparing Your Child for Verbal Reasoning’

All information is correct at time of publishing.

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