A guide to teaching your child 11 plus Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR) is one of the least known aspects of the 11 plus exam. It involves problem-solving using shapes, puzzles, and other abstract concepts. It is not part of the national curriculum and as such it’s not taught in state schools which is why parents frequently ask me how they can help their children with this at home.  

So I thought it would be a good idea to show you how to do just that in this guide. Let’s have a look at what NVR is, why it’s difficult and how you can support your child. 

What is Non-Verbal Reasoning in the 11 plus?

Non-Verbal Reasoning  for the 11 plus exam involves solving problems containing shapes instead of words. Bear in mind some exam boards (GL in particular)  also use letters and codes. It requires the ability to work logically, good spatial awareness and to be able to spot patterns.

Here’s an example:

Why might children find Non-Verbal Reasoning difficult?

11 plus NVR is not part of the national curriculum and as such, it is not taught at state primary schools. So on first being introduced to NVR questions, they may be a little stumped. Below, in ‘Our Approach’, I detail what to look out for, provide tips to make things speedier and easier on the day of the exam and suggestions on how you can teach your child at home.

How can you help your child with Non-Verbal Reasoning at home?

When teaching children how to answer non-verbal reasoning questions we follow the same method as  CGP

I would recommend taking the time to familiarise yourself with each of these before attempting questions. Using this approach makes it easier to spot patterns. Once you’re familiar with the different  aspects of NVR then that familiar refrain applies: practise, practise, practise. The more you practise the quicker and easier it will be to spot those patterns and for those young elastic brains it can be a breeze.

I would recommend CGP books. They produce resources that are great for the 11 plus exam including exam practice papers which come with audio files that enable you to simulate what it will be like on the day of the exam. 

What’s our approach to NVR?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, which is  why we use the following method:

  • We take time to demonstrate what they should be looking for. For example, shapes, counting, rotations, pointing, elimination, etc. 
  • Students will then practise this skill before moving onto the next.
  • Once this process is complete we will then practise questions that are a combination of the areas below, as they are now in a stronger position to answer these correctly.  

Here’s a breakdown of some example NVR exercises we cover in our course. Why not try them with your child?


A good understanding of the properties of shapes will help.

  1. Which shape is most unlike the others?
NVR shapes

 Answer D – In all the other figures the black shape is in front of the white shape


When trying to spot patterns one of the things I recommend is to count the number of sides, lines or shapes presented to see if there’s a link.

2) Look at how the first two figures are changed, and then work out which option would look like the third figure if you changed it in the same way:

NVR Counting

Answer C – The number of sides of the white shape becomes the number of points on the black shape. The number of small lines becomes the number of sides of the white shape.


If a question has arrows in it the first thing I would recommend is to look for a pattern in the direction that they are pointing.

3) Which shape is most unlike the others? 

NVR Pointing

D – because the arrow is pointing away from the circle. All the other shapes the arrow is pointing towards from the circle

Shading & Line types:

Always look for a pattern in how the lines and shading may change.

4) Look at how the first two figures are changed, and then work out which option would look like the third figure if you changed it in the same way:

NVR shading & Line Types

Answer D – The large and small shapes swap shadings. The outline of the large shape becomes dashed.

Order & Position:

Check to see how a shape is positioned in relation to the other shapes.

5) Look at how the first two figures are changed, and then work out which option would look like the third figure if you changed it in the same way:

NVR Order & Position

Answer D – The shape at the back moves to the front and the shape at the front moves to the back. The two shapes at the top swap shading.


It will make life easier if you know what a 45 degree and 90 degree rotation looks like. Also, when a shape is rotated, check the direction, whether it’s been rotated clockwise or anti-clockwise could be the key to the correct answer. The direction is irrelevant for a 180 degree rotation.

 6) Work out which option would look like the figure on the left if it was rotated:

NVR Rotation

Answer A – The figure is rotated 180 degrees. Option B has been rotated and reflected. In option C, two of the arrows are the wrong length. In option D, the diamond is missing and two of the arrowheads are wrong.


Imagine placing a mirror where the line (mirror line) is drawn. What would the object look like when peering into the mirror? Initially, you could use a small mirror when working on reflections as a learning aid.

7) Work out which option would like the figure on the left if it was reflected over the vertical line. 

NVR reflection

Answer A – Option D looks almost identical, but the white rectangle is smaller than the original shape. Option B the black arrow has moved to the front of the rectangle and in option C, the black arrow is in the original position and has not been reflected.


This relates to the position of shapes either in front of or behind another shape.

8) The first figure below is changed in some way to become the second. Choose the figure on the right that relates to the third figure in the same way that the second relates to the first. 

NVR Layering

B – The top and bottom shapes disappear leaving the middle circle. The stripes from the top shape move to the bottom and the checks from the bottom shape move to the top.


You can see with a glance that option A cannot be a rotation of the shape on the left, therefore, eliminate it and I would recommend crossing it out. When pressed for time, and believe me they will be, it’s easy for the brain to become frazzled and confused when confronted with several options. So, cross out the options that are incorrect so that there’s less to consider and you won’t have to give it a second glance or five! 

9) Work out which option would look like the figure on the left if it was rotated:

NVR Elimination

Answer C – Option D is a reflection. In the original shape the part is sticking out is on the left hand side, in option B, it’s on the right hand side (needs to be worded better)

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!

Get in touch with us

Super Tutoring prepares children for the 11 plus exam by plugging the gap between what’s taught at school and what’s needed to pass the exam. Build your child’s subject knowledge and improve their confidence: Book a 15-minute chat with me to find out how we can help.