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Guide to 11+ non-verbal reasoning

By Atom | May 30, 2024, 2:43 PM

Four children putting together a puzzle on a table

Non-verbal reasoning is often one of the least understood topics for 11 plus tests and entrance exams. Keep reading to:

  • Learn what non-verbal reasoning means – and the skills it involves

  • Understand how to answer eleven plus non-verbal reasoning question types

  • Get free non-verbal reasoning worksheets to support your child's exam prep

What is non-verbal reasoning?

Non-verbal reasoning involves analysing visual information and solving problems using shapes, diagrams and pictures. This is a different kind of reasoning to verbal reasoning, which involves analysing written information.

Non-verbal reasoning tests several skills, including logic and problem-solving, spatial awareness, and the ability to identify patterns and rules.

Non-verbal reasoning questions can be confusing to those who have never come across them before. Getting familiar with basic problem-solving and question types will help your child tackle non-verbal reasoning successfully.

Which exams test non-verbal reasoning?

Non-verbal reasoning is a common topic tested in school entrance exams. These exam boards all have non-verbal reasoning papers, or questions, within their tests:

Most UK grammar schools use GL Assessment 11+ papers.

Schools choose which subjects to test at 11 plus entry. If non-verbal reasoning is tested, it may be through a specific paper, or in a paper combined with other subjects (such as maths). This test is taken on paper.

Non-verbal reasoning practice papers

With an Atom subscription, you can unlock 11+ practice tests – including non-verbal reasoning for all exam boards. Tests are tailored to your child's target school, so there'll be no surprises on exam day.

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KCS Wimbledon, Alleyn's School and Bexley Grammar Schools 11+ mock tests

Non-verbal reasoning question types

Non-verbal reasoning questions fall into two main categories: interpreting shapes and manipulating 2D and 3D shapes.

Interpreting shapes

In pairing shapes questions, you will be shown two pairs of images – one complete and one incomplete.

In each pair, the first image is changed into the second image using a rule. You need to figure out the rule and select the image which correctly completes the pair.

In this recent Atom Learning Live Lesson, find out more about the question types involved in interpreting shapes. Learn top tips for tackling these questions, and practise your skills by answering Pairing Shapes and Find a Code questions.

Manipulating 2D shapes

In parts within a shape questions, you will have to find an image that is hidden within a more complex shape. There are three types of questions:

  1. Which shape is hidden in the group?

  2. Which shape is not in the group?

  3. Which group of shapes contains the hidden shape?

In this lesson, Wing teaches you how to analyse a non-verbal reasoning question by identifying key features of a 2D shape. Special guest Hannah provides top tips on exam technique and revision.

Manipulating 3D shapes

In nets and cubes questions, you will be shown a 2D net and asked to work out what it would look like when it is folded up into a cube.

Watch the recorded lesson below to learn how to answer questions about 3D Shapes. Make sure you listen out for mnemonics like NAPS and the ODO rules!

Non-verbal reasoning example questions

Here are some examples of common non-verbal reasoning question formats. You can use these together with your child as practice questions.


In sequence questions, you will be shown an incomplete sequence of images. You will have to choose the answer option that completes the gap(s) in the sequence.

Tip: the images or shapes in a sequence may be linked by more than one feature. Focus on one feature at a time!

Question: Select the option that will complete this sequence.

A diagram of a sequence with a missing option at the end, and five answer options

Answer: D is the correct answer! With each step through the sequence, the hexagon becomes more shaded – increasing one sixth at a time. The hexagon in our answer must be five sixths shaded, so we can rule out A, B, C and E.

Following folds example

Following folds are a common area of difficulty on non-verbal reasoning tests. This type of question requires your child to visualise how some shapes will look when they are reflected.

Tip: pay attention to the distance between a shape and a fold. This will help you figure out where it should be positioned on the unfolded paper. And make sure to look out for irregular shapes – their unusual features can help you figure out the orientation of cut-out shapes.

Question: Imagine that the piece of paper has been folded along the dashed line, and then had shapes cut out of it. Which image shows how the paper would look if it was unfolded?

Following folds diagram with five answer options

Answer: D is the right answer! The left half of the paper is a reflection of the right half of the paper across the vertical fold.

Nets and cubes example

Nets and cubes are another 11 plus non-verbal reasoning challenging question type. Your child will be asked to translate a 2D net into a 3D cube.

Tip: helping your child begin to visualise the nets and cubes as real-world entities will aid tremendously in their ability to answer the questions. You may wish to give your child a real-life object like a dice or Rubik's Cube to support this visualisation.

Question: Which of these cubes can be made by the following net?

Diagram of a net with four cubes as answer options

Answer: B is the correct answer! D, C and A are dud cubes: they show shapes that aren't on the net.

Non-verbal reasoning

Free worksheets

Put your knowledge to the test with these free non-verbal reasoning worksheets – perfect for 11 plus exam prep!

Download now
Non-verbal reasoning mock test on Atom Nucleus

Top tips for non-verbal reasoning

Here are our top tips for tackling non-verbal reasoning questions!

Know the process

To tackle most non-verbal reasoning questions you can follow this process:

  1. Type: What type of question is it?

  2. Analyse: Look at the shapes in the question. What are the most obvious qualities (e.g. shape, colour, pattern) of the shapes and patterns?

  3. Similarities/differences: Find similarities and differences between the shapes and patterns. Remember this also includes patterns and changes in frequency when looking at a series of shapes!

  4. Rule: Find a rule from these obvious qualities.

  5. Eliminate: Eliminate those that don’t fall into this rule.


Drawing can simplify everything. When we try to picture many shapes in our heads, these images can become jumbled and it’s easy to get confused. Encourage your child to draw the shapes out as this can help them visualise the answer more clearly.

Practise, practise, practise!

Encourage your child to practise different types of non-verbal reasoning questions. Has your child attempted all of the question types in the list above?

Identify which types they find most difficult, and spend more time working on these. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect and the more questions your child completes, the faster they will be in the test, allowing them to work confidently within time limits. Increasing their general answering speed is important as it can give them more time to focus on the questions they struggle with.

Make it fun and play a game

Find fun and interactive ways to improve your child’s non-verbal reasoning skills by playing games such as Sudoku, which improve logic and attention to detail. Playing Lego is also a great way for children to practise shape building and visualisation, standing them in good stead for these types of test.

Consistency and repetition

Consistency is crucial for non-verbal reasoning. A little bit every day will go a long way, as repetition will make these exercises second nature to your child. This is also much easier than trying to cram all this learning into long last-minute sessions, which can lead to frustration for everyone involved!

Study breaks and rewards

Taking a break every 30 minutes will improve the productivity of your child's study sessions. Your child is more likely to come back feeling refreshed and ready to be challenged. After you finish a study session, why not reward your child for their hard work (e.g. a bit of time playing their favourite game)?

Don’t be disheartened if it takes your child a long time to get to grips with non-verbal reasoning. This subject is not taught as part of the national curriculum, so they’ll be learning completely new skills.

Did you know? Atom makes it easy to see your child’s progress at the click of a button, so you can celebrate progress and reward them with something they love!

Non-verbal reasoning: easy with Atom.

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