Verbal Reasoning: Complete Overview

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

The Verbal Reasoning section of the 11+ can be confusing for students, who are unused to this type of content. Here we’ll take a high-level look at the section – more details can be found in our individual articles aimed at preparation, tips for this section, question types and more.

What is Verbal Reasoning?

Verbal reasoning is understanding concepts framed in words, and using reasoning to investigate or further understand these concepts. You must be able to develop your thoughts and follow logic, rather than just show an awareness of what certain words mean. Verbal reasoning is a common part of the 11+, although it won’t be used by all schools. To succeed in VR your child must display a mixture of logical thinking, knowledge of English, and an extensive vocabulary. You should consider that your child might have a greater or lesser ability for different parts of this section, which can be very different from one another. For example, some questions will appeal to children who like logic puzzles, while some will appeal to those who read a lot.

You should consider that the VR section will be very different to content that your child has attempted before. You must therefore work to understand it well in advance to help prepare your child. Ensure that you know which type of paper is in use in your area. In general you will find the GL Assessment the most widely used, although you could also expect to commonly find the CEM papers.

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What are the questions like?

There are 21 question types which you, and your child, should be aware of. In general the paper will be presented in a standard format, which means that it is not multiple choice – instead the answers must be written. Questions can be broadly broken down into logic questions and vocabulary questions. As stated above, different pupils will find these different question types to be easier or harder. Vocabulary questions are reliant on learned vocabulary, although you will have to deploy reasoning as well. Logic questions require a student to follow a particular process – in general these processes can be practised and perfected.

You should be aware in particular of synonyms and antonyms for vocabulary questions, and also ideas around categorisation, and how different words and concepts are linked. Considering logic questions, you should consider code questions, rearranging letters, and how to form new words from other ones that you are provided.

How should one prepare?

First of all, with adequate time, you should encourage your child to read at a high level. This type of preparation should begin months, or even a year, before the exam. The vocabulary questions in the test are often reliant on more old-fashioned or traditional words that you are more likely to encounter in older or classic books. Reading must therefore focus on classic works of literature (as far as is possible for a ten year old) and on classic works aimed at older children.

Next, you should focus on improving your child’s vocabulary through specific exercises. You should bear in mind what works best for your child. You might choose to revise with them and help test them, find games that help to develop their vocabulary, or find other ways of integrating new vocabulary into their lives. Try to encourage them to describe things in varied ways or think of synonyms for words that they commonly use.

Focus on developing memory as well – this will be required to learn vocabulary. Try to use memory games as well as the word games, and consider how your child best learns.

After these initial steps you can begin to introduce past papers and practice questions. You must consider the specific exam board that your child will be attempting. Try to begin with practice questions, rather than practice papers. Use a practice question bank that has worked answers so that your child can learn from their work. As they become more confident with each question type, then you should introduce past papers. The key here is that your child begins to become comfortable working under time pressure. Try to use different exam boards’ past papers first, then move towards the correct exam board as you get closer to the day of the exam. Thus you will have worked through all the past papers, and your child will have the correct specific approach freshest in their mind. This allows them to gain the most from the exam board-specific papers; if these are used too early in the cycle of preparation they will be of less use.

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During the Exam: Time Management

Whilst sitting the exam itself, the most important thing to consider is time management. Your child must be used to assessing how far through the paper they are, how much they have left, and whether they need to speed their work up. As they practise under time pressure more, this should become more natural. The simplest approach is for them to have a rough idea of how long they should spend on one question – and thus how long they might spend on each section or group of questions. As an overview, questions should take less than a minute to complete – ideally around 45 seconds or less for each question. If it’s taken your child 20 minutes to do 20 questions, they need to work faster. If they’ve managed 30 questions in 20 minutes, then they can afford to slow down slightly and take their time.

It’s also vital to bear in mind that some question types will be far harder for your child than others. You should encourage them to learn to recognise the different types of questions and acknowledge that they are less likely to pick up marks in some questions than others. For example, if they really struggle with code questions then moving over these questions more quickly if they don’t get them immediately can save precious time – which can then be better used for a section in which they are able to pick up marks. Remember that spending three minutes on a tough question is time that could be used on three different questions otherwise – and that you of course will pick up more marks from three questions than just one. Lastly, you must help your child to recognise that there will be questions that they simply cannot manage. This is entirely normal for even the best students. As above, time wasted on a question that they cannot answer is just that – time wasted. The goal is to use time as efficiently as possible to maximise marks. A simple technique to allow your child to move on happily is to encourage them to mark questions that they found difficult, so that they can come back to them. This way they don’t feel that they have given up, but rather that they have made a strategic decision – as they have.
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