What is Non Verbal Reasoning? Your 11+ Exams Guide

What is Non-Verbal Reasoning? Your 11+ Exams Guide

11+ exams are a significant milestone for both children and parents. They mark the end of primary school and the transition to secondary education – with plenty to understand and prepare for.

Among the various components of the 11 Plus, non-verbal reasoning stands out as a particularly challenging aspect. And unless you’ve prepared for 11+ exams yourself, you probably won’t have come across these questions before.

So, what is non-verbal reasoning?

In this article, we provide parents with a comprehensive understanding of non-verbal reasoning. We’ll look at the topics involved, how to improve your child’s performance and examples of typical questions.

What is non-verbal reasoning for the 11 Plus?

Non-verbal reasoning for the 11 Plus tests a child’s ability to understand and analyse visual information. These skills are crucial for problem-solving, useful in subjects like Science and Maths. Unlike verbal reasoning (which relies on language skills), non-verbal reasoning assesses logical thinking and pattern recognition through diagrams and pictures. 

Non-verbal reasoning isn’t on the national curriculum, although many primary schools familiarise students with the questions they’ll face on the 11 Plus. 

It’s also known as “abstract reasoning” and includes a variety of questions asking students to identify patterns, relationships and sequences among shapes and figures.

If you’re preparing your child for 11 Plus exams, check out our guide to key dates and deadlines, grammar schools without a catchment area and how to get into grammar school while homeschooling.

What does non-verbal reasoning mean?

Non-verbal reasoning involves solving problems using visual information. It relies on images and diagrams (rather than words), hence the term “non-verbal”. The “reasoning” aspect refers to a child’s ability to problem-solve their way to the correct answer.

Although not limited to, it involves recognising patterns, understanding shapes and sequences and solving puzzles without words. 

For example, a question might present a series of shapes that rotate or change in a specific way. It will then ask the student to identify the next shape in the sequence.

Why is non-verbal reasoning important?

Non-verbal reasoning is important because it develops children’s spatial awareness and the ability to think critically and logically. 

These are key skills that will help your child progress through the rigours of secondary education, GCSEs and A Levels. They’re super useful for subjects like Science, Maths, Engineering, Computing and Design. 

In addition, non-verbal reasoning tests are a fantastic way to understand skills beyond words and language. They’re helpful for children who find communicating verbally challenging, as well as for those with English as a second language, or those with dyslexia. These tests give insight into a child’s general intelligence and capabilities without relying on their Maths or English knowledge.

How many topics are there in non-verbal reasoning?

Non-verbal reasoning tests for the 11 Plus are normally multiple-choice. There aren’t any “formal” topics that always feature, but there are common question types.

These include:

  • Series and sequences: Questions that involve identifying the next image in a sequence based on a specific pattern. Children might choose the answer from four or five possible shapes, pictures or diagrams.
  • Analogies: Questions that ask children to find relationships between pairs of shapes, similar to verbal analogies but with visual elements.
  • Classification: Identifying which shape doesn’t belong in a given set (for instance, spotting the odd one out).
  • Spatial awareness: Visualising shapes in different orientations or manipulating shapes mentally to fit a particular configuration. This involves mathematical skills of symmetry, rotation and reflection.

Each topic requires different skills, but attention to detail, logical thinking and the ability to visualise objects and information are key.

What is an example of non-verbal reasoning?

You’ll find plenty of examples of non-verbal reasoning questions online. 

Visit school websites first, as they often publish sample papers or past papers. If you know the exam provider (for instance GL Assessment) you can also head to their website for familiarisation materials and practice papers.

But to give you a broad idea, a non-verbal reasoning question might present a series of shapes with a clear pattern, asking the child to identify the next shape in the sequence. 

For instance:

  • Question: A sequence shows a triangle, a square, and a pentagon. What shape comes next?
  • Answer: The pattern increases the number of sides by one each time, so the next shape would be a hexagon.

Another example could be an analogy:

  • Question: If a circle is to a sphere, then a square is to a:
  • Answer: Cube. The relationship here is that the first shape is a 2D representation of the second shape, which is 3D.

