What techniques and strategies can your child apply to 11+ Verbal Reasoning code questions?

What techniques and strategies can your child apply to 11+ Verbal Reasoning code questions?


Over the years, codes have been used to pass on secret messages, so that anybody unfamiliar with the code could not decipher the meaning of the message. They have evolved from simple codes to complex encryptions used by computers. The code questions in the 11+ are hopefully not as difficult but they still involve a systematic approach.

There are different formats for codes taken in Verbal Reasoning exams. This article will explain those questions, while concentrating on the key strategies and techniques that can be applied. If you would like to turn your children into code breaking wizards, then read on!

One of the most popular code question types is double letter series. The students are presented with a series of double letters, and they need to find the next two letters in the pattern. Before tackling these questions, it is advisable to know the alphabet fully. This includes both forwards and backwards; to understand the alphabet is seen as one continuous loop in the 11+ exams. If you arrive at Z, you simply need to continue counting from A.

Dice in the middle of alphabet

A very simple game to support counting accurately on the alphabet is called ‘First from A to Z’. This can be played with a friend or family member(s). All the players start on letter A. The participants take it in turns to roll the dice and count along the alphabet for the number shown on the dice. It is important to count the gaps not the number of letters between. The winner is the person who reaches Z first! You can even race back to A if you want.

Example 1

Finding pairs of letters

In this example question above the next letters would be DO because in the series, the first letter follows the alphabet from Z, A, B, C and the second goes forwards along the alphabet adding two letters each time G, I, K, M

Leapfrogging letters

Another variation to the double letter series above is when the sequence jumps a letter and creates a leapfrogging approach. You should recognise an alternate sequence because it will be quite long. Marking the difference between the letters should hopefully reveal the pattern.

Example 2

Code question - find the relationship between the letters

The next type of code question asks you to complete a letter sentence/analogy by picking the two letters that will fit best. You work this out by establishing what the relationship is between the first two pairings of letters.

In the example question, the answer is HS because to get from A to C you have to add 2. This jump is applied to F and will get you to H.  Once you work out the first letter it is worth checking the answer options on the multiple-choice sheet to ensure that this letter exists as one of the possibilities. The second letters Z and Y, needs a jump of – 1. If we look at the third pair and its second letter is T, a backward jump of 1 means that the second unknown letter must be S.

Example of working out the relationships

One variation to the question type above is to use a mirror code. The examiners like to change it up a bit by using this approach and learning these mirrored pairs is a skill before the examination dates. A useful animal mnemonic will help remember the 13 pairs. In order to understand the mirrored letters, you must split the alphabet in half between M and N.

Alphabet split in half

Every letter has a partner from A to Z. The way to solve the code is to count whatever letter mirrors the one you have.  For example, if you have J, the mirrored letter would be Q, as they are both four from the middle.

A fun activity to play with your children is to ask them to create their own code questions using the alphabet. Writing a message using a secretive code that you must work out. This will make your child feel like a proper spy!

Example 3

Use alphabet to help you with this question: If the code for BAKE is CBLF, what is the code for COOK?

The next type of question involves either establishing a code or a word. A common error that students can make is to get confused as to whether the question is asking you to find a word or its code. This can change for each question even within the same section of the 11+ test and therefore it is important to read each question carefully. If you are given a code and have to find out the word it stands for, one of the best ways to know if you have worked out the code correctly is to check whether you have actually made a real English word or just a random assortment of letters.

In the above example the pupils need to work out the code for COOK by understanding the relationship between BAKE and CBLF. Firstly, counting from B to C and then applying the same difference between C and the first letter of the code. Writing the code for the word underneath, so you can see how the letters have changed. Here B has become C, A has become B, and so on.

The code for COOK is DPPL The code for COOK is DPPL

Sometimes the step count between letters changes for each letter in the word. Do not assume that if there is a step forward of 1 for the first letter, all the other letters in the word will be the same. Check each letter in turn. It is key to determine if the pattern you have goes forwards or backwards in the alphabet to find your answer, based upon what happens in the given example.

Example 4

Example showing codes and numbers

The final question we are going to introduce involves matching number codes with words. The children are given four words and three of them will have a code. The words are not written in the same order as the codes, so the key skill is working out which words relate to which codes. The best approach is to look at the letters in the same position or recognise any letter repeated in the same word or across the other words. You can also work out the code by placing the letters ‘on top’ in your table and placing numbers underneath. Use whatever method you are most comfortable with. If you follow a system similar to the one outlined below you should be able to break the code.

The quickest way to do this in the example provided is realising that BOOK must contain the same two numbers in the middle.

 6 1 1 4

Now that you know the letters for 6, 1 and 4, you can look at the other codes and start to decode them.

4 5 3 2
K ? ? ?
6 7 0  4
B ? ? K

Whilst there are still some gaps in the codes, you can use your deduction skills to match the remaining words with their codes. Since only one of the words begins with a K, the code 4532 must be KIND. Likewise, since we already found the code for BOOK, 6704 must be the code for BULK. Make sure that you work systematically and neatly write the correct letter below the correct number. Avoid drawing arrows or lines from the correct word to code or vice versa as this can be hard to match up the letters and numbers together.

6 1 1  4
4 5 3  2
6 7 0  4

Now the hard work has been completed and the number codes are matched with the words you can start answering the questions. For example, if you were asked for the code for BOND, even though it was the superfluous word, you can still solve the answer. It is often the case they will still ask for the leftover word code in the subsequent questions.

BOND is 6132

In summary, it is important to recognise that most of the 11+ exams follow a multiple-choice format. Therefore, the students are given 4 or 5 answer options which can help pupils eliminate the wrong answers.* This can really help with time management.

*It’s important to remember this process of elimination can only be carried out on the question paper not the multiple-choice sheet as these are marked by an optical reader (computer) and must only have the answer demarcated.

Keep practising regularly and don’t panic! If you use a logical approach and take a deep breath you will always crack the code successfully. The more familiar your child becomes with deciphering codes, the less intimidating they will find these questions when they come to face them in their examinations. Practice is key, so happy code cracking!


 By Chris Pearse

Chris Pearse is a qualified Primary School Teacher with 10 years' experience in teaching. He started Teachitright in 2006 to provide support for children taking secondary school exams and is passionate about helping children achieve their potential whilst enjoying education. 

11+ Support and Practice Workbooks provide realistic practice and support for the 11+ test. Created in collaboration with tuition company Teachitright, the books are ideal to use for independent practice or during tutoring sessions.


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