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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, verbal reasoning test papers with answers along with clear explanations are of paramount importance as it is here where students can find common mistakes and learn.

Where does Verbal Reasoning Appear?

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 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 as it is a way of testing aptitude when it comes to interpreting written information.

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.

Recognising Patterns

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


Gathering information

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


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.


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.


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.


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

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.

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 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 we discussed earlier; patterns, vocabulary, explanations and practice.

In the CEM exam board, invigilators time the paper section-by-section, and there is usually a short time in which to do many 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:

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.

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

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 section.

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.

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 verbal reasoning books is great for this, and have helped hundreds of students find success in verbal reasoning and the eleven plus exams.

Here is how they work:

Books 1, 2 and 3 each contain 10 question types with easy to understand explanations (see above), worked examples and 20 questions on each question type for some initial practice.

Books 4, 5 and 6 each contain the same 10 question types, where book 4 follows on from book 1, book 5 from 2, and book 6 from 3.

They each contain an additional 40 questions on each question type followed by a verbal reasoning test 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.


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 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 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. Verbal reasoning is one of the toughest when it comes to timing. In the final exam, students are expected, on average, to spend 30 seconds per question in the verbal reasoning tests (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 Verbal Reasoning

To prepare your child for 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. Build their vocabulary.
  4. Practise
  5. Evaluate
  6. Time them
  7. 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 Non-Verbal Reasoning’, and ‘Preparing your Child for Maths Questions: 11 plus‘.

All information is correct at time of publishing.

If you would like any further information or assistance please visit our website or email us at



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