Verbal reasoning strategies
Learn the right steps
There is a knack to approaching these passage-based questions. It’s bit like learning a dance routine. Just as learning to tango involves following a sequence of steps, applying certain steps to each question can improve your verbal reasoning test scores.
Step 1 – Skim read the passage to get a rough idea of its content.
Step 2 – Skim read the questions to get a rough idea of the level of difficulty and the sorts of things that you are going to be asked.
Steps 1 and 2 will prepare you for the level of complexity and the time that you need to spend answering the questions.
Step 3 Read the passage again!
Go through the passage again but read it more carefully this time. Do not spend time trying to memorise the details. Instead, think in broad terms about the different areas that the passage is covering. Try to make mental notes about where the specific pieces of information relating to each area are located in the passage.
Step 4 Try to get a broad sense of what you are going to be asked in each question and to know where this information was covered within the passage. Ask yourself: Am I in a suitable position to answer the questions? For more complex passages the answer to this will be no. Read the passage a third time. Try to identify the pieces of information in the passage that seem particularly important. Ask yourself the following broad questions as you read through:
- The introductory statement – What point(s) is/are being made here?
- The main body of the text – What does this explore/detail?
- The final statement(s) – What details are provided here?
- If there is a summary at the end of the passage, what point, if any, is it making?
Step 5 Ask yourself again: Do I have a sufficient understanding to answer the set of questions? If the answer is yes, then you are ready to carefully read the first question. You may only need to read the passage in full twice if you already know where to find the relevant information. Remember that the passage will always be there for reference so you don’t need to memorise it.
Don’t worry if the subject matter in the passage is unfamiliar to you. Many of the passages you read will be about areas in which you have no interest or background knowledge. Nor do you need to apply any outside knowledge of the subject. Remember that your answer must be based solely on the information presented in the passage. Don’t let your answer be clouded by any background knowledge that you may bring to bear on the question. A reading comprehension task requires you to extract the relevant information to answer each question. Each question will relate to a particular part, or parts, of the passage. You will need to ferret out smaller pieces of information contained somewhere within the passage to answer the question correctly.
Verbal Reasoning tip – Key words
Watch out for certain key words and phrases in either the passage or question (or both!). These key words often act as the link between different pieces of information. In many cases they qualify the information that has been given. When you come across key words in passages and questions you need to focus on their precise meanings. You are being tested on reinterpreting the passage so ask yourself: do exactly the same emphasis in both the passage and question?
Contrast words – Verbal Reasoning tip
Contrast words and phrases (e.g. however, although, but, alternatively, whereas, despite, rather, unless, instead, while, nevertheless, on the other hand, on the contrary, yet, at the same time, conversely) are used to highlight differences. Contrast words make a transition between two clauses, or parts of a sentence, and emphasise a contrast in ideas or information.
Verbal Reasoning tips example: Spain has always been a popular tourist destination, however it now faces competition from cheaper resorts in other countries.
You need to pay careful attention to the information that follows the contrast word as it is often the key to answering the question.
Is the answer to the following statement True, False, or Cannot tell: Spain is unrivalled as a tourist destination. The answer is False. The sentence says that Spain has always been popular, but goes on to say that it now faces competition.
Propositions Verbal Reasoning tip
There are certain words and phrases that you need to treat as propositions. Don’t be misled into thinking that they are facts. These include the following: claims, suggests, advocates, recommends, advises, offers, proposes, believe and considers. Treat these words with caution as they indicate a subjective statement based on one person’s opinions rather than absolute evidence.
Verbal Reasoning example: The author claims that his book will improve your verbal reasoning test performance.
Is the answer to the following statement True, False, or Cannot tell: This book will improve your verbal reasoning test performance. Yes, there is a very good chance that this book will improve your performance if used properly, but this is not a fact so the answer has to be Cannot tell.
Comparisons – Verbal Reasoning tip
Be on the look-out for comparative adjectives. These are words that compare two or more things. At the simplest level, these are superlatives such as most, highest, biggest and least. But there are other words for making comparisons, e.g. more, lower and less.
Verbal Reasoning tips example: There is less unemployment in the UK today than at any other point in the past decade.
If asked whether the following statement is True or False – Unemployment rates are currently lower than they were five years ago – the answer would be True. If there is less unemployment today than at any point over the past ten years, then it follows that unemployment rates are lower than they were five years ago.
Absolutes and generalisations –
Verbal Reasoning tip
Adverbs such as never or always compare how frequently something occurs. Be alert for any words that imply something absolute, such as no, never, none, always, every, entire, unique, sole, all, maximum, minimum and only. Don’t confuse them with generalisations, such as many, almost always, some, nearly, usually, seldom, regularly, generally, frequently, typically, ordinarily, as a rule, commonly, and sometimes. These generalisations create something of a grey area where a fact only applies some of the time. This is an important distinction. Just because something usually happens does not mean you can assume it always happens. It is important to recognise these words and interpret them accurately. Some words are relatively low generalisations, such as ‘a few’, ‘a little’, and ‘only some’. Similarly, ‘unlikely’ and ‘infrequent’ tell you that there is still a slight chance, which is not the same as ‘impossible’.
