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

This is the fourth and final blog in this year’s Summer Revision Challenge. This time we look at revision exercises for the 11+ verbal reasoning test.

As with the other three blog posts, this 11+ verbal reasoning (VR) blog using short bursts of physical activity and quick, focused exercises to motivate your child to move forward with their 11+ revision. 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+ Verbal Reasoning Five a Day Revision Challenge

All of the activities in this blog relate to adjectives, synonyms and antonyms (these are words with similar and opposite meanings). This theme follows on from English blog 1 which looked at spelling and vocabulary and demonstrates how closely the two subjects are linked.

11+ verbal reasoning exams test children’s ability to think though unfamiliar problems using words, groups of words and sentences. To perform well in the tests, children are expected to spell accurately, understand a wide range of vocabulary and have the ability to quickly spot links between words and concepts. All the exercises in this blog are designed to support them in achieving these skills.

1   Fruity bowling

A game to practice adjectives using skittles or ‘baskets’. Two or more players.

Aim: To knock down as many skittles as possible in 15 minutes.    

You will need…

  • A smartphone to time the game
  • 3 plastic balls, tennis balls or rolled up pairs of socks (depending what you use for skittles)
  • A paper and pencil to record the results
  • Skittles: A set of six skittles (empty milk cartons would work) or three empty boxes (large enough to throw the balls in; can vary in size)
  • An object to mark where the thrower is to stand
  • A paper and pencil to list the fruit and record the results  

Before beginning the game…

  • Place the skittles in a triangle formation about 30cm apart (see diagram below) or the boxes in a row (arranged like the top row of the skittles).
  • Place a marker where you are going to bowl from (bowling is in the direction of the red arrow). Place the balls by the marker.
  • Decide who is going to begin (Player 1).
  • Decide who is going to score.
  • Write a list of fruit to use for the game (12 should cover the time allowed). If you play the game again, think of other things to describe, such as animals, flowers, cars etc.

Bowling diagram - Verbal Reasoning Challenge

  1. Start the timer for 15 minutes.
  2. Player 1 throws the three balls, one after the other, in an attempt to knock the skittles down or land the balls in separate boxes (landing a ball in a box is equivalent to two skittles). 
  3. The skittles (or boxes) are added up with a possible total of 6. For example:
    4 skittles down: 4 points
    Box 1 containing 1 ball; box 2 containing 2 balls: 4 points (only one ball counts per box; each box is worth two points).
  4. To gain the points Player 1 must use adjectives to describe the first fruit on the list, to match their score. So, if they have scored four points, they must think of four adjectives. If they can’t think of that many, then their score is reduced. For example:
    fruit – apple
    number of points – 4
    adjectives – rosy, delicious, succulent (3 points awarded)
  5. The score is written down and the game continues with the next player taking their turn to bowl.  
  6. Work down the fruits on the list in turn.
  7. The game ends when the timer goes off and the scores are added up.

Many 11+ verbal reasoning questions test children’s knowledge of adjectives: often these are synonyms (for example: quick, rapid, fast), or antonyms (for example: calm, quiet/noisy, excited). Typical questions ask children to find a link between two sets of words or come up with a related word. The skittle activity helps rapid recall of related words needed in this type of question.

2  Opposites attract  

Ask your child to complete this two-page worksheet directly after playing the Fruity bowling 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+ exam as practicing timed tests improves speed and accuracy.

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

3  Dicey tales

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 practice synonyms using a game of catch and antonyms by inventing some dicey tales!

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).
  • A ball to play ‘catch’.
  • Pencils or pens to draw on the net.

Before beginning the game create the dice…

  • Adjective dice: Draw different expressions on each face of one dice, for example: happy, sad, angry, crying, laughing, worried.
  • Noun dice: Draw (or write) the names of different people or animals on each face of the second dice. For example: brother, parent, postman, waiter, spy, doctor.
  • Make these nets into cubes to form two dice.

If you want to keep score, players themselves, or a non-playing score-keeper, can keep a count of the successful synonyms, adding them up at the end to find the winner.  

  1. Set the timer for 15 minutes.
  2. Choose a player to roll the ‘adjective’ dice to pick an expression (Player 1).
  3. Player 1 now begins the game of catch. As they throw the ball they must come up with a synonym for the expression on the dice. For example:
    happy face rolled: ‘cheerful’
  4. The player catching the ball (Player 2) must now think of a different synonym for the expression before throwing the ball to another player.
  5. The game continues until the receiving player either misses the ball or can’t think of a word (Player 3).
  6. Player 3 must now roll the ‘adjective’ and ‘noun’ dice together. Their challenge is to make up a sentence using the noun and an antonym of the adjective. For example:
    laughing face and waiter: ‘the waiter was so miserable, even the cakes sunk when he came near them.’
  7. The play now continues with Player 3 using the new expression on the ‘expression’ dice to come up with a synonym (if the same face is rolled more than once they can have another go until a new face comes up).
  8. The game finishes when the timer goes off.

This type of game using synonyms and antonyms is helpful for:

  • 11+ English written tests where children are asked to create an original text. Using a variety of imaginative descriptions (which is obviously the children’s own) can gain marks.
  • 11+ verbal reasoning tests where children are expected to spot or create synonyms and antonyms.


