Countdown to the 11+ exam: Identifying Patterns

The Bond Countdown to the 11+ exam series offers step-by-step guides to answering key 11+ exam questions.

Previous articles in the series: Comprehension | Vocabulary

In many parts of the UK, testing in non-verbal reasoning is an essential part of the 11+ exam for grammar and selective secondary schools. However, this is not always a part of the primary school curriculum and some Year 5 children will come across this subject for the first time when they start preparing for the 11+ exam.

Non-verbal reasoning tests a child’s perceptive, spatial and logic skills, and is rooted in mathematics. Brushing up on concepts like rotation, shape, symmetry and patterns with your child will be helpful when preparing them for this part of the 11+ exam.

Some children take to the subject very quickly; they can just see it!

For others, non-verbal reasoning can be a tricky skill to master. It involves your child using his or her ability to analyse visual information and solve the problems they are presented using visual reasoning. The questions tend to consist of small, generally black and white images – usually presented as multiple choice – with one being selected in order to complete a puzzle, identify an odd-one-out or to match to the question example.

When sitting the non-verbal reasoning element of the 11+ exam, children will need to think and respond quickly, and have good spatial awareness. Regular practice of non-verbal reasoning questions will help children improve their skills and timing – taking the non-verbal reasoning sample test from Bond Online is a great place to start.

One of the main strategies required for non-verbal reasoning is the process of deduction. For example, in a question with five possible answers, there will be two or three that clearly will not work, which we can eliminate. Then we can focus on the remaining two or three options as we try and solve the question.

Let's try a question together:

Which code matches the final shape or pattern?

non-verbal reasoning question

In this non-verbal reasoning question, we’re being asked to determine which code fits the final shape. To do this, we should first look at what we know: can we see any patterns or trends from the codes already linked to images?

We can see three of each image-type above:

  • Two shapes are made up of a bold outline
  • Two shapes made up of a single, thin outline
  • Two shapes made of up of a double outline

We can also see three types of line within each of the shapes:

  • A single straight line with nothing at either end
  • A single straight line with an arrow at one end
  • A single straight line with an arrow at both ends

First we should take a look at the two shapes made up of a bold outline: what do their codes have in common? Shapes KX and KZ both have bold outlines, but different line-types passing through them. They both share the letter K, which suggests that K stands for ‘bold outline’. Scanning across to our unknown shape, we can see that its outline is a double line and therefore the first letter of the code cannot be the letter K. If you repeat this strategy for the next shape, LY, we can also rule out the letter L as this refers to a single, thin outline. This leaves us with the letter M, and the only other shape made up of a double outline (MX). Therefore, the first letter of our missing code is M.

Now we can move on to look at the lines passing through each shape. If we look at our unknown shape, we can see a single straight line passing through it with an arrow at either end. Are there any other shapes that share this line-type? The only other shape with this has the code LY, and, using our previous process of elimination, we know that the letter representing this line-type is Y.

Therefore, we can determine that the answer to our missing code is MY.

Helping at home:

  • Paper nets: for questions that require children to visualise a net as a solid cube, a skill that many children find difficult, why not try making some paper nets with your child? Draw on the patterns shown in the question you’re practising and see what happens when you make them into cubes. You can also watch a nets of cubes video (requires free registration/login) from Bond 11+ that works through this key area of the non-verbal reasoning 11+ exam.
  • Timing is key: I get my pupils to try a timed test paper and, once it’s been marked, ask them to go back to the incorrect answers untimed. I ask them to find their second-best choice from the available options, for good reason – often this will be the right answer. Work through it together; why does the correct answer have to be this one?
  • Play games together: playing games and solving puzzles is one of the best ways to improve observation and reasoning skills, alongside developing improved spatial awareness. Completing jigsaws and sliding piece puzzles, spot-the-difference games and other maths-based logic puzzles are a great way to promote the skills needed for this part of the 11+ exam.
  • Non-verbal reasoning checklist: remember to check all questions for links in Shape, Position, Angle, Number, Shading and Size. Non-verbal reasoning is often about recognising patterns or common links, so be sure to look at all possibilities. You can create some mnemonics to help you and your child recall the checklist:
    • Strawberry pancakes and nice sweet sauce
    • Suzi’s parents are now speaking Spanish

Non-verbal reasoning questions are testing logical thinking, so they need to be approached quite systematically. When you’re considering the answer options, what can you be sure of? This could be either patterns that you can definitely see or options that can’t be correct. Think about why you’ve selected these. Is there anything further you can work out from the things you are sure of or those you’re confident are wrong? Practice of these types of questions is really useful to build awareness of the way that questions can be set, and to build speed in answering questions accurately.

Liz Heesom

About the Author:

Liz Heesom is an experienced primary school teacher, specialising in languages and special needs support. She has over 30 years of experience in tutoring children for the 11+, school entrance, maths and English to GCSE level.

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