Non-Verbal Reasoning – Shaping up to pattern problems

In this blog post I will look at Non-Verbal Reasoning in more detail. This is one of the components of many Secondary School Entrance Exams and other tests a child might come across during their school life. One such assessment is Cognitive Abilities Tests (CATs), the results of which give an indication of a child’s intelligence and help a school to stream pupils for certain subjects.

What is Non-Verbal Reasoning?

NVR looks at how a child understands similarities and differences in patterns and designs involving shape and space. NVR does not rely on a child’s use of language or number skills – instead it requires a child to analyse new information and position it within their existing understanding. This allows schools to see the capability of a child to acquire new concepts and link them to others across the curriculum.

Can Non-Verbal Reasoning be taught?

It is not possible to learn and revise facts or formulae for NVR tests in the same way that might be done in literacy, numeracy or science. However, it is possible to practise the strategies needed to handle NVR questions and the ways in which answers can be found more easily and quickly.

What form can Non-Verbal Reasoning questions take?

Multiple choice NVR questions usually give a child a choice of five possible patterns or shapes from which to select an answer. Many NVR questions sit within one of the following styles: which pattern or shape belongs in the given group; which pattern or shape completes the second pair in the same way as the first pair; which code matches the pattern or shape; which pattern or shape is the odd one out; which cube can (or cannot) be made from the given net; which net makes the given cube; which pattern or shape is a reflection of the given pattern or shape; which pattern or shape completes the given larger square.

What strategies can be used to respond to Non-Verbal Reasoning questions more easily and speedily?

I recommend three strategies, which will simplify NVR questions. One or more of these strategies can be applied to all the forms of NVR questions. Firstly, ask yourself, ‘What do I hope to see?’ Often a child will look at all the answer options provided for a certain questions, which can be confusing as many of the patterns or shapes will be similar. A useful technique is to initially look only at the pattern or shape that forms the question, then to ask yourself, ‘What do I hope to see when I look at the answer options?’ This will allow an image to form in the child’s mind, which will enable them to find the correct image more easily and quickly when he or she looks at the answer options.

Secondly, break up the pattern or shape into its component parts. For example, a shape image might consist of a large triangle with three small circles inside it and two dots within one of the circles. I recommend that a child first looks only for the large triangle in the answer options, then eliminates anything not fitting this criterion from the possible answers. Then look only for the three smaller circles amongst the remaining possible answers, eliminating those answers that do not match this second criterion. Finally look for the two dots.

Thirdly, look only at one part of the pattern or shape. This is particularly useful for reflection questions. Here just suggest to the child that he or she looks at, say, the top half of the shape that is to be reflected. Then look at only the top half of the answer options and eliminate those that do not match the top half of the given shape. Repeat this process for other parts of the shape until only one answer option is left.

Through frequent practise and regular use of these strategies a child will be able to complete NVR questions more quickly, which will allow him or her more time in an examination. Furthermore, a child will find NVR questions much easier and this will give them confidence in tests and assessments.