Letter Series questions have very little to do with letters. They are in fact a test of logic and reason and have more to do with maths than they do with English.
Letter Series is one of the most difficult parts of the Verbal Reasoning paper and it scares adults as much as children! It is abstract, and knowledge of words has no bearing on it. Rather, it challenges candidates to work out the relationship between certain letters, then to apply this relationship to work out the next pair of letters in a series.
Candidates are shown pairs of letters (usually five) which form a series. They are then asked to name which pair of letters would come next in that series.
Usually, the page of questions will also have an alphabet printed along the top and it's very helpful to anyone answering the questions as it allows us to hold important things in our head without having to hold actual letters there.
Trying to do this section without an alphabet to hand would be silly; if your child faces a paper with this type of question and there’s no alphabet written on the page, tell them to quickly write one for themselves.
It can help slightly to learn the number of each letter in the alphabet – A is 1, B is 2 and so on – but this really isn’t worthwhile doing unless you have the kind of child who enjoys that sort of thing!
To help you understand exactly how these questions work, let’s look at some examples:
Example Question One
Find the next letters in the series.
The casual observer will struggle to see the way to solve this type of question, but if you use one simple technique you could cut through to the answer straight away.
Deal with letters separately – the pattern is rarely dependent on seeing the two letters of the pairs together. Deal with the first letters of the pairs and find their connection. Afterwards, look for the connection between the second letters of each pair.
Using this key technique, we can make a lot more sense of the question. The first letters of each pair are:
Obviously, the letters are going up through the alphabet one at a time – the first letter of the answer will have to be U.
If multiple choice answers are provided, check them. It may just be that there’s only one answer starting with U, which would make it unnecessary to do the second part.
Let’s look at the second letters of the pairs:
Here’s where you make use of the alphabet. Use the ‘O’ as the base letter and make a note of how many letters you need to go to the left or right to reach the next letter. In this example, you go from O to M, which I would write as ‘-2’ as it involves counting backwards along the alphabet line two letters.
The same process is then followed for the next letters – M to K. The same applies – K is two letters back along the line. Following the processes for the next letters we find that we ALWAYS move two letters to the left (or -2 as I like to write it) and the answer will be two letters back from G. The answer to this part of the question will therefore be ‘E’.
The answer to the question combines the two sections – it is U E.
Get your child used to drawing arcs from the letters you are working with. Draw arcs from the first letters of the pairs on the top of the letters, then arcs underneath for the second letters of the pairs. Then you can write the numbers alongside each arc to show the connection between each letter. It isn’t always necessary to do this – if the letters are simply going up one at a time as in the first part of the example above, for instance – but it’s a very handy technique to be able to fall back on. It always provides a correct answer, even if it isn’t the quickest way to solve it.
Example Question Two
Find the next letters in the series.
Firstly, we should have a look at the first letters in the pairs. We are then left with the following sequence:
Looking at the alphabet as the equivalent of a number line, we can quickly see that if you start at ‘A’ and move to ‘E’ you are going four letters to the right. This can be expressed as ‘+4’. The next step is from E to I – again, this is moving four letters to the right, or +4. The step from I to M is +4 so it’s logical to assume the answer is ‘M + 4’. Four letters to the right of M is Q so the answer starts with Q.
If we’re using the technique of writing in arcs between letters, it should now look like this:
The second letters in each pair form the following sequence:
From B to G is +5. From G to F is -1. From F to K is +5 again. If there is a logical pattern to this question then we would expect the next step to be ‘-1’. As ‘K-1’ is J, so the second part of the answer is J. This makes an overall answer of Q J.
The sequence should now look something like this, if the pencilled-in arcs and numbers are being used:
As I said before, you may not need to write it all out like this but it’s fool-proof. It’s the sort of thing every child I’ve worked with can understand and it helps to associate the letters with numbers and that makes it easier to solve the series.
There is a lot more to say about Letter Series questions, which we will look at in the next article, VR - Letter Series (2). But before I tell you that, you might like a little break to get in some practise.
There are four quizzes in our 11+ Verbal Reasoning section on Letter Series. Why not let your child have a go using the techniques shown in this lesson?
Here are some links to the quizzes for your convenience:
Once you’ve tried these, there is another technique I’d like to show you. See you in the next article!