Understanding non-verbal reasoning can seem an impossible task. We asked Rob Williams from School Entrance Tests for help.
More and more secondary schools across West London are using non-verbal reasoning (NVR) tests as an admissions criterion. The recent overhaul of The London Consortium (formally the North London Girls’ Consortium) has seen traditional maths and English papers replaced by a bespoke cognitive ability test, lasting 75 minutes, plus an interview where problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity are assessed.
And it isn’t just private schools using non-verbal reasoning tests. Many grammar school entrance tests incorporate a non-verbal reasoning test as part of the 11-plus exam. Even comprehensive schools, such as Sacred Heart High School and Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, use a NVR test to ensure a mixed ability intake.
For many Year 6 pupils this will be a new type of test, and their parents will want to do everything possible to boost their child’s chances of being admitted to the school of their choice. We asked Ealing-based practice test specialists, School Entrance Tests, to provide some introductory points and practice tips.
What are NVR tests?
NVR tests measure general intelligence by assessing the ability to identify the inherent patterns in a series of shapes/figures. The figures may be regular geometric shapes like triangles, squares and triangles. However, sometimes they are just dots. Or just crosses.
NVR tests come in many different formats, but here are some common characteristics:
- Diagrams are used – instead of numbers or words. NVR tests do not rely on any knowledge of either English or maths. This is what makes them a fairer assessment than, ‘pure’ English or Maths tests.
- Questions are based on a sequence involving several sets of figures.
Figures are arranged in a sequence, series or matrix format.
The next figure in the sequence must be found amongst the answer options offered.
Four- step strategy
This four-step strategy is useful for identifying visual sequences and patterns:
1. What are the key similarities and differences between the shapes and figures?
– Does any pattern standout immediately? If so, how is it changing across the sequence?
– What is the sequential change at each step?
2. There are some commonly encountered pattern changes in the sets of figures and shapes. Look-out for the these…
- Shape – There will be one or more figures shown.
– What shape are these? What shape are the next in the series?
More difficult questions may have several figures but the principle is the same. Check the grouping of each type of shape.
- Size – one of the easiest patterns to find first. Hence some of the first, easiest questions in a NVR test may be based on size changes of the figure(s) shown.
- Position and Movement – Many questions involve at least one or two movement patterns. Often of a triangle, square, circle etc. For example, does the black shape move around from the top right-hand corner to the bottom right-hand corner?
- Colour and Shading – Colour or shading are often a determinant in the solution. For example, does the same shape shift between being black and white? Or does the shading go from white to grey, then to black, and back again through this same shading sequence?
- Number – Questions with many figures will invariably have number as the changing pattern. Count the figures at each step to check for a sequential change in the number of the high frequency figure(s).
- Rotation – Do any features rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise? By 90- or 180-degrees at each step?
A few less commonly encountered changing patterns are: embedded figures; and reflection / mirror images.
3. If the shapes are irregular you can rule out shape as being part of the solution. The shapes and figures that are presented in each question block will become increasingly complex. Finding one pattern is then just part of the solution. Once you have done this, you will need to find a second, different pattern that also changes step-by-step. The very hardest questions may even have a third pattern change!
4. Review the answer options with these three considerations in mind:
- Once you have found the first pattern, you can eliminate any answer options that do not meet this first pattern.
- Then, narrow down the solution further by “removing” the number pattern from the question and seeing what other patterns then reveal themselves.
- Finally, the changing pattern must be found in the answer options too. Be careful not to make your selection too quickly – often one answer option will be almost correct!
For the easiest questions you only need to find one changing pattern. The NVR questions will gradually increase in difficulty, however. By the end of the test your child will have to find two or three pattern changes. In other words, one part of the central figure may change shading/colour. A different part of the same central shape may rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise. Both these changes occur together at each step in the sequence.
Timing is everything
To the uninitiated, NVR tests look like nothing more than random shapes and squiggles. However, the more practice your child does, the more adept they will become at spotting the changing patterns. Taking practice tests won’t just help your child become more skilful at non-verbal reasoning, they will also help with time management – an important factor in exam success.
Encourage your child to work through the easiest questions quickly, though of course taking care to avoid careless errors.
Sometimes seeing the one, two or three patterns required can happen very quickly. However, with other questions, it may take a lot longer to identify the patterns. Your child
should avoid spending too long on the NVR questions they find most difficult. If they encounter a sequence that has them scratching their head in frustration they should move on and return to the tricky question if time permits.
Familiarity with the different question formats will help your child learn when to skip a question, and how long to spend on each question. And, of course, being familiar with the test format in advance will help your child feel more calm and confident on exam day, allowing them to perform to the absolute best of their ability.
You can find free practice NVR papers on the School Entrance Tests website: https://www.schoolentrancetests.com/11plus-grammar/non-verbal-reasoning-practice/
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Cover image: Element 5