Non Verbal Reasoning Test Guide

Zachary Macpherson
Dec 12, 2023 By Zachary Macpherson
Originally Published on Aug 03, 2020
School kids happily reading and writing in a non verbal reasoning class.

Non verbal reasoning is an important part of many tests and exams in Year 6 and beyond, such as the Year 7 CAT exams.

This form of test question is a great way to test kids without relying on the traditional methods of Maths and English ability. It can be found on tests such as the 11+, which determines acceptance into grammar schools in England and Northern Ireland, and other exams used by selective schools to determine entry.

It can sometimes be a little tricky to understand non verbal reasoning when you first encounter it, because it isn't as common as other methods of testing. However, just like any other question format, non verbal reasoning can be learned with proper practice.

While studying, don't forget to make sure your child takes regular breaks to avoid overworking. Take a look at our list of mindfulness activities for some great tips.

While it may not be the most common type of question in the classroom, non verbal reasoning actually comes up a lot in our daily lives. Building links between these daily moments and the questions that will appear on practice tests is a great way to help kids develop their understanding of non verbal reasoning. 

Girl figuring out modal verbs.

What Is The Difference Between Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning?

The 11+ tests and others like it often include different sections, two of which are usually verbal reasoning and non verbal reasoning. Verbal reasoning involves the use of word problems to determine a student's ability to reason and solve problems.

It is the most common form of reasoning found on primary school tests and is likely going to be more familiar to students taking tests than non verbal reasoning.

In contrast to verbal reasoning, non verbal reasoning tests use diagrams or pictorial representations. As non verbal reasoning is less common than verbal reasoning, it can be challenging to students when they encounter it for the first time in a question.

However, with regular practice, it is much easier to develop the skills needed to be successful in this section of the test.

Young boy sitting in his room doing his non verbal reasoning homework.

What Comes Under Non Verbal Reasoning?

Non verbal reasoning involves test questions that do not use any words or numbers. Instead, they ask students to solve problems through the use of diagrams or pictures. Generally, the questions involve mathematical concepts that do not use numbers.

These types of questions can include:

-Understanding sequences by recognising patterns between numbers or shapes.

-Finding the odd one out in a group of shapes.

-Using spatial awareness to figure out what the correct net of a 3D shape would be.

-Solving problems by figuring out the missing link between different shapes.

Non verbal reasoning tests will often take the form of a sequence of multiple-choice questions. These questions will sometimes be similar and may ask the test taker to find the pattern or odd one out between four or five different shapes.

These sorts of questions involve quick decision making, which is why lots of practice can be so beneficial to test takers. Generally, the test will start with easier questions before gradually progressing to more challenging types of questions.

Girl at her desk in school sitting a maths exam.

Why Is Non Verbal Reasoning Important?

Non verbal reasoning often requires skills not usually covered in primary school classrooms. Many see it as a better way to test students' general intelligence rather than basing intelligence on reading or writing ability.

This makes it an especially important way of testing for children for whom English is a second language, or otherwise find it challenging to communicate verbally.

Non verbal reasoning is also a great way to develop critical thinking. A question will often look pretty tricky at first glance, but with a more detailed eye, you'll be able to spot patterns and figure the question out.

This makes non verbal reasoning an important skill not only for entrance exams but also later in life; many jobs will need critical thinking skills to solve problems and create solutions.

Young boy doing his non verbal reasoning homework.

© Unsplash

How Can You Improve Non Verbal Reasoning Skills?

Non verbal reasoning isn't always taught in primary schools. This is because it is most commonly found on exam papers for selective schools, which most children in comprehensive primary schools will not be taking. As a result, it is a good idea to practice the skills your child will need for non verbal reasoning at home.

There's plenty of free resources available to help improve non verbal reasoning. You can also find plenty of books with reasoning tests that mirror the ones found in grammar school entrance tests. Some of the most useful work you can do is through regular practice. This is because most non verbal reasoning questions follow a similar structure.

With enough practice, it will become second nature to spot the different types of questions you find in non verbal reasoning tests. This will be very useful in an exam, when time management and understanding the question quickly becomes very important.

Interestingly, learning about non verbal reasoning can often be a lot more fun than regular studying! Spatial awareness is really important in non verbal tests, and a good understanding of this concept can be built through common games.

Kids looking at a globe for their non verbal reasoning test.

Jigsaws and Lego both require an understanding of the ways shapes interact with each other, and similar diagrams are often found on non verbal reasoning tests. Simple games like 'I Spy' are also a good way of developing non verbal reasoning.

If you have a deck of cards lying around, this is a great tool for helping kids develop their reasoning skills. Make up small games like finding the odd one out in a sequence of cards or mixing and matching hidden cards.

All of these activities help to improve non verbal reasoning while also feeling more fun than regular test practice.

Non verbal reasoning may seem like a brand new skill for kids, but linking the techniques needed on tests to those we use every day are a great way to build knowledge.

With a mix of written exam practice, fun on-topic games, and regular breaks, you can help your kids gain the understanding they need to make non verbal reasoning a breeze.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Zachary Macpherson

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Politics and Modern History

Zachary Macpherson picture

Zachary MacphersonBachelor of Arts specializing in Politics and Modern History

Zachary's bold move to New York at the age of 15 opened doors to incredible experiences and strengthened his relationships with his younger siblings. Now back in the UK, he has discovered his passion for writing and music. Currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester, Zachary showcases his dedication to personal growth and learning.

Read full bio >