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A Guide to 11+ Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning Assessment

28/08/2023 / 11+ Tuition

Verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal Reasoning

How a Tutor Can Help With Preparation

Verbal Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning is a set of skills frequently assessed in children sitting the 11+. Along with its counterpart, Non-Verbal Reasoning, these papers are most dissimilar to what a child will routinely be doing in school as part of their curriculum studies.

Again, you must find out, if at all possible, whether your child will be sitting the GL or CEM version of this paper because the questions vary hugely.

The CEM Verbal Reasoning paper is much more like an English paper, with one or two comprehensions (with multiple choice questions) and questions that assess vocabulary, spelling and grammar.

The GL Verbal Reasoning paper assesses a much wider range of skills. There is no comprehension, but there are questions about vocabulary. These sit alongside an extensive range of questions that assess the child’s ability to spot patterns, follow sequences, and complete questions that are mathematical in nature. There is a strong coding element for large sections of the paper.

CEM Verbal Reasoning in more detail

On the surface, the CEM Verbal Reasoning paper can seem more accessible than its GL counterpart. This is due to the comprehension task and the focus on vocabulary. However, the texts for the comprehension passages are incredibly challenging and the vocabulary required for the questions is advanced.

A range of skills is assessed, which may not all come up in every paper. Your child should be prepared for the following:


  • One or two passages with multiple choice questions. These questions will require a high level of inference and may require assimilating information from several points in the text. Questions often require mathematical ability (such as determining the difference between dates).
  • While there are no ‘trick’ questions (all the information required will be in the text), there may be ‘trap’ questions. For example, there may seem to be an easy, obvious ‘answer’, but the correct answer requires piecing together more than one idea.


A question asks who is the youngest of a group of four children in the text. The text gives the ages of two of the children, e.g. 9 and 10. However, the third and fourth children’s ages are hidden in the phrases: ‘who was celebrating her seventh birthday next week’ and ‘whose seventh birthday party last month was now the stuff of legend.’

The answers of ages 10, 9 and 7 might be given as options. However, the correct answer would be 6. This would require the child to understand that if someone was ‘celebrating her seventh birthday next week’, they must currently be 6 years old and, therefore, the youngest.

  • Another common question type is to ask which answer is not true. The child must then read four statements, only one of which will be true, and select the correct answer. Not only does this question provide the opportunity for misreading the question, but it also requires the whole text to be scanned repeatedly to ensure nothing is missed.
  • The passages may be fiction or non-fiction. Poetry is common. Nineteenth or early twentieth-century texts are also frequently given. These texts can be challenging, not just because of isolated, difficult vocabulary, but also because of idioms used. Children may know the individual words, yet not understand the implication of an expression – e.g. ‘I clung to every pretence of delay’ (suggesting reluctance on the narrator’s part to start his task).

Other question types

  • Forming correct plurals
  • Selecting the correct homophone (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings)
  • Selecting the correct prefix or suffix
  • Choosing the correct spellings
  • Selecting the correct verb form (by tense, voice or person)
  • Selecting the correct conjunction
  • Identifying the word class (e.g. noun, verb, adjective)
  • Multiple meanings – identifying words that have multiple meanings so they fit into two different categories
  • Selecting words closest in meaning (synonyms)
  • Selecting words opposite in meaning (antonyms)
  • Odd ones out – words that don’t fit in a category of words
  • Shuffled sentences – reorder and select a word that is not required
  • Completing sentences (either isolated or in longer passages) with the correct word.
  • Cloze questions – filling in missing letters in words where a few are already given.
  • Short logic questions

Local Authorities or consortiums can ask CEM to exclude certain types of questions, but you are unlikely to find out this information. It will benefit your child to prepare for all the question types as there is a degree of similarity between and benefit to working through all the tasks.

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GL Verbal Reasoning in more detail

There are a few questions that occur in both GL and CEM verbal reasoning papers. However, even if the questions seem similar, the answers required may be different. For example, the CEM ‘odd one out’ question requires one odd answer, whereas GL requires two. Overall, it is best to approach them as unique papers and not spend time on material that will not be assessed. If your child is sitting a Verbal Reasoning paper, finding out whether it is GL or CEM is one of the most crucial tasks you must try to undertake.

