11+ Exam – Learning Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning is a significant element of the 11+ exams. It has been called challenging, difficult, and confusing but it still remains snuggled in entrance exams across the nation.

The non-verbal reasoning portion of the 11+ exam is targeted towards identifying your child’s ability to problem-solve. It is based on recognizing patterns in shapes, diagrams, and visual images rather than words and the test usually lasts around 45-60 minutes.

Here at Smart 11+ Tuition, we get a lot of questions about preparation for the non-verbal reasoning element of the exam. Things like:

  • Do you need to revise any material?
  • What is the curriculum for non-verbal reasoning?
  • How can we prepare?

The answer is simple.


To do this we provide resources online like BOFA. Although the non-verbal reasoning element of the 11+ exam is incredibly hard to prepare for – you can practice and get a feel for similar questions. You do not have to have prior knowledge to have a decent crack at non-verbal reasoning but there is no doubt that practice makes perfect.

So, what does the exam test if you cannot prepare? 

Non-verbal reasoning questions will test your child’s:

  • Maths skills.
  • Logic and problem-solving.
  • Ability to identify patterns and/or rules.
  • Spacial awareness.

Without a doubt, these non-verbal reasoning skills will come naturally to some children. However, others may find this difficult – especially if they lack attention to detail.

How can my child improve at Non-verbal reasoning?

Let’s have a look at some of our general Top Tips in our Smart 11+ Tuition Centre:

1. Read the question first

Here at our tuition centre, we teach our pupils, how to recognize what the question is asking. We provide materials for them to practice and ask them to focus on five key things:

  1. Style – what style of question is it? Is it asking for you to unfold a shape? To notice a pattern? To identify the odd one out?
  2. Analysis – what does the image look like? Is it a shape? Identify its most obvious properties: size, shape, color.
  3. Missing Pieces – what is the difference between the first image and the others?
  4. Rules – are there any common rules across all of the images?
  5. Cross out – any and all that do not have anything in common. In our centres we use whiteboard pens on our tablets to eliminate those that do not fit. This will help you to narrow down the correct answer.

2. Consistency and Repetition

Not to sound like a parrot but practicing is vital.

Firstly, by repeating the process and trying as many examples as possible, your child will develop a recognition of the style and types of non-verbal reasoning. If they spread this out over the course of two to three years it will become an embedded form of learning. In other words, their understanding and recognition of patterns will get better.

Secondly, with long-term learning, your child will develop an overall ability to problem solve and approach the question by making an educated guess.

Let’s have a look at an example:

There is a group of six squares. Which of the below four squares, fit in with the other six squares.

Please pick A, B, C, D.


Picture 1

Answer: D.

Why is it D? This is because each of the pictures on the bottom row has the ball underneath the Trapezoid and all the lines are symmetrical mirror images.

To help with this question, there are some things you can focus on:

  • Counting. How many shapes are in the square? What patterns are there between the shapes? If there are the same amount of shapes in each square and one of the answers has more shapes, think about eliminating this one.
  • Direction. Firstly, where are the shapes pointing? Is there a pattern in their direction? It is important to recognize this as this can make the correct pattern stand out.
  • Order and Position. Is there a regularity or symmetry to the pattern? Perhaps focus on the positioning of shapes – how do the shapes relate to one and other?

Non-verbal reasoning can be challenging to get your head around. If you are tired of tips and want some active face-to-face learning please get in touch with us today to see how we can help!