What is verbal reasoning, and can we prepare for it?
By Chris Pearse
24 Aug
Many thanks to Chris Pearse, Teachitright Ltd, for this great post and activity ideas for helping children prepare for the Verbal Reasoning exam.

Verbal reasoning is problem solving around words and language. It forms a key element of most secondary school selection and 11+ exams, as well as Year 7 CATs. It is not usually taught during school lessons.

Practising verbal reasoning helps children develop their vocabulary and come up with a solution to a set of word problems. The question posed at the top of this blog is ‘Can verbal reasoning be prepared for?’ The answer is definitely ‘yes’. This is mainly because learning new words and enhancing reasoning skills improves familiarity and overall subject knowledge.

The word-related questions that form part of verbal reasoning can involve selecting a word that is an antonym (opposite in meaning), a synonym (closest in meaning) or a homonym (a word that has the same spelling or pronunciation but a different meaning). Children need to have a strong grasp of word definitions and this can be enhanced in a variety of ways.

  • Compiling a list of new words throughout the year is recommended. This can be useful just before the exams as a revision aid. This gradual building of word knowledge is certainly a better approach than expecting children to learn words in a short period of time.
  • The main way of developing a strong vocabulary is by reading challenging texts. This will ensure your child is exposed to rich and appropriate words. Try to find texts your child enjoys reading!
  • A synonyms and antonyms dictionary is a fantastic way of instantly finding words with a similar or opposite meaning. This avoids having to wade through lengthy definitions that might not always be understood.
  • Playing word games is a great way to learn new words. Often, these games provide a different medium and will freshen up 11+ practice. ‘Boggle’, ‘Bananagrams’ (, ‘Scrabble’ and ‘WHIZZ’ ( are just a few that help develop a good word knowledge.
  • The use of apps is another way to practise verbal reasoning. Lucky Gecko Apps ( produce some fantastic apps for missing letters, synonyms, antonyms, balanced equations and odd-one-out practice. These are relatively cheap. The only word of caution is to ensure that your child does not become reliant on using the tablet for practice as the likelihood is that they will complete a written test.
Verbal reasoning mainly involves word-related question types. Nonetheless, number-based questions can be included. One example is providing children with number sequences to complete. Having a good understanding of special numbers, e.g. primes, squared numbers, cubed numbers, triangular numbers or the Fibonacci sequence. Times tables are a prerequisite to these questions and this also applies to balanced equations, middle number or letter sums. Balanced equations require a good grasp of all four operations. Letter sums, which incorporate simple substitution, are another test of number skills and can assess whether a child can correctly interpret a problem.

One very crucial element to verbal reasoning is time management. Uniquely, CEM (Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring) tests are divided into sections and require children to work quickly and accurately through a section in the given time. When the time for the section has elapsed, your child has to move to the next part of the paper. No time is given to return to that particular section. 30 seconds per question has always been a good benchmark, yet some sections require an even shorter period. The recent Galore Park 11+ series provides a superb set of books to develop working under time conditions and challenge your child with an excellent spread of 11+ question types covering all the various exam boards. Visit

In summary, there are a variety of resources available to develop and familiarise your child with verbal reasoning. Vocabulary can certainly be enhanced by practising relevant exam board question types. Enriching word knowledge will also improve your child’s writing skills and word choices at school.

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