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11+ Non-verbal reasoning Analogies | old and young
Big is to small, as old is to young.

NVR - Relationships Between Symbols (1)

This section on Relationship Between Symbols is all about analogies. Analogies are ways to compare two things to one another, based on a relationship they share. For example, big is to small as old is to young. In the case of that example, the two words in each set are opposites to one another.

There are several ways that analogies work in the Non-Verbal Reasoning exam. We’ll look at them all in turn in the next four articles. In this one we look at relationships in patterns formed by size or number.

How Are These Kinds of Question Posed in The Exam?

Candidates are shown three shapes or patterns. The first two shapes are related in some way. It’s up to the child taking the exam to pick from a choice of options (usually four or five) which one is related to the third shape in the same way.

The best way to show you is with an example.


On the left are two shapes with an arrow between them. Decide how they are related. The third shape is related to one of the remaining shapes in the same way. Which of the shapes goes with the third in the same way as the second goes with the first?


Use the ‘talking it through in your head’ technique for these sorts of questions; it’s a lot easier that way. You might use general terms such as ‘main shape moves to outside’ or ‘lowest shape rotates 90 degrees’ and suddenly things will become clearer. Key things to look for in these questions will be movement, rotation, shading and size but don’t ignore other variables.

Let’s talk this question through – if your child gets used to doing this he or she is halfway to conquering non-verbal reasoning.

Firstly, explore every element of the first pair – not too hard considering there are only two parts to it:

The small circle in the first symbol becomes a large circle in the second symbol. The connection between the other element is less obvious, but count the number of lines in the ‘step’ shape – five – and count the number of sides in the pentagon – five. So, the number of lines in the ‘step’ shape relates to the number of sides in the shape in the second symbol.

We need to hold that information in our heads and look at the new shapes. Let’s replace the precise terms of the first pairing with the new items in the second pairing, but maintain the general idea. Instead of a small circle we now have a small triangle and instead of the five-line ‘step’ we have a four-line ‘step’. We learned that the number of sides of the target shape (that’s what I like to call the answer) is dependent on the number of lines in the ‘step’, so our target shape has four sides. This discounts answers ‘e’ and ‘c’. The small shape on the bottom right becomes a large shape and, on this occasion, it’s a triangle. Only ‘b’, ‘c’ and ‘e’ have large triangles and we’ve already discounted two of those: the answer is ‘b’.

The quick way of articulating this is as follows, and is really good practice to use: ‘Lines of step make large shape, circle becomes large.’ ‘Four lines become quadrilateral; triangle becomes large.’ Therefore, your child should look for a quadrilateral (four-sided figure) with a large triangle.

It’s always interesting to look at the wrong answers and see what they’re trying to tempt you into thinking. There are several quadrilaterals here but only one square – they are trying to catch out the child who cannot think beyond the obvious, who thinks ‘four-sided shape’ and only comes up with ‘square’. The circles are in possible answers to catch children who don’t understand that the new pairing doesn’t have to have anything to do with the specific shapes of the first pairing. The ‘step’ shape is available in one answer for a child who thinks that you need to have the same shape in each part of the pair; someone who misunderstands the meaning of this type of question.

Sample Tests

So, now you’ve been introduced to Analogies questions in the 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning exam. There are several ways these can be created, which we’ll look at in the next three articles. In the meantime, if you feel ready to tackle these kinds of question, you can have a go at the 8 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:

Analogies 1

Analogies 2

Analogies 3

Analogies 4

Analogies 5

Analogies 6

Analogies 7

Analogies 8

Before you try these though, you might want to read through our next three exam illustrations. These look at other ways in which analogies are formed, such as rotation, shading and movement. See you in the next article!

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