11 Plus Exams – Reasoning Tests

Reasoning tests have been part of some 11 Plus Exams for many years. Typically reasoning tests all used to be of the cognitive variety, aiming to judge potential regardless of educational background.

Over the years however a number of changes have come in and it is important for families to understand just what their children will face.

Reasoning tests come in three varieties when it comes to the 11 PLUS

  • Numerical Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning

Summary of different types of reasoning tests seen in 11 Plus Exams.

Reasoning tests are largely written by two publishers (CEM and GL). It is important to recognise that there are some large differences between the publishers. To find out which exams your child will face you can review their exam format in the Grammar School 11 Plus exams area section.

Numerical Reasoning

This exam is ONLY issued by CEM. The title of it is very misleading. It does not cover any Maths which is outside the KS2 syllabus so any child who is performing at the top end in Maths at Primary School will do well. Numerical Reasoning 11 Plus tests will have a mix of: short calculation questions ( eg 158 – 62 +29 ), you can expect questions on all the key aspects of the KS2 syllabus and there will two step questions and muti-part questions. A two-step question might need a child to work out some missing information before they can do the calculation to get an answer. A multi-part question might include a series of questions about a graph as an example.

To this degree the word ‘reasoning’ is largely a distraction. Children who are competent at Maths and have covered the syllabus properly should have no issues with these tests. No specific ‘reasoning’ work is required as there are not really any reasoning questions.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal Reasoning involves identifying patterns within shape based questions. You might for instance be given a shape which rotates by 45 degrees clockwise in each next step. You might be asked to identify what the next movement will be from several options.

Or you might be asked to identify which answer is a proper reflection of a given shape.

Or you might be given a shape which changes. Picture 2 is different from picture 1, picture 3 is different from picture 2. You will be asked to identify which shape from a series of options is picture 4. You will need to identify exactly how the picture changes and then apply that knowledge to reach the answer.

While there are a few little differences between GL and CEM style Non-Verbal Reasoning tests it is not worth doing a separate or different preparation. While Non-Verbal reasoning skills are not taught in school children who have a sound understanding of rotation and reflection and a real ability to focus on the detail will do best. It is important to remember that the Non-Verbal reasoning questions set at 11 Plus level are not difficult once some preparation has been done. In an untimed environment most children will be capable of scoring over 85%. The real challenge comes with time. These tests use an ability to focus on detail and an ability to work quickly and accurately as a guide to potential so time is very tight. As the children come under time pressure and the stress of the day so mistakes are made and the performance gap widens. Some children will still do very well and score over 90% in some tests, others will find the twin demands of speed and accuracy on the day too much and their results will drop off.

Verbal Reasoning

ATTENTION CAUTION- Verbal Reasoning 11 Plus tests designed by GL are very different from those designed by CEM. Please do not get them confused.

GL Verbal Reasoning

These tests involve the classic 21 different VR question types plus variants. In some types of questions (codes as an example) children can get so familiar with the technique required that they could score 100% on those questions. However most questions require a very strong vocabulary which takes time to develop. Questions involving synonyms or opposites or compound words, as examples, require very little technique but if children do not have a strong vocabulary then they simply cannot do well. Over 50% of the errors made in GL Verbal Reasoning exams are the result of a weak vocabulary. While learning technique and doing lots of practice papers is important, it is vocabulary breadth which will separate those who are successful from those who are not. Be advised that vocabulary breadth takes a great deal of time to develop properly.

CEM Verbal Reasoning

These tests are only similar to GL VR tests in that they will include some of the more common vocabulary type tests (synonyms and opposites as examples) BUT CEM Verbal Reasoning tests actually do lots of core English skills testing.

Typically a CEM test could include :

  • 2 English Comprehensions
  • Some vocabulary testing using synonyms and opposites
  • CLOZE testing where children need to fill out the m-ss-ng letters either in a vocabulary test or text.
  • Shuffled sentence tests (putting the words back in the correct order).
  • Use of English (choosing the right word from options e.g. to, too, two)

Children without very strong core English skills and an excellent vocabulary will not do well in these tests. They have been designed so that less advantage comes to children who focus on question spotting, but children who prepare over a longer period and focus on their core English skills will have a significant advantage.

Why schools use 11 Plus Reasoning Tests rather than just testing the syllabus ?

It does seem strange initially when families first come across this. We typically get these types of questions from parents:

  • My child has never been taught reasoning how can they be expected to do well?
  • We don’t even know what reasoning is, or how we can help our child, will they be disadvantaged?
  • Surely if I cannot afford a tutor we will be disadvantaged as this isn’t covered in school?

These questions sum up the concerns of many families.

11 Plus Reasoning tests were initially introduced to test potential but, like any test, they had their weaknesses:

  • Verbal Reasoning tended to reward those who had read extensively and had a wide vocabulary.
  • Some Verbal Reasoning tests became so well known that children could actually just learn the individual question types and do well.
  • Non-Verbal reasoning is less susceptible to coaching but preparation will still influence results.

Schools and testing bodies have recognised the weaknesses in the system and are going to/have changed it.

  • It is less common that question types are as predictable.
  • Past papers or example papers are not released on such a scale.
  • Questions are refreshed each year with new elements coming in without warning.

But reasoning tests still focus on some areas children who have prepared well will have seen before even if newer tests have managed to inject a little uncertainty and introduced tests with less emphasis on rewarding technique and question spotting.

Preparing for 11 Plus reasoning tests.

Children have a number of options when looking at preparation:

11 Plus Private Tutor

11 Plus Tuition Centre

11 Plus Guided Courses

11 Plus Books at home (11 Plus DIY)

Whichever route families use, there are some things that are best done at home:

1/ Every Verbal Reasoning test rewards a large vocabulary and excellent spelling skills. Children need to read every day, they will benefit from doing some paired reading, adult conversations about the news or other topics over the dinner table help build vocabulary, reading newspapers or watching the news is also useful. Learning new vocabulary can also be fun so games like Boggle and Scrabble should also be used.

2/ Non-Verbal Reasoning tests are reasonably straightforward but families should resist just doing test after test. Research shows that once you have done five or six test papers improvements will be minimal. Do small daily tests to keep things fresh, reward accuracy, encourage self-checking skills. In many cases children who get 100% untimed at home often score in the 70%’s in the test because of nerves and the need to work both quickly and accurately.

3/ Reduce pressure. Children who feel under too much pressure (often their parents have no idea and it all comes out on the day) simply cannot do well in these tests. Research has shown VR ability and Non-Verbal ability drops by 10%-30% in a situation where too much pressure is applied.

Pressure destroys a child’s breadth of vocabulary and limits their ability to think on their feet and work accurately. We have put together a brief guide on how to reduce pressure and stress in the 11 Plus environment.