Non-verbal reasoning (NVR) is becoming an increasingly popular form of assessment and features in the Buckinghamshire Eleven Plus tests as well as a number of other counties’ Eleven Plus, Twelve Plus and independent schools’ entrance exams.   NVR is included to assess a child’s ability to analyse visual information and solve problems using visual logic, without the need for language skills.

NVR is an element of the 11+ test which is rarely taught in schools and can therefore be one of the most challenging for some pupils.  Along with good spatial awareness, strong observational skills and the ability to apply logic, children tackling NVR questions need an understanding of core maths concepts such as symmetry and shape.

There are a variety of non-verbal reasoning question types, including:

  • Working out which diagram is missing from a sequence or matrix
  • Finding which shape goes with a selection of other shapes
  • Identifying the odd one out in a set of shapes
  • Working out how shapes look when folded
  • Identifying reflections and flipped images
  • Recognising rotations and symmetry

How to Tackle NVR Questions

Some children are naturally strong at NVR and may be able to just see the answer without necessarily being able to explain how they found it.  This is a talent to be celebrated but it is also worth encouraging these children to slow down and think about how they found their answers as this will help them to work out strategies for the harder questions and minimise the risk of making ‘careless’ errors.

Children who are not so naturally strong at NVR can develop these skills by familiarising themselves with the range of NVR question types, learning what to look out for and which techniques to apply to each question type.

Useful NVR Strategies

  • Use the process of elimination. As your child works through a question, they may find it helpful to eliminate the obvious incorrect answers. This will reduce the number of remaining possible answers which they can then focus in on, looking more closely for the key features or differences in order to find the answer.
  • Draw the answers.Some children may find it useful to draw out what they think a shape will look like if it has been rotated or reflected. For accuracy, they could trace over the original image onto a piece of paper and then try rotating or flipping over the paper (depending on the question) so they can actually see the new image.  This may not be so easy to do in exam conditions but it will help to train their brain to visualise rotating and reflecting images.
  • Practice is key. Even if your child is naturally strong at NVR, they will need to practise in order to improve their speed. Once they are familiar with the techniques for each question type, they should do regular short exercises – initially starting out practising one question type and then moving on to practice of mixed question types under timed conditions. When timing your child, start off allowing as much time as they need to complete an exercise (even if over the guide time) and gradually reduce the time allowed as they increase in confidence until your child is working within the guide time or even faster.
  • Use SPANSS. A useful mnemonic to remind children what to look out for when tackling many NVR questions. SPANSS stands for:







Activities for developing non-verbal reasoning skills at home:

There are a number of fun activities that will help your child to develop the skills needed for NVR, including:

  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Spot the difference
  • 3D construction toys such as Lego
  • Computer games such as Minecraft
  • Shape, picture and pattern games such as Tangrams, Qwirkle, Tantrix Quest, Dobble
  • Create paper cubes using different nets
  • Draw mirror images of pictures and patterns
  • Look out for examples of symmetry and mirror images when you are out and about.

If your child could do with some extra help with non-verbal reasoning, Flying Start’s holiday Booster courses cover all the main NVR question types, including the increasingly popular 3D spatial reasoning questions.  We also offer Booster courses in English, Mathematics and Verbal Reasoning over the Easter, half term and summer holidays.


For more information, contact Flying Start Tuition on 01494 772 898, email or visit