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Getting to grips with non-verbal reasoning

Posted on May 11th, 2018

Non-verbal reasoning (NVR) is becoming an increasingly common form of assessment. It appears in the Buckinghamshire 11+ tests as well as the 11+ and 12+ exams in several other counties and in many independent schools’ entrance exams. NVR is used to assess how well a child can analyse visual information and use visual logic to solve problems, without the need for language skills.

NVR is not usually taught in schools and so for some children it can be one of the most challenging elements of the 11+ exam. To tackle NVR questions, children require a solid understanding of core maths concepts like symmetry and shape, along with strong spatial awareness, sharp observational skills and the ability to think logically.

The types of NVR question your child may encounter include:

  • Identifying which diagram is missing from a matrix or sequence
  • Recognising which shape belongs with a selection of other shapes
  • Spotting the odd one out in a collection of shapes
  • Visualising how shapes look when folded
  • Recognising reflections and flipped images
  • Identifying rotations and symmetry

Tackling NVR Questions

Your child may have a natural talent for NVR and be able to spot the answer without necessarily being able to explain how they worked it out. Whilst this is commendable, it is a good idea to encourage them to slow down and consider how they found their answers. This will help them to develop strategies for more complex questions and reduce the risk of them making ‘careless’ mistakes. If NVR does not come so naturally to your child, the required skillset can be cultivated through helping them to familiarise themselves with the variety of NVR question types they may face, taking care to note what to look out for and which techniques are needed for which question type.

These useful strategies can be employed to tackle NVR questions:

  • Use the process of elimination. Eliminating any obviously incorrect answers reduces the number of remaining possible answers, allowing children to focus on these and look closely for shared key features or differences which will reveal the answer.
  • Draw the answers.Your child may find it helpful to draw out what they imagine a shape will look like if it has been reflected or rotated. They could copy the original image onto a piece of paper and then rotate or flip the paper (depending on the question) so that they can clearly see the new image. It may not be possible to use this technique under exam conditions, but practising it at home can help your child to improve their ability to visualise reflected and rotated images.
  • Practise, practise, practise! Even if your child gets to grips with the NVR techniques easily, plenty of practice is necessary to help them to improve their speed. Once they understand the methods they need to use for each question type, they should complete regular, short exercises. Your child should begin by practising one question type and then progress to completing mixed question exercises under timed conditions. When timing your child, initially allow as much time as they require to finish an exercise (even if it is more than the guide time) and then, as they increase in confidence, gradually reduce the time allowed until your child is working to the guide time or even more quickly.
  • Use SPANSS.SPANNS is a handy mnemonic to remind children what to look out for when answering NVR questions. It stands for:

    • Shape
    • Position
    • Angle
    • Number
    • Sides
    • Shading

Developing NVR skills at home:

There are many fun ways to develop non-verbal reasoning skills:

  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Spot the difference
  • 3D construction toys such as Lego
  • Computer games such as Minecraft
  • Shape, picture and pattern games such as Tangrams, Qwirkle, Tantrix Quest, Dobble
  • Create paper cubes using different nets
  • Draw mirror images of pictures and patterns
  • Look out for examples of symmetry and mirror images when you are out and about

If your child could use some extra help with non-verbal reasoning, Flying Start’s holiday Booster courses cover all the key NVR question types, including the increasingly popular 3D spatial reasoning questions. We also offer Booster courses in English, mathematics and verbal reasoning over the Easter, half term and summer holidays.