Other types of questions might involve mirror images or spatial reasoning:

  • Question: Given an image of a shape, choose the option that represents its mirror image.
  • Answer: Select the correct mirrored version from the given options.

Or pattern completion:

  • Question: Complete the pattern: a grid shows a sequence of symbols with one missing. Determine which symbol fits the empty space.
  • Answer: Identify the rule governing the sequence (such as rotation, colour change, or size change) and choose the symbol that fits accordingly.

What is the GL Assessment 11+ non-verbal reasoning?

If you’ve seen the term “GL Non-Verbal Reasoning” or “GL tests”, this refers to the company that creates and administers 11 Plus exams.

GL stands for “GL Assessment”, the leading provider of 11 Plus exams in the country. As well as non-verbal reasoning, your child will probably also face English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning papers as part of their 11 Plus tests.

For more information on GL Assessment, their scoring system, question types and how to prepare your child for 11 Plus exams, read our comprehensive overview.

How many questions are in non-verbal reasoning?

The number of non-verbal questions will vary depending on the 11 Plus exam provider. This might also change from year to year. So check past papers carefully.

But as a general rule of thumb, expect about 80 questions in an hour-long exam. This is the standard amount for GL Assessment 11 Plus Non-Verbal Reasoning papers. 

This equates to about 20 questions per 15 minutes. Yes, it’s a lot! So speed is important…

How do you solve non-verbal reasoning quickly?

Efficiency is key in non-verbal reasoning tests. Each question requires quick thinking and accuracy to ensure your child completes the test in time. 

To help your child improve their speed, it’s all about regular timed practice. Set a timer for study sessions to help your child work under time pressure. The more you work on their speed (in a fun way), the more this will come naturally.

You could also teach key exam skills like “skip and return”. By this, we mean encouraging your child to move on from difficult questions and return to them later. This strategy helps them answer as many questions as possible within the time limit, without getting stuck.

How can I improve my child’s non-verbal reasoning?

Improving your child’s non-verbal reasoning skills involves plenty of practice and exposure to various types of questions. Here are a few key tips.

  • Practise regularly: Use practice papers and online resources to familiarise your child with different questions. The more they practise, and the more question types they see, the better your child will get! Resources like Bond 11+, GL Assessment or CGP practice books are particularly useful. 
  • Regular review: Identify any areas of strength and weakness by reviewing answers together. Then adjust your focus and strategy accordingly.
  • Use visual puzzles: Engage your child with puzzles and games that require visual thinking, such as jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, tangrams, logic problem books and Rubik’s cubes. These activities improve their spatial awareness and pattern recognition skills without the pressure of exam preparation.
  • Encourage observation: Help your child develop their observation skills with games that require attention to detail. This could be “spot the difference” or competitions like “first person to spot a yellow car”. Classic strategy games like chess and draughts also help children’s logical thinking and ability to predict patterns.

How can I help my child prepare for a non-verbal reasoning test?

Successful 11 Plus preparation involves structured practice, exam familiarity and building confidence. This is the same whether you’re preparing for Verbal or Non-Verbal Reasoning, Maths or English papers. But how can parents help in practice?

Here’s how to get started.

Start early

Begin preparation well in advance of the exam date to avoid last-minute stress. This allows for gradual learning and plenty of practice time.

Create a study schedule

Allocate specific times for non-verbal reasoning practice, balancing it with other subjects. For example, dedicate 30 minutes a day to non-verbal reasoning practice, gradually increasing the time as the exam approaches.

Use mock tests

Simulate exam conditions with timed practice tests to help your child manage time effectively. Review and discuss your child’s answers together.

To help your child get even more comfortable with exam conditions, you can also book in-person mock 11 Plus exams with Achieve Learning.

Focus on test technique

Instead of always encouraging your child to complete papers on their own, sit with them from time to time, and help them work through problems.

Strategies like drawing out diagrams help with spotting connections and differences. Making notes as they go and physically making links between shapes will also help your child stay in problem-solving mode.

At Achieve Learning, we’re experts in non-verbal reasoning preparation. With dedicated 1-1 tuition, academic consultancy and specialist mock exams, we’ll help your child develop their logical thinking and problem-solving abilities – and face 11 Plus exams with confidence.