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Introducing your child to non-verbal reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning
Introducing child to non-verbal reasoning

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Non-verbal reasoning has a reputation as a misunderstood part of secondary school entrance exams, including CEM, GL 11 plus and ISEB. But it doesn't have to be that way. In this article, Atom's Education Experts share tips on how to introduce your child to this style of problem-solving and lay the foundations to set them up for success.

What is non-verbal reasoning?

First, let's break down exactly what non-verbal reasoning is. Non-verbal reasoning is a form of visual problem-solving using shapes, diagrams and pictures (as opposed to words, as used in verbal reasoning). It relies on:

  • Maths skills

  • Logic and problem-solving

  • Spatial awareness

  • Ability to identify patterns and rules

Watch this video for an introduction to non-verbal reasoning:

Atom Learning video: What is non-verbal reasoning?

When to introduce non-verbal reasoning to your child

Lots of children won't have seen verbal or non-verbal reasoning exercises at school. Reasoning is not part of the national curriculum for state primary schools, and even at prep schools there is a large variation on when these topics are taught.

We strongly recommend introducing your child to non-verbal reasoning skills at home no later than the end of Year 4. This will give your child enough time to practice frequently and build security with all of the different non-verbal reasoning question types they could see in an exam.

If you're preparing for grammar school or independent school exams, we recommend covering the entirety of the non-verbal reasoning curriculum on Atom Nucleus by the end of spring term of Year 5. You can then use the rest of Year 5 and the beginning of Year 6 to address areas of difficulty and focus on revision, rather than introducing your child to any new concepts at this stage.

Principles for introducing non-verbal reasoning

Although non-verbal reasoning skills come more naturally to some people than others, this doesn’t have to be a disadvantage! There are fun ways to introduce your child to this style of thinking early on, which will support the ongoing development of their critical thinking and mathematical ability.

Start with the basics

When introducing your child to any new topic, it's best to start with the easiest level of difficulty, and scaffold their knowledge and skills from there. This allows you to gauge which types of questions your child has a natural fluency in and identify areas of potential challenge.

Remember, exam preparation is a marathon, not a sprint! Starting with activities that are too difficult can demotivate and overwhelm early on. When practicing easier questions, your child will be building fundamental skills and confidence that they can then apply on advanced content in the exam.

If you're using Atom Nucleus, the non-verbal reasoning questions will be easy to start with, to introduce key concepts. The algorithm will very quickly adapt to your child's ability, keeping them challenged at their optimal level as they progress.

For example, both of these questions test the ability to interpret, recognise and associate shapes. The first question lays the foundations, allowing your child to practice and build the fundamental skills that they will employ later on.

A simple non-verbal reasoning question

As they demonstrate sufficient mastery, the questions will increase in difficulty until they are being tested on the same concepts in a more challenging way in the type of format they would see in an exam.

A harder non-verbal reasoning question

Use visual aids

Visual aids can be particularly helpful for non-verbal reasoning question types. When we try to picture several shapes in our heads it’s easy to get confused. Encourage your child to draw the shapes out with a pencil and paper, as this can help them visualise the answer more clearly.

Introducing 3D objects is a great way to bring non-verbal reasoning to life and is particularly helpful if your child is a kinaesthetic learner. When introducing 'following folds' concepts such as in the example question below, you can use a piece of paper and hole punch to help your child to visualise how the shapes will look when they are reflected.

An example of a following folds question on Atom Nucleus

Likewise, when introducing 'nets and cubes', giving your child a real-life object like a dice or Rubik's Cube will support their visualisation.

Which of the following cubes can be made from this net?

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Games and puzzles are another fun way for your child to develop their non-verbal reasoning skills through visualisation and hands-on interaction. Minecraft and Lego are particularly useful!

For more example non-verbal reasoning questions, download your free sample 11 plus question packs below:

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Encourage a growth mindset

When developing reasoning skills and preparing for exams, a growth mindset is key to unlocking progress. Ensure your child knows that it's OK to make mistakes, as long as we learn from them!

If you're working through non-verbal reasoning questions together with your child and you notice they're about to get something wrong, we would always recommend that you let them make the mistake. Ask them to submit the answer, and then discuss the explanation together, whether they were right or wrong. Making the mistake will give them the opportunity to reflect and evaluate, and is a far more effective learning experience than being corrected early in the process.

When working through practice questions, ask your child to explain the steps they are taking and why. By encouraging your child to articulate their thought process out loud from start to finish, you'll help them to consolidate their learning.

Remember to praise the process, not the results! Try to avoid only praising your child's score in practice papers or mock tests, as this can discourage them from valuing the learning and reasoning process. Instead, celebrate their resilience in making mistakes and learning from them, their attention to detail, improvements they've made from the last revision session – and encourage them to reflect on what they're proud of too.

The growth mindset is particularly valuable when introducing verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Encouraging to reflect on different ways to solve the problem will support them with their reasoning skills and build lateral thinking. Try asking these questions:

  • Is there a different way you could solve this problem?

  • Was this the quickest way to solve the problem?

  • How would you explain this to someone else?

Learn about the different non-verbal reasoning question types and how to approach non-verbal reasoning preparation for the 11 plus here.

Webinar: supporting your child's reasoning skills

In this webinar, Gemma, Atom's Head of Customer Success, shares tips for supporting and developing your child's reasoning skills:

Parent webinar: Supporting your child's reasoning skills


We can help

Adaptive learning

Atom Nucleus is your online, on-demand learning platform. Your child will independently progress and build confidence through their personalised Learning Journey.

Nucleus introduces your child to non-verbal reasoning through fun and interactive worlds with thousands of teacher-written practice questions. Atom's adaptive algorithm will keep them progressing at their optimal pace, building a solid understanding of the basics before going on to master the most challenging concepts.

Non-Verbal Reasoning islands in Atom Nucleus

Along the way, your child will have access to friendly help sheets and explanation videos to consolidate their learning.

Start your 5-day free trial today to learn more:

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Live Lessons

Through Atom, your child can also attend free online Live Lessons for non-verbal reasoning. Run by expert teachers, we have:

  • Lessons to introduce children in Year 3 and 4 to key non-verbal reasoning concepts such as matching shapes and patterns

  • Focused non-verbal reasoning exam prep sessions for Year 5s onwards, tailored to 11 plus and ISEB tests

Non-verbal reasoning live lessons on Atom Nucleus

Request your timetable here, or if you're already a Nucleus subscriber, visit the Lesson Library in your app today.

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