GL offers 28 different types of questions in their practice material. Not all of these question types will be on every paper. Some Local Authorities may request certain types of questions be excluded. Unless you are confident that any specific question will not be included, your child should practise all the question types until they are extremely familiar with the required layout and method.

GL Verbal Reasoning question types are grouped into four categories:

  • Making Words
  • Word Meanings
  • Maths and Sequences
  • Logic and Coding

Although many of these question types require children to recognise correct words, a much smaller percentage of the test requires knowledge of the meaning of words than the CEM equivalent. If a child can recognise that a word is correct in English, they might not need to know what it means. This is particularly true for the ‘Maths and Sequences’ and ‘Logic and Coding’ sections.

The sections in more detail:

  • Making Words – these questions require the manipulation of existing words using rules. This might include:
    • Moving letters from one word to another to make two new words
    • Finding hidden words within words in a sentence
    • Identifying short words that fit inside longer words
    • Identifying rules to turn one word into another
    • Combining words to make compound words
    • Adding prefixes or suffixes to make new words
    • Finding the rule that turns one word into another in three pairs
    • Solving anagrams
    • Ruling out words that cannot be made from groups of letters
    • Word ladders
  • Word Meanings – as expected, these questions are the most vocabulary focused:
    • Closest Meaning
    • Opposite Meaning
    • Multiple Meaning – identifying words that have multiple meanings so they fit into two different categories
    • Odd Ones Out – selecting two words that don’t belong with the three others
    • Word Connections – fitting words to similar categories
    • Swapping two words to make a correct sentence
  • Maths and Sequences
    • Complete the Sum – calculations using add, subtract, multiply and divide
    • Letter Sequences – using the alphabet to find a pattern in sequences of pairs of letters
    • Number Sequences – working out which number comes next in a sequence
    • Related Numbers – finding a pattern of calculations to replicate between number sets
    • Letter Coded Sums – a basic form of algebra
  • Logic and Coding:
    • Letter-Word Codes – working out the code for a given word and equivalent code pair
    • Number-Word Code – using logic to work out which numbers represent which letter
    • Exploring the Facts – identifying numerical information from a few sentences
    • Solve the Riddle
    • Letter Connections – finding the pattern or sequences between pairs of letters using an alphabet
    • Word Grids – Fitting words onto crossword style grids so they intersect correctly

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Overview of Verbal Reasoning

To successfully approach either a CEM or GL Verbal Reasoning paper, the following aspects need to be considered:

  • Familiarity – your child should be so familiar with the question types that they instantly know what they are required to do for the question.
  • Speed – your child will have to work at speed. Completing 80 questions in 50 minutes is not uncommon. Some providers break up the questions in the exam into, for example, 6-minute and 9-minute sections, but the time will still be extremely tight. Children will need to work almost non-stop for all the time required to complete the paper.
  • Accuracy – it is easy, particularly with the sequencing questions, to miscount a number or letter. Your child must balance speed with accuracy and develop their ability to check as they work through the paper.
  • Strategy – many questions will have ‘best strategy’ approaches. As well as being familiar with the question types, any child will work best when they have tried and tested strategies for each question type. This will save time and avoid exam room panic as they apply methods they are familiar with.

See the ‘Preparing Your Child for the 11+ Exams‘ blog for more details about preparing for Verbal Reasoning papers and for more ideas about how to help your child improve their vocabulary.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal Reasoning is a set of skills frequently assessed in children sitting the 11+. Like its counterpart Verbal Reasoning, these papers are unlike anything children routinely do in school as part of their curriculum studies.

As its name suggests, Non-Verbal Reasoning uses pictures and letters to assess a child’s ability to reason, spot patterns and complete sequences. Most children find Non-Verbal Reasoning an enjoyable challenge. However, as with Verbal Reasoning, they need to be carefully taught the skills required, time management and strategies for a successful approach. 

GL and CEM both offer a Non-Verbal Reasoning assessment. There is not quite as much dissimilarity as there is for Verbal Reasoning. However, you will still want to ensure, as far as possible, that your child is preparing for the correct exam board.

