This is the question I get asked the most as a tutor. And even if parents don’t ask it directly, I know that it’s always lurking in the background somewhere…!
School entrance exams are very stressful for pupils and parents alike, and it would be nice to be able to reassure them by giving them all the pass marks for their target schools. Unfortunately, it’s much more complicated than that.
Schools adjust the marks from Common Entrance exams at 11+ and 13+ to allow for the different ages of the children. Some will have a birthday late in the school year, which means they’ll be ‘young for their year’, and it’s generally agreed that it would be unfair to penalise those children by asking them to compete directly against other pupils who might be up to 12 months older than they are.
That’s a big difference at such a young age, so schools ‘standardise’ marks using a formula that adjusts for the relative age of each pupil. That formula also includes adjustments for various other factors, so it’s impossible to know in advance what your child’s standardised score will be.
On top of that, schools don’t often publish their pass marks, so what are pupils and their parents to do?
Well, if you can get hold of your child’s standardised score – and that’s a big if! – then you can at least check whether that score has been good enough in the past to guarantee a place at certain schools. There’s a website called elevenplusexams.co.uk that has posted what they call ‘Entry Allocation Scores & Collated Cutoffs’ for a few schools in Essex. You can find the 2019 figures here, and you can also find out the results and offers for Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, The Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls here. If your chosen schools are not on those sites, feel free to search for them online.
I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, but at least that’s a start.
Non-verbal reasoning tests are commonly found in Common Entrance exams at 11+ and 13+ level, and they’re designed to test pupils’ logical reasoning skills using series of shapes or patterns. It’s been said that they were intended to be ‘tutor-proof’, but, of course, every kind of test can be made easier through proper preparation and coaching.
Bond produces a lot of useful books of past papers, and there is also a Bond guide on How To Do Non-verbal Reasoning available from Amazon for £8.98. This article is partly a summary of that book, but it’s useful to know how Bond thinks pupils should be doing the questions as they’re the ones producing most of them!
The first thing to do is to describe the kind of questions that are involved. Here is the list taken from the back of one of the Bond papers:
Finding the most similar shape
Finding a shape within another shape
Finding the shape to complete the pair
Finding the shape to continue the series
Finding the code to match the shape
Finding the shape to complete the square
Finding the shape that is a reflection of a given shape
Finding the shape made when two shapes are combined
Finding the cube that cannot be made from a given net
Bond divides the questions into four different types:
Coded shapes and logic
Each of these types is divided into various subtypes.
Types of question
Recognise shapes that are similar and different
Identify shapes and patterns
Pair up shapes
“Which is the odd one out?”
“Find the figure in each row that is most unlike the other figures.”
“Which pattern on the right belongs with the two on the left?”
“Which pattern on the right belongs in the group on the left?”
“Which shape is most similar to the shapes in the group on the left?”
Types of Question
Find shapes that complete a sequence
Find a given part within a shape
Find a missing shape from a pattern
“Which one comes next?”
“Which pattern completes the sequence?”
“Choose the shape or pattern the completes the square given.”
“In which larger shape or pattern is the small shape hidden?”
“Find the shape or pattern which completes or continues the given series.”
Types of Question
Recognise mirror images
Link nets to cubes
“Work out which option would look like the figure on the left it it was reflected over the line.”
“Work out which of the six cubes can be made from the net.”
Coded Shapes and Logic
Types of Question
Code and decode shapes
Apply shape logic
“Each of the patterns on the left has a two-letter code. Select the correct code for the shape on the right following the same rules.”
“Select the code that matches the shape given at the end of each line.”
“Which one comes next? A is to B as C is to ?” “Which pattern on the right completes the second pair in the same way as the first pair? A is to B as C is to ?”
Hints and Tips
The Bond book goes into great detail about how to answer each individual type of question, but here we’ll only look at a few key things to look for:
Process of elimination
When looking for similarities between shapes, one thing to think about is the ‘function‘ of the objects shown. In other words, what are they for? If all but one of the drawings show kitchen equipment, then the bedside lamp must be the odd one out.
Another way of looking at it is to think about is the ‘location‘ of the objects shown. Where would you usually find them? If there is a rolling pin together with a lot of tools you’d find in the garage, then the tools ‘belong’ together in the same set.
Another useful way of working through a question is to use ‘SPANSS‘, which stands for Shape, Position, Angle, Number, Shading and Size (NOT ‘sides’, as some people have written online!). This is a list of all the possible things that can change in a diagram.
Non-verbal Reasoning questions demand that you’re very disciplined, logical and systematic when working through all the possibilities, so it’s useful to have a mnemonic such as SPANSS to help you tick off all the options.
If none of those works, another thing you can look for is a ‘story‘? For example, do the pictures show the steps you take to get ready for school in the morning, such as getting up, brushing your teeth, getting dressed and having breakfast?
You should also look out for ‘symmetry‘. Could the images be reflections of each other, or could they show rotational symmetry – in other words, has one pattern simply been turned upside-down or turned 90 degrees?
Finally, it’s a good idea to work by process of elimination. Just cross off all the answers that can’t be right until you’re left with only one. As Sherlock Holmes once said to Doctor Watson, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
I hope this brief outline has been useful. Beyond that, practice makes perfect, and a few lessons with a private tutor wouldn’t go amiss either…!