4  Variations and relations

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

The questions below are taken from page 27 of the 11+ Verbal Reasoning Study and Revision Guide. Allow your child 15 minutes to complete the task in a quiet room. The questions can be answered on the sheet you print out; they shouldn’t need additional paper.

Introduction to tricky skills

Sometimes more than two words may seem quite similar, for example: mend, repair, improve. You will need to think carefully about these words. Although they are all verbs, and they all mean making something better, only ‘mend’ and ‘repair’ involve something that is damaged.

  1. Can you think of two antonyms and two synonyms for the following word?
    1. antonyms ___________________________  
    2. synonyms ___________________________  

Find the word that means the opposite, or nearly the opposite, of the bold word. Underline the letter beneath the correct answer.

  1. praise          reward          preach          raise          criticise          practise

                             a                   b                   c                d                    e

  1. rise              smooth          fall               twist            sun                rose
                        a                    b                   c                  d                   e

  2. slight           small             weight          large           trivial            tumble
                        a                    b                    c                 d                  e

  3. hinder         trouble           forest           interfere      criticise        assist
                        a                     b                   c                 d                   e

Find two words, one from each set, that are most similar in meaning. Circle the words.  

  1. (push, go, send)                              (hold, pull, shove)
  2. (break, reveal, miss)                       (hide, snap, free)
  3. (fearful, doubtful, calm)                 (scream, anxious, dangerous)

The 11+ Verbal Reasoning Study and Revision Guide follows a simple format, with one skill being taught over two pages, making it ideal for short bursts of 30 minutes study. Each section in the book follows this structure with:

  • An explanation of a skill or style of question with tips on how to work through them and overcome the most challenging versions they can expect to see. 
  • An introductory question to help children become familiar with the skill.
  • 2-3 straightforward questions in the question style(s).
  • 2-3 more difficult questions in the question style(s).  


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 Fruity bowling

Talk about whether your child enjoyed thinking of adjectives in the game and whether they found the game challenging.

For further practice, the same activity can be played as a word game over breakfast. Take it in turns to come up with the adjectives for different objects to help expand your child’s vocabulary and rapid recall of these words.

2 Opposites attract

Answers (taken from pA1-2 of 11+ Verbal Reasoning Workbook age 9-11):

  1. eager                        unenthusiastic
  2. unworthy                 deserving
  3. sharp                        rounded
  4. whole                       incomplete
  5. talkative                   reserved
  6. foolish                      sensible
  7. miniature                  small
  8. shade                        tone
  9. purity                       contamination
  10. outstanding              mediocre
  11. slovenly                   careful
  12. callous                     caring
  13. assemble                  disperse
  14. malevolent               unkind
  15. cynical                     optimistic
  16. economical              sparing

solid             ‘hollow’ means empty and ‘solid’ means completely filled.

expert          ‘beginner’ means novice and ‘expert’ means experienced and skilful.

active           ‘lethargic’ means unhurried and ‘active’ means energetic.

crowded      ‘lonely’ means alone and ‘crowded’ means filled with people.

Talk about the answers and any words your child found difficult. Write any new vocabulary in your 11+ revision notebook for later revision.  

3 Dicey tales

Talk about the expressions on the dice and which were the most difficult to come up with synonyms for. It can be helpful to write some down in the notebook or look up lists of common synonyms and antonyms on the internet. Both the synonym and antonym parts of this game can be played at a table for further practice.

4 Variations and relations

Answers (from p108 of 11+ Verbal Reasoning Study and Revision Guide):

  1. Answers may include:

antonyms: easy, effortless, helpful

synonyms: hard, tough, demanding

  1. b fall                           ‘rise’ is a verb meaning to go up, ‘fall’ is a verb with the opposite meaning – to drop down.
  2. c large                        ‘slight’ is an adjective meaning small, ‘large’ is an adjective with the opposite meaning.
  3. e assist                      ‘hinder’ is a verb meaning to prevent somebody from doing something, ‘assist’ is a verb with the opposite meaning – to help somebody.
  4. push, shove             Both words are verbs meaning to apply a force to make something move.
  5. break, snap             Both words are verbs meaning to separate something into two or more pieces.
  6. fearful, anxious       Both words are adjectives meaning afraid.

Go through the answers together and talk about any words your child was unsure of in the questions. Note down words to look at again in the vocabulary list in your notebook. Also consider whether it would be helpful to your child to practice similar questions as they prepare for the tests.

How we can help

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

You can find many more written and family activities in the 11+ 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+ 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+ verbal reasoning practice papers when your child is ready to build their confidence and time their responses. Practice Papers 1 and 2 contain 18 model tests progressing in difficulty and pace to the most challenging tests set by any independent schools.

11+ Verbal Reasoning Practice Papers

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

11+ Verbal Reasoning Workbooks

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

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

Tags: 11+, 11+ English, 11+ Revision, 11 plus, back to school, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, exams, home schooling, independent schools, pre-test, pre-tests, revision, revision prep, Revision Tips, school entrance exams, schools, Verbal Reasoning

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