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11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Codes | Combination
Codes are an ever-present in the 11 Plus

NVR - Looking at a Shape and Making a Code (1)

Codes are a recurring theme in the Eleven Plus – not only in non-verbal reasoning, but also in verbal reasoning, as you will know if you have read our other series of exam illustrations on that very subject.

Codes in non-verbal reasoning are created by shapes instead of letters or numbers. But the principle is just the same. Certain shapes represent certain letters and it’s up to children to figure out what they are from the clues provided.

This is, in my experience, a relatively straightforward section of the test and it does not always appear on non-verbal papers. However, there are some tricky elements and lots of things to watch out for.

How Are These Kinds of Question Posed in The Exam?

Candidates are shown some shapes (usually three) which may be different sizes, have shading or lines, the same number of sides, or be pointing in different directions. Each shape is given two (or sometimes three) accompanying letters – the code for that particular shape. They are then shown another shape and asked which letters would represent this in the same code. Four or five options are usually given to make things easier.

That might sound a little complicated, so let’s show you what I mean with an example:


Decide on the meaning of the code on the left. Each letter means something and can be determined by looking at the symbols. Then look at the test shape and decide which of the given code letters is an accurate description of it.


Let’s work out how to solve these sorts of questions. The first step is to find out what is in common between the elements of the initial shapes which share code letters. Let’s look at the options:

The first two shapes are both coded ‘A’

The first and third shape are both coded ‘V’

We can find out what the code letter ‘A’ means by seeing what is in common with the first two shapes and is not shared with the other. The answer, of course, is that the first two shapes are triangles pointing upwards while the bottom one faces downwards. This means that ‘A’ and ‘B’ refer to the direction the triangle points, so our test shape, as it points downwards, must be coded ‘B’.

‘V’ is used to show something which the first and third shape have in common and not the second, so seems to relate to being empty or having a line through the middle. Shapes coded ‘V’ have nothing in the middle while a shape with the code ‘W’ has a line down the middle. As the test shape has a line through it, it must be coded ‘W’ and the overall code is therefore ‘BW’ (answer ‘d’).

Technique Tip

The way to answer these questions is to find the similarities between objects that share a code letter and work from there. In order to do this, you need to think along the lines of question setters, so bear in mind the list of things which are often used in non-verbal reasoning: shape, size, shading, lines, number, and rotation. They are key elements in this section.

Beware of the ‘repeat’ letter combinations. For example, in the question above the first three possible answers are all codes which have been used to describe other shapes. It is very rare to see a replication of answers for different shapes. Discourage children from putting an answer which is the same code as one of the earlier shapes unless they are quite definite.

Sample Tests

So, we’ve now looked at how Codes questions in the 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning exam are posed. If you feel ready to tackle these kinds of question, you can have a go at the 14 quizzes we have on the Education Quizzes site devoted to them. You’ll find them in the 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning section, or you can follow these links:

Code Breaker 1

Code Breaker 2

Code Breaker 3

Code Breaker 4

Code Breaker 5

Code Breaker 6

Code Breaker 7

Shapes and Letters 1

Shapes and Letters 2

Shapes and Letters 3

Shapes and Letters 4

Shapes and Letters 5

Shapes and Letters 6

Shapes and Letters 7

However, there are a couple more techniques I’d like to show you which we’ll look at in the next two articles – see you there!

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