The ‘Five a Day’ Summer Challenge blogs – Non-Verbal Reasoning
By Sarah Collins
20 Aug

This is the third of four blogs using short bursts of physical activity and quick, focused exercises to motivate your child to move forward with their 11+ revision…this time it’s 11+ non-verbal reasoning. With minimal desk time to give maximum results, we see these sessions as healthy eating for the brain!

As we outlined in Blog 1, exercising both before and between periods of study is proven to have an immediate and positive effect on both memory formation and concentration. Using this research, all the activities in these blogs are designed to boost concentration, confidence and build mental agility essential for achieving high marks in the 11+ exam.

Each blog includes:

  • Two activities, which include some form of physical activity
  • Two short desk-based learning activities
  • Answers and a final review

Discussing the answers is an important part of the process to enable your child to check their understanding and improve accuracy.

If time is limited, pair exercises 1 and 2 on one day, then 3 and 4 on another; finally reviewing all the answers together shortly afterwards.


The 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Five a Day Revision Challenge

All of the activities in this blog relate to the reflection, translation and rotation of shapes. This theme follows on from the reflection theme in blog 2 on maths and demonstrates how closely the two subjects are linked.

Many 11+ maths and 11+ non-verbal reasoning (NVR) problems test children’s ability to view shapes from different angles, positions or in reflection.

11+ non-verbal reasoning questions are designed to test both children’s ability to think though unfamiliar problems and their ability to work out spatial puzzles (a bit like reading a map). All the skills are related to maths knowledge they have already learned.

1 Shifting shapes

A game to practise rotating and combining shapes into different patterns. Two or more players.

Aim: To make a square by deciding how to rotate individual shapes within 10 steps.

Shifting shapes - 11+ NVR Challenge

You will need…

  • 10 small balls or 10 pairs of socks rolled into balls
  • A print-out of the picture – as large as you can on A4 and cut into the separate shapes
  • A flat surface to arrange the shapes
  • 8 boxes to throw the balls into (they can be different sizes)
  • An object to mark where the thrower is to stand
  • A paper and pencil to record the results

Before beginning the game…

  • Place the boxes in a circle, evenly spaced, to represent the points on the diagram below from Blog 2.
  • Lay out the shapes on the flat surface so that the numbers are all the correct way up. Put picture 1 in the middle of the surface so other shapes can be arranged around it.
  • Place a marker for the person throwing balls to stand behind. Place the balls by the marker.
  • Decide who is going to throw the balls first (Player 1) and who is going to position the shapes (Player 2).

Compass - 11+ NVR Challenge

  1. Player 1 stands behind the line and says which shape they want to rotate. 
  2. They then nominate a box they are aiming for and name the direction, throwing the ball to land in the box. For example:
    Shape 2: 90 degrees
  3. If they successfully name the rotation and get the ball in the correct box, the shape is rotated by Player 2 (90 degrees in this example) and positioned following instructions by Player 1. For example:
    At the right-hand side.
  4. If Player 1 makes a mistake…
    1. By successfully landing the ball into the correct box but incorrectly naming the rotation (for instance, 45 degrees instead of 90 degrees), then the ball is rotated by the number of degrees they have stated (45 degrees in this example).
    2. By successfully naming the rotation but landing the ball into an incorrect box, then the shape is not rotated.
  5. After 10 throws, their correctly-placed shapes are added up to give a score out of 7.
  6. Other players can now take their turn.


  • The game gets progressively easier the more times the square is formed. If the game is too easy; draw, number and cut up new shapes. Hexagons and octagons work too.
  • If the game is too difficult for the players you can:
    • Display the compass diagram, above, so it is easier to name the rotations
    • Use more balls to give a greater chance of completing the puzzle.

Many 11+ non-verbal reasoning questions show single or multiple shapes in different rotations. Looking at various rotations and practising connecting shapes together can make it quicker to spot what has changed.

2 Match the images   

Ask your child to complete this two-page worksheet directly after playing the Shifting Shapes game (above) to help them focus on the task effectively.

Set a timer on your smartphone when they begin. If your child hasn’t completed the sheets in 30 minutes, encourage them to finish (they are likely to finish sooner). 

The purpose of timing the test is to help your child focus on the task. This is also good preparation for the 11+ as practising timed tests improves speed and accuracy.

Mark the worksheet together during the review time when all activities have been completed (answers below).

3 Dynamic dice

Once your child has finished the worksheet, have a quick snack and enjoy this dice game.

This game is suitable for two or more people.

Aim: To score the highest points by rolling a dice and performing the action ‘instructions’ on the faces.