Verbal Reasoning tips example: UK Most educators agree that excessive television viewing usually damages a child’s concentration.
If faced with the statement: Excessive television always damages a child’s concentration you might be tempted to answer True. The answer is in fact False – because the word usually tells you that this is a high possibility, not a guaranteed effect.
So, to summarise: don’t assume that usually means the same as always. In the world of verbal reasoning tests such words are miles apart!
Verbal Reasoning tip – Cause and effect
After doing lots of practice tests you will come to recognise cause and effect words and phrases. These include: since, because, for, so, consequently, as a result, thus, therefore, due to and hence. It is a good idea to focus on these as often a question will ask you to interpret how these words have been used to link different aspects of an issue or argument together. There are subtle differences between these words and phrases, as some signal stronger causal relationships than others. A word like because indicates a direct causal link. The word so also joins facts together but does not necessarily mean that it was the first fact that led to the second.
Verbal Reasoning (by employer)
Baker Tilly aptitude test practice
Civil Service aptitude test practice
RAF Verbal Reasoning Practice Tests
Applying to the RAF is a process that takes several months from initial application through to acceptance. The staged selection process involves interviews, a fitness test, and of course, aptitude tests. The tests that you are asked to take will depend upon the particular RAF career that you are applying for: officer, non-commissioned aircrew or airman/airwoman. The section below aims to prepare you for the verbal reasoning component of the Airman Selection Test.
Whether you are aware of it or not, you use your verbal reasoning skills when following a new recipe, reading a notice at a train station, applying for a bank account, or browsing through holiday brochures.
Who needs good verbal reasoning skills?
As you’ve seen above, everyone needs to have basic verbal reasoning skills to survive daily life. And good verbal reasoning skills are a key prerequisite for many different jobs. Any job that involves frequent communication requires verbal reasoning skills. This could mean written communication in emails or reports, or spoken and written communication such as in teaching. In a commercial environment, for instance, call centre employees need to be able to converse clearly with their customers. At the graduate and managerial levels, many jobs require the interpretation and critical analysis of complex verbal information.
Almost all jobs require some form of verbal communication and/or reading written information. Internal correspondence with your colleagues can be more informal (depending upon who they are!) than when you are communicating with your customers or clients.
Let’s have a look at a typical office environment and how different workers use verbal reasoning skills to perform their duties.
Verbal reasoning practice tests for Graduate trainees
Recent graduates who have just started working on a training scheme will apply their verbal reasoning skills whenever they interact or correspond with other members of staff. They need to match their verbal communication to different levels of seniority and adjust their communication style to suit the formality of the meeting or event. Graduates may also need to prepare business reports. These should not read like an essay!
Verbal reasoning practice tests – Managerial roles
Most managers will need to use higher levels of verbal reasoning when reading or preparing reports. They need to be able to adapt their spoken and written communication style to the situation, whether addressing their subordinates or customers/ clients. Other company reporting procedures, such as appraisals, also require clearly written documentation.
Senior managers and directors will need to use the highest levels of verbal reasoning skills when analysing company reports, dealing with compliance issues and statutory obligations. Here there is a need for concise and accurate communication.
Verbal reasoning practice tests – Customer service roles
Effective oral communication is the key to handling customer queries or sales calls. Talking to customers on the phone or face to face demands a flexible communication style. For example, telesales personnel would be expected to respond differently to a customer who was complaining than to one who was a prospective sale. Persuasive presentation skills also rely upon a solid foundation of verbal reasoning skills.
Verbal reasoning practice tests – PA or administrative roles
A PA’s responsibilities typically include written correspondence, such as letters and emails, which need to use an appropriate tone and level for the intended audience. Administrative roles also need to check written documents, to file these accurately and to keep on top of plans and procedures that have been agreed orally or in writing.
Verbal reasoning practice tests – Sales roles
Effective oral communication is the key for converting sales call prospects – especially for sales roles in call centres which require an even more fluent style of communication style.
Why do I need verbal reasoning test practice?
Verbal reasoning ability links to job performance, which is why verbal reasoning tests are now used as part of the selection criteria for certain professions and postgraduate degree courses in which it is essential to work effectively with verbal information. Many medium-sized and large employers also make extensive use of ability tests – such as verbal reasoning tests – as part of their standard recruitment and promotion processes. The overall aim is for the best people to be selected – and the use of ability tests differentiates the high performers from the low performers. A well-designed verbal reasoning test is a reliable and consistent means of assessing the skills required for effective performance in that working environment.
Ability tests allow employers and university admissions offices to assess a large number of applicants for competitive positions in a standardised way. The same ability test can be given to a large number of applicants and the results used as an efficient means of comparision. This standardisation makes the process much fairer than relying upon old-fashioned, unstructured interviews where every applicant would be asked different questions. Even if you don’t like the idea of being tested on your verbal reasoning skills, at least you know that it is fair since everyone has to do the same test!