Non Verbal Reasoning: Code Breaking

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

These questions will appeal to children who like logic puzzles, but it must be noted that they can be fiendishly difficult for others.

What does this question type involve?

You are tasked with working out a code. You will be given a set of boxes, on the left of the page, each of which with a shape or set of shapes. As well as the shape(s), each has two letters. From comparing each of the boxes, you can understand how the code letters are generated. The top letter in each box will mean something (e.g. shading) and the bottom will mean something else (e.g. the shape itself).

Let’s look at a past paper question:

In this example, there are two six sided shapes. Each of the six sided shapes has an R at the top. Each of the four sided shapes has an S at the top. Looking at the shading, crosshatch results in an F, no shading is G and solid black is H. Therefore, the correct answer must be E, which is RG.

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Example question

Let’s look at another example question from a sample paper.

Here, the two variables are the angle or rotation of the line, and the type of shape. Because there are two Ms, we can check which is which – and it’s clear that the rotation of the line is the lower letter as it remains in the same place for the M both times. Therefore the shape is the top letter. That means that the correct answer is D, which means XN, as the line is at the bottom and the shape is a hexagon.

4+1 Steps: Shape, Rotations, Shading, Size, Repetition

As with so many of these questions, there are four core factors to look at. Let’s work through them in turn.

Begin by looking at the shapes. In simpler questions in particular, you will often find that a particular shape relates to a letter – so a square might be a B at the bottom, and a triangle might be a C at the bottom, for example.

Next, look at the way things are rotated. The question above is a great example, in which a black strip (or line) has been rotated 90 degrees and each different rotation corresponds to a letter.

After rotation, consider shading. You might find crosshatch shading, solid black shading, no shading at all, or a vertical shading. You might find that shading in a particular direction provides a different letter.

After shading, consider size. There might be a smaller or larger shape depending on what the letter is, or particular parts of a larger compound shape might become larger or smaller to result in different letters.

Lastly, you have to consider repetition. This is the key additional step for this type of question, where you are able to crack the code. Imagine you have four different shapes, and four different colours – you have no way of understanding whether the shape refers to the top letter or the bottom letter, as it could be the colour instead. As such, you need to look for repetition to see whether the top or bottom letter is being affected by certain things. Look for consistency between two boxes that share the same top letter or bottom letter.

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Worked Implementation

This is another question taken from an official past paper. Let’s look at each part in turn. Firstly, the shape. This does seem to change every time – in fact, it’s not the same in any of the boxes. Notice that the bottom letter is also never the same.

Next, consider rotation – this is less relevant here, at least on a first look. However, in reality the shape is always the same, sort of – you can add the extra lines to the larger shape to create the shape in the third box each time,which has three sets of arms.

The shading changes, and there’s two possibilities – either crosshatch, or white. However, there are three different letters at the top, and four at the bottom – so shading can’t affect the letters.

The size doesn’t change from box to box.

Looking at repetition, we see that F is featured twice. F, both times, has two black lines outside the main shape. Therefore the number of black lines must be the letter at the top. That means that the core shape in the middle is the bottom letter.

That means that the correct answer is D, which means FM. That’s because the cross shape is M, and the two black lines are F. 

Top Tricks

Look for repetition above all else. In the more challenging questions, you have to use repetition, and you have to be cautious when looking for what’s changing or constant.


Follow the process step-by-step, and remember repetitions. That’s the key to this question type. 

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