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How can you boost your child’s confidence with verbal reasoning?

This article has been written by Chris Pearse, founder of an 11+ tutoring company and qualified primary school teacher.

This blog will provide an insight into verbal reasoning and give advice on how to boost your child's confidence in this key topic area.

Firstly, your child will already have picked up several skills to support verbal reasoning, at school. However, becoming familiar with the main question types that could appear is vital to success in this often-dominant exam topic. The verbal reasoning question types to familiarise your child with will be different depending on which exam board’s assessment your child is preparing for (CEM or GL Assessment).

Usually, verbal reasoning papers or sections are dominated by word meaning questions. These questions test your child’s vocabulary by asking them to think about the meanings of words or to find connections between them. Below is a table which lists the vocabulary-related question types under each exam board. This is not exhaustive, and exam writers often introduce unseen question types each year. Nevertheless, the principle skills surrounding word knowledge remain very similar.

Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) Granada Learning (GL Assessment)
Reshuffled sentences Swap the words
Odd one out Odd two out
Synonyms (matching the correct word) Closest in meaning
Antonyms (matching the correct word) Opposite in meaning
Cloze (word bank, insert the letters, missing sentences & multiple-choice) Insert the letter/Move a letter
Multiple Meaning Analogies
Verbal Classification Dual meaning
Insert the letters (synonyms) Anagrams
 Insert the letters (antonyms) Missing three letter words

Another skill is understanding how words and sentences are made. This is particularly relevant for reshuffled sentences, where your child is asked to reorder words to make a sentence and thus identify a superfluous word. An example is given here:

I was forward looking a time having down wonderful to

Can you work out the unnecessary word?

One of the main aims of this article is to suggest ways to develop verbal reasoning skills. Acquiring an understanding of words certainly cannot be done overnight and requires time and often a huge amount of effort and patience.  One of the main strategies to build a strong vocabulary is by association – recalling some other fact associated with that specific word. An example might be that to remember the word ‘arid’ you might consider being in a dry desert feeling extremely parched. To improve your memory of words you must increase the number of mental associations. Hence the 

importance of putting words into a context or scenario. It is much easier to picture a sentence rather than an isolated word. A good method to help with word retention is outlined underneath:

Step by step guide to remembering words:

1. Make a link with a rhyming word that is memorable, e.g. immense and sense

2. Develop a sentence that links the two words, e.g:
I had an immense sense of pride when I crossed the finishing line in first place.

3. Create a mental image for the sentence.



The other clear and undoubtedly obvious way to develop ‘word power’ is by reading. This builds up the necessary skills required, e.g. putting words in context, looking at spelling patterns and being exposed to alternatives (synonyms and antonyms). The word of caution here is that you ensure your child reads challenging books to extend their vocabulary. Furthermore, reading a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, poetry, newspapers, playscripts and novels.  This variety of genres can also support pupils with their comprehension skills.

Another useful exercise for establishing a strong vocabulary is keeping a personal dictionary to record unfamiliar words and this becomes a super revision tool nearer the exam dates and ensures no words are ever lost! Children often need to be convinced, by proof, that they will not remember a new word unless they have revisited it several times.

Developing a good vocabulary should be fun. There are some wonderful games to be played at home with family and friends that only require a pencil and paper. Provide your child with a long word, e.g. determination and ask them to record as many words as possible from the long word. All words must be three letters or more and no proper nouns allowed. Creating some categories and challenging children to reach these targets can be super fun!

0 – 10 Average
11 – 15 Good effort
16 – 20 Very good
21 + Wow, you are a wordy star!

More practical word games, e.g. Boggle, Scrabble and Bananagrams can also be introduced into your child’s VR preparation to bring an element of competition and fun to word development.

In summary, look at building your child’s or student’s vocabulary gradually, remembering to make associations with words to help with retention. Ensure that they become familiar with the specific question types in verbal reasoning and discuss the strategies involved for each one. Having a broad vocabulary is key to being successful in school and beyond. Finally, word development should be fun, and this is best achieved by using a variety of ways. Happy word building!


Answer to the reshuffled sentence question: down