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11 plus challenging topics: verbal reasoning

11 plus

Nov 4, 2022, 5:14 PM

11+ challenging topics series: 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:

Watch now

The 11 plus verbal reasoning curriculum

Verbal reasoning is a measure of our ability to understand and engage with language (written and spoken information). There is some overlap with the English exam in the skills needed for verbal reasoning, as it relies on strong reading comprehension and vocabulary. It will also test your child’s phonological awareness and their ability to problem-solve and identify sequences.

Verbal reasoning is not part of the national curriculum and so your child is very unlikely to have encountered verbal reasoning questions before at school. Questions will cover a range of skills:

Words and wordplay

  • Vocabulary: synonyms, odd ones out, homographs, antonyms, spot the connection, definitions, jumbled sentences

  • Building words: join the words, find the link, transfer a letter, morph the word, missing letters

  • Finding words: hidden words, stolen words, anagrams, jumbled words

  • Cloze: choose the word, complete the sentence


  • Statement logic, deductions, number logic, letter logic

Patterns and functions

  • Reordering: rearrange words, rearrange letters

  • Codes: letter pairs, letter codes, number codes, symbol codes

  • Sequences: number sequences, letter sequences, ordering words


  • Numbers: find the calculation

  • Algebra: balance the equation, substitutions

Learn more about the different types of verbal reasoning questions here.

The 3 verbal reasoning topics students struggle with the most

There are three types of verbal reasoning questions which Atom students find most difficult when preparing for the 11 plus:

  • Morph the word

  • Stolen words

  • Find the calculation

Morph the word

In 'morph the word' questions, children are given two words and need to get from the first word to the last word by changing one letter at a time to create a new word.

Example morph the word question:

verbal reasoning morph the word question

Incorrect answers can often be caused by spelling mistakes. To make sure they're answering accurately, children should double check that the word they have selected is correctly spelled.

Stolen words

In 'stolen words' questions, your child will be asked to work out the three- or four-letter word that is missing from the incomplete word given. They will be given a clue or a sentence to help find the stolen word.

Example stolen words question:

verbal reasoning stolen words question

Students can often lose marks here by suggesting a complete word that does not make sense in the context of the clue, or stolen letters that do not form a word in their own right.

In the example above, COMPOSITION would be a valid complete word, but the stolen letters would be POS, which is not a word in its own right. The correct answer is COMPETITION. The stolen letters are PET, which is a word in its own right. The definition of the word ‘competition’ also fits in the clue sentence.

So, to solve these types of questions, your child should:

  1. First read through the clue to get a sense of what the complete word might be.

  2. Once they think they have found the stolen letters, check that they make a real word when combined with the letters.

  3. Double check that the completed word is spelled correctly.

  4. Check that the stolen letters create a word in its own right, and that it is spelled correctly.

  5. Then, reread the clue to check that the completed word fits.

Look out for red herrings: in the example above, ‘composition’ is a word that can be related to ‘poetry’, so it seems like it could be correct. However, you cannot win a poetry composition and receive a certificate for it, but you can win a competition. The final step of rereading the clue and checking that the completed word makes sense will help to avoid being tripped up by red herrings.

Find the calculation

In 'find the calculation' questions, your child will be given a set of numbers. The numbers within the set will be linked by a rule.

There are three types of find the calculation questions:

  • Find the missing number

  • Find the odd pair out

  • Find the rule

Example 'find the missing number' question:

verbal reasoning find the missing number question

This is quite a simple question to solve: 5 – 1 = 4, so the missing number is 4.

Example 'find the odd pair out' question:

verbal reasoning odd pair out question

The goal is to find which pair does not follow the rule. Your child should work through each pair to find which pair does not follow the rule. In this case, (20 is to 4) does not follow the rule, because 20 ÷ 4 = 5, not 4. So our odd pair out is (20 is to 4).

Example 'find the rule' question:

verbal reasoning find the rule question

In these questions, your child will need to identify the rule which connects the middle number to the outer numbers in a triplet. One way to approach these questions is to read through each option at a time, do the calculations and see if they work.

A quicker way to eliminate options is to remember that:

  • If the difference between the middle number and the outer numbers is small, it’s likely to be an addition or subtraction rule.

  • If the difference between the middle number and the outer numbers is large, it’s likely to be a multiplication or division rule.

In this example, there is a large difference between one of the outer numbers, 121, and the middle number, 11. So we know it’s likely to be a multiplication or division rule. The middle number is a lot smaller than 121, so we know it’s likely to be division. (If the middle number was only slightly smaller than the outer number, it would be likely to be subtraction.)

We can then test the division rule. If we divide the first number by the third number, we get: 121 ÷ 11 = 11, matching our middle number, so we know this rule is the correct answer.

Above all, consistent practice with a range of verbal reasoning questions is the most effective way to prepare for this exam. If your child feels familiar and comfortable with all styles of question, they will use less cognitive energy on exam day puzzling out how to approach these strange-seeming questions. They will be able to dedicate all their focus to answering accurately and checking their work.

Watch the webinar for free for more ways to support your child with these verbal reasoning topics, 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

More free verbal reasoning resources



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