What is Verbal Reasoning for the 11 Plus? How To Help Your Child Succeed

Verbal Reasoning is a fundamental part of 11 Plus exams.

If you’re applying to a grammar school or a partially selective school, your child will sit these tests at the end of Year 6. With a mixture of Maths, English and Verbal Reasoning questions, 11 Plus exams are designed to be challenging. But the good news is with plenty of practice and preparation, there’s no reason why your child can’t ace these assessments.

Today, we’re focusing on verbal reasoning (VR). It’s not something many parents are too familiar with, so we’ll explain what it is, the main types of VR questions, how you can help your child, as well as which schools use verbal reasoning tests.

Pens at the ready? Let’s get started.

Verbal Reasoning 11 Plus: An Introduction

Verbal reasoning is a way of testing pupils’ ability to analyse, understand and mentally manipulate information. These tests are presented in a verbal format (i.e., words and letters). They cover things like identifying relationships between words and phrases, sorting into alphabetical order, vocabulary and more.

Verbal reasoning is often used as part of 11 Plus entrance exams, for entrance to private, grammar and partially selective schools across the UK.

These tests are normally set as a series of multiple-choice questions. These questions assess your child’s ability to understand and interpret the meaning of words, sentences and paragraphs. They might also face topics such as synonyms and antonyms, analogies and identifying the meaning of words in context.

What is a Verbal Reasoning 11 Plus test?

Verbal Reasoning tests for 11 Plus exams normally take between 40 and 50 minutes. They’re a key part of formal assessment procedures for selective schools.

These exams test whether your child is academically suitable for admission to a particular school. It’s all about the ability to think logically and laterally – as well as how your child uses language.

The best way to understand the format of verbal reasoning tests is to have a look at past papers. There are loads of sample verbal reasoning 11 Plus papers available online (just give it a google). You’ll also find specific 11 Plus verbal reasoning revision guides and papers available from most high-street bookstores.

To give you some examples here are a collection of free practice papers. These are grouped by private and independent schools, grammar schools and different exam boards (for instance GL Assessment, Bond, CGP and IPS).

Take a look at some of the following papers to get an idea of test styles and question types.

What are the types of Verbal Reasoning 11 Plus questions?

Now, this is a tricky one.

Historically, there were 21 types of verbal reasoning questions in 11 Plus exams. Parents could reliably understand types of questions likely to come up, and help their child prepare accordingly.

Recently though, some testing bodies (for instance GL Assessment) have added new question types. Schools setting their own tests (usually private schools) might incorporate any kind of question too… so it pays to be prepared and look at as many different past papers and question types you can.

The different types of VR questions are broadly categorised as follows:

  • Synonyms and antonyms: Your child is asked to identify words with the same meanings (synonyms) or the opposite meanings (antonyms) as a given word.
  • Analogies: Identifying the relationship between two words, and then finding another pair of words with the same relationship. For example, Calf is to Cow as Kitten is to ?
  • Sentence completion (cloze tests): Your child is given a sentence with one or more words missing. They need to choose a word that best completes the sentence.
  • Paragraph or text comprehension: Your child reads a paragraph of text (or a short passage) and answers questions about the implicit and explicit information contained in the text.
  • Vocabulary questions: As well as synonyms and antonyms, your child might face general vocabulary questions, as well as problems to do with homophones (words that sound the same with different meanings) and homographs (spelled the same, with different meanings).
  • Code-breaking questions: These questions test your child’s ability to crack codes and ciphers. They can be some of the hardest question types to master, but with plenty of practice – your child should become familiar with the style of thinking required.
  • Sequence questions: A bit like code-breaking questions, these types of problems analyse your child’s ability to find patterns and sequences in a given set of words, letters or numbers.

How can I help my child improve their Verbal Reasoning?

If this sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry. The good news is there are loads of ways you can help your child improve their verbal reasoning skills.

Just some of the most effective strategies include:

  • Reading widely: Reading (as widely as possible) really helps improve vocabulary and comprehension skills. Make sure your child reads a variety of books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers. Whatever you can get your hands on!
  • Playing board games: Board games that require players to use logic and reasoning skills can help improve verbal reasoning skills. Good examples of board games for this purpose include Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams and Pictionary. It’s also a fantastic way to have some family fun. A win, win for everyone.
  • Practising commonly misspelt words: There are many words that are commonly misspelt by children. Help your child learn how to spell these words correctly by practising regularly. You can easily find lists online, but also check your child’s work for their individual “problem” words.
  • Problem solving: Problem solving is an important skill that’s used in many verbal reasoning questions. Help your child develop their problem solving skills by giving them various puzzles and brain teasers to solve. Making-up questions together is a fun activity, and also lets your child put you to the test too!
  • Logic games: Logic games, books and puzzles are a great way to improve your child’s ability to think logically and solve problems. There are many types of logic games and exercises available, so experiment and find materials appropriate for your child’s age and ability level – as well as things they genuinely enjoy playing.
  • Practice papers and quizzes: We’ve already provided links to various past papers, but this is one of the best ways to help your child improve their VR skills and get familiar with different test formats. As well as full-length practice papers, you can also find plenty of fun quizzes focusing on specific question types online.

Which schools use Verbal Reasoning tests?

 Lots of schools across the UK use verbal reasoning tests as part of their 11 Plus entry requirements. This includes grammar schools, partially selective state schools, private schools and academy trusts.

In the Harrow area, there are several schools that use verbal reasoning tests. This includes Henrietta Barnett School (an all-girls grammar school in Hampstead Garden Suburb) that regularly ranks among the top-performing schools in the country. Other schools near Harrow using verbal reasoning tests include St. Michael’s Catholic Grammar School, Northwood College for Girls and The Latymer School.

Another group of schools using Verbal Reasoning tests is the South West Hertfordshire Consortium. This consortium consists of several highly selective schools, including Parmiter’s School, St Clement Danes School and Rickmansworth School.

All these schools are known for their rigorous entrance exams and high academic standards, and verbal reasoning is an important part of the testing process. So if you’re applying… it’s never too early to start preparing.

How can Achieve Learning help my child’s Verbal Reasoning?

At Achieve Learning, we have over 18 years’ experience helping students gain admission to some of the top schools in the country.

As well as offering 11 Plus mock exams, one-to-one tuition and revision courses, we also provide a comprehensive How to Do Verbal Reasoning technique and practice course. This covers the various types of verbal reasoning questions that come-up in exams, and is held at our Harrow-based learning centre.

To find out more, get in touch today to book a free assessment. Our experienced tutors will be happy to discuss your child’s needs and develop a personalised study programme to help them achieve their goals.