Top Tips for 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning

Are you a parent of a child in years 3-6? See this guide for help and support for both you and your child as you start the 11+ journey- with explanations on all the paper types: Maths, English, Verbal Reasoning, and Non-verbal Reasoning. Information on the different exam boards and plenty of tips on preparations for the test. Everything you need to start the journey in a calm and positive way.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

The 11 plus test is designed to assess whether year 6 pupils are suitable to progress to Grammar School. The test assesses candidates’ skills in relation to English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. In this blog, we’ll focus on the 11 plus Non-Verbal Reasoning.

What is Non-Verbal Reasoning?

Non-verbal reasoning tests are psychometric examinations of your ability to visualise patterns, shapes, and formations. The tests are specifically based on your ability to solve problems using pictures, rather than words. They are used by secondary schools and many employers to determine which candidates have high levels of critical thinking, logical ability, mathematical ability and powers of deduction.

During your 11 plus Non-Verbal Reasoning assessment, you will experience many different visual question types including some or all of the following:

  • Identifying which shape is the odd shape out.
  • Working out cube nets and how shapes will look when folded.
  • Mirror images and reflections.
  • Working out which diagram comes next in a sequence.
  • Finding 2 identical shapes in a series.
  • Rotations and symmetry.
  • Working out how a shape might look folded or altered.
  • Shapes in series or missing from a pattern or grid.
  • Analogies and codes

The type of questions can be loosely placed into four broad areas:

  • Identifying shapes
  • Missing shapes
  • Rotating shapes
  • Coded shapes and logic

These are then divided into various subtypes:

Identifying shapes

Types of question

  • Recognise shapes that are similar and different
  • Identify shapes and patterns
  • Pair up shapes

Sample questions

  • “Which is the odd one out?”
  • “Find the figure in each row that is most unlike the other figures.”
  • “Which pattern on the right belongs with the two on the left?”
  • “Which pattern on the right belongs in the group on the left?”
  • “Which shape is most similar to the shapes in the group on the left?”
Missing shapes

Types of question

  • Find shapes that complete a sequence
  • Find a given part within a shape
  • Find a missing shape from a pattern

Sample questions

  • “Which shape comes next?”
  • “Which pattern completes the sequence?”
  • “Choose the shape or pattern the completes the square given.”
  • “In which larger shape or pattern is the small shape hidden?”
  • “Find the shape or pattern which completes or continues the given series.”
Rotating shapes

Types of question

  • Recognise mirror images
  • Link nets to cubes

Sample questions

  • “Work out which option would look like the figure on the left it it was reflected over the line.”
  • “Work out which of the six cubes can be made from the net.”
Coded shapes and logic

Types of question

  • Code and decode shapes
  • Apply shape logic

Sample questions

  • “Each of the patterns on the left has a two-letter code. Select the correct code for the shape on the right following the same rules.”
  • “Select the code that matches the shape given at the end of each line.”
  • “Which one comes next? A is to B as C is to ?”
    “Which pattern on the right completes the second pair in the same way as the first pair? A is to B as C is to ?”

Each 11 plus non-verbal reasoning question typically contains 3 to 5 shapes, along with 3 to 5 answers from which you can choose.

Tips For Passing 11 Plus Non-Verbal Reasoning

For many people, the 11 plus non-verbal reasoning tests are extremely difficult. Many candidates will not have experienced any test similar to the non-verbal assessment, and therefore these tests can pose quite a challenge. As with any assessment, the key is in your preparation. Below we have provided you with a list of top tips for passing any 11 plus non-verbal reasoning assessment that you encounter.

  • Accuracy. Accuracy is key. You need to remain as accurate as possible to ensure successful marks. That’s why it is important to understand what is being asked. Most people find it difficult to finish all of the questions. These tests are designed to measure your level of accuracy against the speed at which you progress. Never sacrifice quality for quantity.
  • Draw out the questions. Try drawing out the questions as you go. Draw out what you think the shape will look like once it is rotated or reflected. This will help you to visualise the answers more clearly.
  • Practice. Practice is key. If you struggle with visualising shapes and objects, you may struggle with these tests. The more you practice these tests, the more likely you are to feel comfortable and confident with these types of questions. Remember, practice makes perfect!
  • Attention to detail. Pay attention to everything! Count all the sides, angles, colours, shading, line types, sizing, rotations, reflections etc. That way you can determine what is the same and what is different about the sequence. 11 plus non-verbal reasoning papers are all about the tiny details!
  • A very useful approach to tackling any non-verbal reasoning question is to apply a mnemonic. This gives you a structured method in which to look for the correct variables. See below a fun way to remember these key properties:
  • Shape – silly
    Position – people
    Angle – always
    Number – need
    Size – soggy
    Shading – socks
  • Rotation – rotten
    Overlapping – oranges
    Symmetry – smell

11 Plus Non-Verbal Reasoning Questions

Below we have provided you with a number of sample 11 plus non-verbal reasoning questions, along with some helpful explanations on how to tackle each one. 

Reflections and Rotations: Identify the odd one out in the sequence: 

 Answer: D 

Explanation: The arrow is being rotated clockwise around the circle, in the sequence A-C-E, B-D-F etc. Therefore, Figure D is the odd one out because the arrow has been reflected instead of rotated.   

Cube Nets Work out which of the cubes can be made from the cube net: 


Explanation: To answer these types of question, you need to fold along the creases of the cube, so that the shapes are on the outside of the cube. Figure B can be ruled out because the arrow and the ‘cross’ sign need to be on opposite sides. Figure C can be ruled out because the ‘sun’ shape would need to be on the right side of the figure. Figure D can be ruled out because the two pointed arrow and the square would need to replace one another. Therefore, the answer is A.   