Non-Verbal Reasoning is different from Verbal Reasoning in that eight ‘skills’ are tested (and these are the same for CEM and GL), but over a range of different types of questions. The eight skills are:

  • Shapes
  • Counting
  • Pointing
  • Shading and Line Types
  • Order and Position
  • Rotation
  • Reflection
  • Layering

These are all used to form patterns, sequences, similarities and differences in various question types.

Both CEM and GL have the following types of questions:

  • Odd one out
  • Complete the series (five squares for GL, four squares for CEM)
  • Find the figure like the first two/three figures
  • Complete the grid
  • Complete the pair

GL also has:

  • Horizontal code
  • Vertical Code

GL assesses rotation and reflection skills but within question types rather than in specific questions.

CEM also has:

  • Changing bugs (using a pattern to shift the designs of bugs from one type to another)
  • Complete the hexagonal grid
  • Rotate the figure
  • Reflect the figure

Spatial Reasoning

Spatial Reasoning is a sub-section of Non-Verbal Reasoning that assesses the child’s ability to visually manipulate and interpret 2D and 3D shapes.

Not all Non-Verbal Reasoning assessments will feature Spatial Reasoning (SR). If it is a part of the exam, your child must spend time practising these types of questions. These might include:

  • Rotating 3D shapes (to see where specific colours or patterns would move) or to see what the shape would look like from the top or another angle.
  • 3D building blocks – identifying which smaller blocks or groups of blocks are needed to make a given 3D shape.
  • 2D views of 3D shapes – what a 3D shape would look like viewed from the top, left, right or bottom.
  • Cubes and nets – creating cubes from nets to see where specific patterns lie.
  • Folding and punch – folding an imaginary sheet of paper, punching holes in the folds, and then opening it out to reveal where the holes would lie.
  • Fold along the line – identifying what a shape would look like if folded in a specific way.
  • Hidden Shapes – finding hidden shapes within an overlapping arrangement of shapes (GL only).
  • Connecting Shapes – connecting shapes along specific lines to create a new shape (GL only).

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How a Tutor can help prepare for Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning

Given the unique nature of these skills, if your child has to sit Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning papers, they cannot rely on what they learn in school to prepare them for the content, question style or stamina required to tackle these papers. An experienced tutor can help in the following ways to guide your child towards doing their best in the reasoning papers:

  • Help to establish the appropriate exam board – if it is unclear whether the exam board is GL or CEM, a tutor will recognise the question type from any familiarisation papers the school or Local Educational Authority provides.
  • Base Line Assessment and honest feedback – all good tutors will start with baseline testing of your child and give you an honest assessment of their aptitude and potential. If, after a few sessions, it seems that the child’s potential to achieve well in this unique area is limited, then the tutor will inform you. It may be that you want to continue preparing for the assessment, so a tutor would be able to continue to provide their judgement on progress and likely attainment.
  • Give advice about which material to use – the resources available to buy for the 11+ are overwhelming. A tutor will recommend exactly which books are needed, the order to work through them and will let you know when your child is ready to progress to the next level of resource.
  • Teaching the Skills – the questions in the test are designed so that any child capable of passing the test can work out what to do in the paper. However, with very limited time in the exam, it is crucial that the child recognises and can immediately start answering the questions. A tutor will teach your child the questions, type by type, with lots of revision and consolidation in between. If a child finds one type of question trickier, the tutor can spend extra time on those types of questions.
  • Providing strategies – tutors with years of experience can guide your child to the most efficient way of answering the questions, often suggesting tried and tested strategies to increase speed and reduce error margins. They can drill these strategies with the child until they are second nature.
  • Opportunities for timed practice – doing questions, sections and eventually whole papers under timed conditions is crucial for success and confidence on the day. A tutor will know when your child is ready for this and will provide the structure and space needed to accomplish this. When timed practice does not go to plan, the tutor can assess the mistakes made and create a plan focusing on what the child needs to improve.

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At Principal Tutors, all of our 11+ tutors are qualified teachers with expertise in the UK primary curriculum. You’ll get feedback after every single session to help you feel in control of your child’s learning and progress, and you can even download resources and request a recording of your tutoring session to help you remember key points later.

To learn how 11+ tutoring can help your child give us a call on 0800 772 0974 or you can request a tutor using our online form.


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