What is the 11-Plus Verbal Reasoning Exam?

Verbal reasoning means, “understanding and reasoning using concepts framed in words.” It is essentially the ability to read, understand and to think logically about the information presented

Reasoning The eleven plus exam has four sections: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. While the first two of these are pretty much self-explanatory, the latter may require some explanation.

Verbal reasoning literally means, “understanding and reasoning using concepts framed in words.” It is essentially the ability to read, understand and to think logically about the information presented.

So, now we know what verbal reasoning is, what is its purpose in the exam, what form do the questions take, and are there any ways to help your child to tackle them? Read on for answers to all these questions and more…

Why Is Verbal Reasoning Included In The 11+ Exam?

The 11-plus exam is not standard. Different schools will have different formats. Some may miss out one or more of the four sections, but verbal reasoning is almost always featured in the test. The reason for this is that the 11+ is intended to be a test of intelligence and aptitude, rather than one of knowledge which has been learned.

The aim of the 11-plus is to find the very brightest pupils. Ones who will be able to cope with the demands of a grammar school education. This is why they use selective tests – to find the children blessed with a natural ability so that the schools can bring out their full potential.

Verbal reasoning is a good way to do this. The reason? It is an excellent way to determine a child’s natural ability to think critically and for them to use what information they do know to work out the answers to problems.

What Kinds Of Questions Are In The 11+ Verbal Reasoning Test?

While all the question in the verbal reasoning part of the exam are presented in words, they come in a variety of types. Some will test cognitive ability by asking candidates to decipher a code, complete a series, or spot an odd-one-out. However, some will require a good standard of both English and maths. Knowledge of anagrams for example, or following instructions to complete a calculation. To see all of the styles of question that might be found in the verbal reasoning part of the exam, take a look at our Verbal Reasoning quizzes. There are 120 of them detailing each kind of question.

As you can see, academic knowledge, while not strictly speaking a part of the test, will be a massive boon to any child taking the exam. A large vocabulary will help no end in understanding the questions. One example is the questions in which candidates are asked to use the letters from one word to create another. Now, the more words a child knows, the easier this task will be.

A good ability with maths will also help. There are some questions which are purely maths. “Complete the Sum” is one, in which a number or mathematical symbol will be removed from a calculation and the children must replace it with the correct one. But the “Letter Series” questions, despite their name, also rely on maths to solve them.

Are There Any Techniques To Help In The Verbal Reasoning Exam?


As I said, the verbal reasoning section of the eleven plus is designed to find the very brightest pupils. And, for the most part, it succeeds. Some children do have an innate ability for this style of question. But, for the rest of us, all is not lost. There are ways in which you can boost your child’s chances of success.

The first method is a very simple one – and enjoyable too, if you like that kind of thing. So what is it? Puzzles. If your child is familiar with and well practised in crosswords, sudoku, word searches, or even homemade word games or jigsaw puzzles, then these will help. They exercise the parts of the brain which are also needed to answer verbal reasoning questions. Who thought revision could be so much fun?

Another activity which will be of use is reading. The more children read the larger their vocabulary and their knowledge of grammar, synonyms and antonyms. Obviously, the more years of reading they have under their belts before they come to take the 11+, the better. But even if your child is coming close to the exam it is not too late to start. Set aside a part of the day devoted entirely to reading. Just 30 minutes, if done on a daily basis, should help.

These will be of use, but the best way to prepare for the exam is to practise verbal reasoning questions. Again, take a look at the 120 quizzes in our Verbal Reasoning section. Get your child to play them all. This will show you which areas they are strong in, or need more practise with. They will also give you hints and tips on how to approach each style of question which will be invaluable in the exam.

Example Verbal Reasoning Questions

Just to give you an idea of the mix of maths, logic and English to be found in the verbal reasoning exam, here are a couple of example questions, and hints on how to solve them…

Letter Series

Letter Series questions are lttle to do with English. Instead they test logic and maths. Candidates are shown pairs of letters which form a series and asked which pair of letters would come next.

Example Question One


Find the next letters in the series.





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:


P Q R S T (?)

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:


O M K I G (?)

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 counting backwards along the alphabet two letters.

Do the same for the next letters – M to K. K is two letters back along the line. Continuing we find that we ALWAYS move two letters to the left 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.

Moving a Letter to Make New Words

The previous question tested logic and maths. The next tests logic and English. They are basically just anagrams, but children already familiar with these have an advantage, and large vocabularies help considerably.

Children are shown two words and asked to move a letter from one of the words and place it into the other to make a new word while leaving a proper word.

Example Question Two


Find the letter which can be taken from the word on the left and put into the word on the right, leaving two proper words. You may not otherwise re-arrange the letters.



House Pond

The removal of the letter ‘u’ from ‘house’ would leave us with the word ‘hose’. Transferring it to the word ‘pond’ would create the word ‘pound’.

This example is quite simple, but there may be more difficult questions in the exam itself. The best way to prepare your child is to practise.

As you can see, verbal reasoning questions come in a wide variety of forms. The examples I have shown you are very different and just two of the many different styles that may be encountered in the test.

Forewarned is forearmed they say, so make sure your child is not taken by surprise when they come to take the 11+ verbal reasoning test. Visit the links in the earlier part of this article and get you child to practise, practise, practise. The result will be well worth it.

Now you know all abut the verbal reasoning part of the eleven plus, what else can you learn? Well, the Education Quizzes Knowledge Bank is packed full of articles which look at all aspects of education and child rearing. You will find information on exams, schools and key stages alongside advice on raising happy children. Why not take a look and see what else you can discover?

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