Odd One Out This involves finding one shape or figure that is different from the rest. Can you work out which one is the odd one out?

Answer: E 

Explanation: The number of dots should be one less than the number of sides on the shape. Figure E is the odd one out. All of the other figures contain a number of dots that is one less than the number of sides on the larger shape. Figure E has seven sides, and therefore there should be six dots. However, there are only 5.

Which is the odd one out in the figure below? How do you know?

Sequence Patterns Which figure completes the sequence pattern? 

Answer: C

 Explanation: The dots move to one side in a clockwise motion. Every other figure in the sequence contains a black square in the corner of the box. This square moves one corner clockwise. Figure A can be ruled out because the figure does not contain a black square in the bottom right corner. Figure B can be ruled out because the dots are not in the correct position. They need to be positioned so that the side that is empty and in-between the two lines of dots, is at the bottom. The black square should be in the bottom right corner. Figure D can be ruled out because the side that is empty and in-between the two lines of dots should be at the bottom. The black square should be in the bottom right corner. Figure E can be ruled out because the side that is empty and in-between the two lines of dots should be at the bottom, not bottom left. The figure also needs to contain a black square in the bottom right corner.   

Answer: D

Explanation: In this sequence, the first box can be related to the third, and the second with the fourth. Therefore, our answer cannot be A or B. If we compare C and D, C has an out of place square on the edge of the diagram and both of the shapes in the middle are touching. Answer D has the closest similarity with the first box. Therefore, the answer is D.

Matrices Another common question type set in non-verbal reasoning tests and papers is matrices. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘Complete the grid’ questions. These questions involve a range of skills – identifying patterns, understanding proportion, knowledge of 2D and 3D shapes, recognising line styles and spotting angles. Matrices causually have anywhere between two and five rows and columns and often have a diagonal pattern as shown below:

The starting point on these questions is to break it down into different features (the taught mnemonic, SPANSS ROS) to find the missing square. Follow one pattern at a time to discover the rules:

  • The same shapes appear on each row (square, circle and triangle).
  • The shading style is different on each shape.
  • The matrix has a diagonal pattern working top left to bottom right.

Now work out what features you would expect from the missing square:

  • The shape in the bottom right must be a square.
  • The shading of the square must be bold.

One useful strategy to apply in these questions (if completing a paper-based test) is to draw the figure in the missing box. This can give you a good idea of the shape required and can allow you to rule out potential options. This process is often referred to as ‘elimination’ and involves crossing out the wrong answers to help both limit your choices and often leave the correct answer.

Analogies Next, we will see how this process of elimination can be used effectively. A further question type commonly used in non-verbal reasoning is ‘analogies’. In these questions the skill we need is the ability to find a connection between figures. At this point, it is important to note many questions also involve elements that are not relevant. These random elements are called ‘distractors’ (red herrings, if you like) and are put in to make it more difficult to spot the patterns.

Firstly, look at the first two pictures and see how they are connected. How has one changed into another? Consider the variables in the mnemonic (SPANSS ROS). The small circle in the first picture has become the larger outside shape in figure 2. This same change needs to be applied from figure 3 to the answer options. Therefore, the small shield becomes the outside shape for the final image. This enables us to cross out options A, C, D and E because they have a hexagon on the outside, leaving only B or F. Returning to the first two shapes, we can now look for another association. The shading of the horseshoe shape is moved to the middle shape (triangle). Making the same change on the second pair, we require a bold hexagon in the middle of the shield leaving us with B as the answer (crossing out F).

Now look at how the figure changes from box 1 to box 2. Apply the same changes in order to get the correct answer.

Answer: B

Explanation: In the first shape, each of the lines in the corresponding square is doubled. For example, the first box contains 1 line, and this is then doubled to make 2 lines in the corresponding box. Therefore we need to apply the same rule to the rectangle shape. Answer B represents what the rectangles would look like if all of the lines were doubled. 

Shape Reconfiguration Work out which 3D shapes from the Answer Figures are needed to create the Question Figure: 

Answer: D 

Explanation: When answering these questions, pay close attention to what shapes make up the question figure. In this case, the question figure contains an L shape, 2 cuboids of the same length and a cube. Therefore, the answer is D.

Now have a look at this example. Work out which figure represents a top down 2D view of the 3D shape:

Answer: B

Explanation: The question asks us to look at the shape top down. From the top down, we would only see a flat, horizontal column of squares. Therefore, the answer is B. 

Activities to try at home to help with non-verbal reasoning question types

Developing a better understanding of non-verbal reasoning can be achieved through simple practical games. Here are a few to try out:

(1) Whilst travelling in the car, see if you can find different shapes e.g. pentagon or octagon. First person to spot the chosen shape wins a point. This could be an octagonal sign or pentagonal window.

(2) Directional games can be good fun, and link well with this topic area. Draw a map of the local park or school grounds. Label North on the map and provide different instructions to locate different features, e.g. turn 270 degrees clockwise – what part of the school are you in?

(3) With a family member, draw as many different line styles as possible. Who drew the most? How inventive were the lines?

(4) Create your own sequence using everyday objects and see if a friend or family member can finish it. Consider different properties, e.g. size, shading or shape (number of sides).

(5) Improving your memory can be useful in non-verbal reasoning. ‘Kim’s game’ is good fun and can enhance your memory skills. Place a selection of objects on a tray. Look at them for 30 seconds. Cover them up and see how many you can remember.

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