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11 plus challenging topics: non-verbal reasoning

11 plus
11 plus challenging topics: non-verbal reasoning


In this series of free webinars, Atom’s Education Experts outline the areas of each 11 plus subject that our students struggle with the most, and share tips and techniques on how to prepare. Watch here, or keep reading for an overview:

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The 11 plus non-verbal reasoning curriculum

Non-verbal reasoning is a type of visual problem-solving using shapes, diagrams and pictures. Your child will be tested on their maths skills, their ability to use logic to solve problems and identify patterns, and their spatial awareness. There is some overlap with Key Stage 2 maths, such as geometry, position and direction, but non-verbal reasoning is not taught as part of the national curriculum.

Non-verbal reasoning tests cover two main topics: interpreting shapes and manipulating shapes. Your child will likely see a combination of questions for each topic:

Interpreting shapes

  • Recognise and associate: find the odd one out, match to a group, and match to a pair

  • Extending a pattern: pairing shapes, sequences, matrices, and odd-shaped matrices

  • Finding a code

Manipulating shapes

  • 2D shapes: parts within a shape, shape logic, rotations and reflections, and following folds

  • 3D shapes: nets and cubes, rotating 3D shapes, nets from 3D shapes, combining 3D shapes, and shapes from above

Take a look at examples of non-verbal reasoning questions in 11 plus exams.

The 3 non-verbal reasoning topics students struggle with the most

We’ve found that children find the following non-verbal reasoning topics particularly challenging:

  1. Shape logic

  2. Nets from 3D shapes

  3. Nets and cubes

Shape logic

Within ‘shape logic’, there are three different types of questions. Children may be required to combine shapes, form silhouettes, or form shapes.

  • Combining shapes: your child must choose the option that correctly combines two shapes into one new image.

  • Forming silhouettes: children will see a silhouette on the left, and they will need to choose the answer options which, when combined, make up the silhouette.

  • Forming shapes: this is similar to forming silhouettes. However, children will see a complex shape (there may be lines within the shape, rather than just seeing an outer border). Children will need to figure out which shapes piece together to form the original.

An example of a non-verbal reasoning: shape logic question on Atom Nucleus An example shape logic: forming silhouettes question on Atom Nucleus.

To answer shape logic questions, look closely at each shape you need to combine and identify key features of each shape that need to be present in the answer.

In the example above, the final silhouette needs to be created by connecting the two sides marked A, and the two sides marked B. We’re also told that we don’t need to rotate or flip the shapes, so we just need to mentally move them to join the sides together.

If we move the side marked ‘A’ on the semi-circle to join the point marked ‘A’ on the square, and the side marked ‘B’ on the third shape to meet the side marked ‘B’ on the square, the result is a shape which looks like answer option D. This is the correct answer!

Nets from 3D shapes

Children may be shown a net and asked to identify which 3D shape can be made from the net. Alternatively, they may be shown a 3D shape and will need to identify its associated net. Take a look at the example below:

An example of a non-verbal reasoning: nets from 3D shapes question on Atom Nucleus

To answer this type of question, start by counting the number and shape of the faces in the net. Check to see whether the total number of faces on the net matches those on the cube – and that there is the correct number of each shape of face (e.g. square, circular, triangular…).

In this example, we can see that there are six square faces on the shape. Options A and D don’t have the right number of faces, and option C has the wrong shapes on its net – so we can eliminate all of these.

Next, check that the faces are in the correct position. If certain faces are in the wrong position, it will be impossible to recreate the 3D shape.

Lastly, focus on the three important rules of duds, opposites and orientation:

  1. Look for a dud: a dud shows shapes or colours that are not present on the net or cube it needs to be associated with.

  2. Breaking the opposites rule: some 3D shapes can’t be made from a net, and vice versa, because their faces are shown next to each other on the net when they should be opposite on the 3D shape.

  3. Breaking the orientation rule: some 3D shapes can’t be made from a net, and some nets can’t make 3D shapes, because they show shapes in the wrong orientation, e.g. an arrow pointing in the wrong direction.

Looking at both options B and E in the example above, we can see that E has two faces on the same side of its net – but they need to be opposite each other to complete shape. This leaves us with option B, which is the correct answer.

Nets and cubes

In ‘nets and cubes’ questions, your child will be shown a 2D net and will need to work out what it would look like when folded up into a cube.

An example of a non-verbal reasoning: nets and cubes question on Atom Nucleus

To solve questions on nets and cubes, we can use the same three important rules of duds, opposites and orientation.

In the example above, answer option A features an arrow, but this is not shown on the net. Option C features two white squares – but neither of these are shown on the net. This means we can eliminate options A and C.

Next, we move on to the rule of opposites. On the net, the small black square and the large black square are opposite each other. As option D shows them next to each other on the cube, we know this is an incorrect answer. The cube in option E shows the diagonal black rectangle and blank face next to each other – but the net shows them on opposite faces. This means we can also eliminate option E.

We are therefore left with B, which is the correct answer.

Top tips for solving tricky non-verbal reasoning questions

Seeing lots of shapes on the page at once can be overwhelming. Encourage your child to read the question carefully and work through it methodically, looking at just one shape at a time.

When looking at shapes, try to spot identifying features. Consider features such as movement, orientation, placement, and symmetry.

Lastly, don’t get caught out by red herrings. These are answer options that look very similar to the shape in the question, but might have a very subtle difference.

The best way for your child to prepare for 11 plus non-verbal reasoning tests is consistent practice with a range of questions. Starting practice early and following the rule ‘little and often’ will help your child build the confidence needed to tackle tricky questions in the exam.

Watch the webinar for free here for more ways to support your child with non-verbal reasoning, and discover 11 plus exam techniques that will prepare them to take even the trickiest questions in their stride!

11+ challenging topics: free webinar series for parents. Watch now

More challenging 11 plus topics



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