Question Type 10: Associating Words

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

This question type is more towards being a vocabulary test, and less a test of your pure reasoning or logic. As such, it will likely appeal to children who are keen readers.

What does this question type involve?

This question type will see students be presented with a sentence that is missing two words, which they can select from the brackets. Before the brackets will be a word that they must associate with the word within the brackets. This can be much more readily understood through a simple example, which is provided below.

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Example questions

Tall is to (short, pink, fat) as shallow is to (warm, water, deep).

Answer: Short, Deep

Martian is to (Venus, Pluto, Mars) as Dane is to (Copenhagen, Sweden, Denmark).

Answer: Mars, Denmark

SACO Approach to Answering Word Association Questions: Synonym, Antonym, Category, Other

These questions will typically fall into three main areas, which allows for a straightforward process when answering them. We’ve divided it as follows:

Step 1: Synonym
Step 2: Antonym
Step 3: Category
Step 4: Other

You begin by looking to see whether each word has its synonym there. That means looking to see whether one word outside the brackets means the same thing as one of the words inside the brackets – as a ‘synonym’ is a word that has the same meaning. If it seems that the words are not synonyms, then your next step is to look for antonyms. An antonym is a word that has an opposite meaning – so using the example above, that means tall vs short, and shallow vs deep.

If you still can’t find an answer, then it’s time to consider categories. The options will often be types of something, or they will be words that we use to describe groups of things. As an example, you can see above that a Martian is a designator for someone who lives on Mars – a way of categorising them – and a Dane is someone who lives in Denmark. So these two are linked through their both being a category. Perhaps you might see something like ‘car is to (convertible, drive, road) as race is to (100m, run, difficult)’ – here, you can see that a convertible is a type of car, and a 100m is a type of race – so both of these work in the same way – they are designated by the word outside the brackets and fall within its category.

If you still cannot find an answer, then you need to consider how words interact with one another further. You might find that one word inside the brackets is a verb that applies to the noun outside it, for example – like the word ‘run’ above being applied to ‘race.’ At this point your goal is to consider further associations outside the typical ones. 

Worked Example

Manor house is to (squire, peasant, preacher) as rectory is to (vicar, blacksmith, duke).

So, we begin by looking for synonyms. Do any of the words inside the brackets mean the exact same as the word outside the bracket? We quickly find that they do not. We can therefore move immediately onto the second step of the process. Are any of the words the opposite of one of the words inside the brackets? Again, we quickly find that this is not the case. We therefore must consider whether a category is in play. Do the words outside the brackets categorise the words inside the brackets somehow? It seems that they do, but perhaps we’re not quite sure how. We therefore need to give this some consideration. Hopefully, we will realise that the relationship is a sort of category – the word outside is a house, and the word inside is the category of person that lives inside the house. So a squire lives in a manor house, and a vicar lives in a rectory.

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Top Tricks

Most of these questions come down to knowing synonyms and antonyms. Do not overcomplicate things when they don’t need to be overcomplicated, and instead focus always on the simple things first.

Common Pitfalls

As mentioned, the most common pitfall is not knowing your antonyms and synonyms well enough. Make sure to revise them and practise well in advance of the exam.


This is a good question type for students with more advanced vocabularies. Follow the simple structure that we described, and you should find the majority of questions to be straightforward.
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