Verbal Reasoning – Now Let Me Think

In this blog post I will explore verbal reasoning, which is one of the four components of the Secondary School Entrance Exams in Gloucestershire; the other elements being numeracy, literacy and non-verbal reasoning. Verbal reasoning (VR) forms part of other assessment too, such as Common Entrance exams and Cognitive Abilities Tests (CATs). This blog looks at verbal reasoning from three aspects: What is verbal reasoning?; What questions can my child expect to see?; How can my child develop skills in verbal reasoning?

  1. What is verbal reasoning?

    Verbal reasoning assesses a child’s potential to use his or her critical thinking and problem-solving skills. VR tests a child’s ability to reason;

    it is a measure of intelligence rather than knowledge of a particular concept, such as multiplication or sentence construction. VR involves using word and language skills to solve problems.


  2. What questions can my child expect to see?

    Most VR questions are word-based, although some involve numbers. Types of verbal reasoning questions include:

    • Cracking a code; this often involves each letter of the alphabet being represented by a number or by a different letter of the alphabet (for example, A becomes B, B becomes C, C becomes D and so on – in this example the word ‘dog’ would be written as ‘EPH’.
    • Identifying odd ones out in a group of words, for example – green, blue, PAINT, red.
    • Identifying a word (often three or four letters) positioned within a longer word or between two (or three) words within a sentence, for example – We had lunCH INside.
    • Identifying a letter that will end the first word and start the second word, for example – fis(H)elp
    • Identifying synonyms (words with a similar meaning) or antonyms (words with an opposite meaning) from a group of words, for example – walk/JUMP/run : season/SPRING/summer. The use of ‘spring’ is used to demonstrate how homophones (words with different meanings that sound the same and might or might not be spelled the same e.g. weather/whether – which/witch) are often used in this type of question.
    • Finding the next number in a sequence, for example – 2, 4, 8, 16, ? (32)
    • There are several other types of VR questions, but the overriding principle is that they test a child’s skill in solving word-based problems based on written instructions.

  3. How can my child develop skills in verbal reasoning?

    An ability to read well is an essential skill in VR tests. By ‘read well’ I mean being able to read at a good pace and retain the information given in the text. For more information on reading see my blog on ‘How can I help my child with reading?’ Reading helps children to develop their vocabulary, which is an asset in VR assessments. Encouraging your child to read aloud will help you to monitor his or her ability to read fluently and will identify any words they find unfamiliar. In addition to regular reading I recommend the following strategies to support your child’s development of VR skills:

    • practise comprehension exercises, which will develop vocabulary and general knowledge, particularly if you use non-fiction texts;
    • do crosswords and word-searches;
    • play word games, such as Boggle and Scrabble;
    • explore homophones (see point 2)– these are words that sound the same but have different meanings and might be spelled differently e.g. ‘their/they’re/ there’, ‘night/knight’, ‘flower/flour’;
    • know the alphabet – it is surprising how many children, who are at the age to take the Secondary School Entrance Exams, do not know the alphabet. To check, ask your child to continue the alphabet from a given letter (not A!). A thorough knowledge of the alphabet will help speed up the process of answering code questions. Can your child recite the alphabet backwards? Challenge them to say it backwards in a given time – great fun!

To accompany these strategies remember to get your child to practise VR tests. At first work alongside your child to give them confidence, then ask them to attempt questions on their own. Once your child has built up an understanding of the various VR question styles encourage them to complete a given number of questions within a time limit – this will give them skills in working against the clock and deciding which questions to attempt first.

Whilst a child cannot be taught intelligence, he or she can use their ability more effectively with experience and practice.