You will need:

  • A smartphone to time the game
  • Two print-outs of this net of a dice printed as large as possible on A4 paper or card. (The children need to be able to print this out with the sides at least 5cm long).
  • Pencils or pens to draw on the net and keep score

Before beginning the game…

  • Create the dice by writing a list of six actions that you could perform quickly such as:
  1. Dancing on the spot
  2. Walking round a chair twice
  3. Completing three star-jumps
  4. Clapping four times
  5. Hopping on one leg five times
  6. Jumping up and down six times
  • Draw a stick figure to show the action on each face of one net (for example, a jumping figure on face ‘6’).
  • Make this net into a 3D cube to form the dice.
  • Keep the list of actions and the second net to refer to during the game.
  1. Set the timer for 15 minutes.
  2. Choose who is going to begin and work clockwise to play the game.
  3. Player 1 rolls the dice.
  4. They must now perform the action shown on the face opposite to the one they have thrown. They can’t turn it over to look at the face but they can look at the blank net to help them work it out.
  5. The other players check the dice and refer to the list to make sure the correct action (and number of actions) have been performed.
  6. If Player 1 has completed the task correctly, they score that number of points. For example: if Player 1 throws a 3, they should clap their hands four times (face 4 is the opposite to face 3 on this dice). If they are incorrect, they miss a turn.
  7. The game now works clockwise with Player 2 throwing the dice.
  8. The game ends when the timer goes off and the scores are added up. The player with the highest score is the winner.

Nets of a cube are a commonly recurring theme in 11+ non-verbal reasoning tests. These questions require children to work out which faces of the net are opposite or adjacent to each other. Working with 3D objects helps some children to learn more effectively than by studying 2D images.

4 Rotating and translating

Use this activity directly after completing the Dynamic Dice game (above) to help your child focus on the task effectively.

Download these ‘Train, Try, Test’ activities. Allow your child 15 minutes to complete the task in a quiet room. Provide pencil and paper.

Set a timer on your smartphone when they begin. If your child hasn’t completed the sheets in 15 minutes, encourage them to finish (they may finish sooner). 

These questions are all taken from pages 62­–63 of the 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Study and Revision Guide. Each section in the book follows this structure with:

  • An introductory question to help children become familiar with the skill
  • 2-3 straightforward questions in a known 11+ non-verbal reasoning test style
  • 2-3 more difficult questions in a known 11+ non-verbal reasoning test style

5 Answers and final review

You may already be keeping a notebook for your child’s 11+ revision (see blog 1) and if not, it might be helpful to start one now.

Set aside 20 minutes to talk through this ‘Five a Day’ challenge. Talk generally about what your child did and didn’t enjoy when completing the activities. This may give you some clues to areas where they may need to practise questions related to these skills for their 11+ test preparation.

1 Shifting shapes

Review how the square shape was assembled and talk about your child’s experience of assembling the shapes. Make comments in the notebook if they feel they would like to practice questions involving rotations.    

2 Match the images

Talk about how your child arrived at the answers and go through the answer explanations together (view the answer sheet here). Detail any questions your child found particularly difficult in the notebook so that you can look for similar ones when they are practising for the tests.

3 Dynamic dice

Look at the dice and net together and talk about ways to remember how the faces go together when the cube is folded up. Seeing the net as an elephant with big ears and a trunk can help!

4 Rotating and translating

Talk about how your child arrived at the answers and go through the answer explanations together (view the answer sheet here). Detail any questions your child found particularly difficult in the notebook so that you can look for similar ones when they are practising for the tests.

How we can help

The written activities in this blog are taken from the Galore Park 11+ non-verbal reasoning revision range.

You can find many more written and family activities in the 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Revision Guide. This book is designed for quick bursts of 30-minute revision with separate topics broken into two- or four-page sections with questions at the end of each one.

11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Study and Revision Guide

If you enjoyed the activities here, this guide can work as a way to provide a comprehensive revision programme. There is a range of tests covering each section in the book as well as a mock 11+ test at the end. Most importantly, all answers are explained so you can always help your child to understand the areas they would like to improve.

Follow on with 11+ non-verbal reasoning practice papers when your child is ready to build their confidence and time their responses. Practice Papers 1 and 2 contain 13 model tests progressing in difficulty and pace to the most challenging tests set by any independent schools.

In support of these titles, add in the three 11+ non-verbal reasoning workbooks for activities which increase familiarity with a wide range of question types and provide techniques to enhance speed and performance.

11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Workbooks

With this series to support you as a family, your child will be assured that they face the 11+ exams with the best possible preparation. 

Sarah Collins is an expert in all things 11+ and is the author of our 11+ Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning Study and Revision Guides. Learn more about Sarah here.

Tags: 11+, 11+ Revision, 11 plus, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, home schooling, independent schools, ISEB, Maths, non-verbal, Non-Verbal Reasoning, Practice Papers, pre-tests, revision, Revision Guide, revision prep, school entrance exams, Workbooks

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