How to succeed in verbal reasoning tests 

Posted on:  November 9th, 2019 | by:  admin

Research suggests that if you score highly on a verbal reasoning (VR) test, you’ll do well in the workplace. So, it’s no surprise that most graduate employers use VR tests to select candidates. 

That’s great news if you have an English degree, but what if you struggle in this department? Well, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have excellent grammar or spelling to succeed in verbal reasoning tests. You also don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare.

Put simply, you just need to be able to interpret, analyse, and apply textual information. If that sounds complicated, then don’t worry; these skills can be practised. In this article, we’ll show you how to perform well on verbal reasoning tests. 

What do verbal reasoning tests actually measure? 

In simple terms, they test your ability to comprehend written information. To score highly, you need to be able to 1) read complex sentences 2) extract the key points, and 3) make decisions based on your understanding of the text. 

Whether you’re interpreting emails, sales reports, or recommendations, most graduate jobs will require good verbal reasoning skills – so it’s an important skill to have. 

Verbal reasoning tests are ‘maximum ability tests’ so they test how capable you are of interpreting and applying information. This means they don’t really measure ‘fixed’ literacy skills such as spelling.  So, it’s possible to have poor spelling but strong verbal reasoning skills (or vice versa). 

What does a verbal reasoning test look like? 

The most effective way to learn is through example, so here’s a sample VR test question. (You’ll notice that VR test questions can be quite long and difficult to read – so stick with us!)

 “Verbal reasoning tests, used by many of the UK’s biggest employers, such as HSBC, the big four accounting firms, and the Civil Service, test a candidate’s analytical and verbal reasoning skills; skills which are often associated with the left side of the brain.”

Statement: Verbal reasoning is associated with the right hemisphere of the brain.



Can’t say  ◻

What’s the correct answer? Well, since the passage says that reasoning skills are associated with the left side of the brain, this means the above statement must be ‘false’. This example is very basic, so don’t expect every VR question to be that easy. 

Nevertheless, verbal reasoning tests needn’t make you miserable. Here are 5 tips for improving your performance on VR tests. 


  • Forget what you know 


One of the main reasons graduates fail verbal reasoning tests is because they treat them like general knowledge quizzes. Remember, the test isn’t asking you whether a statement is factually true or false. It is simply asking whether the statement can be considered true or false based on the information from the passage. 

Test writers will often try and catch candidates out by writing statements that are factually true, but which should be marked ‘false’ or ‘can’t say’ based on the information from the passage. Let’s look at an example, 

“According to a survey conducted by the National Health Service (NHS) in 2019, 37% of adults say they never exercise. At the same time, 51% of adults are overweight or obese and many scientists believe this is due to a poor diet and lack of exercise. The NHS, along with various charities, have introduced campaigns to try and encourage people to participate in more physical activity. 

Statement: The NHS run campaigns to encourage healthy eating.  



Can’t say  ◻

If you have a basic knowledge of the NHS, you’ll know they regularly run healthy eating campaigns. But, based on the information from the passage, the correct answer to this question is ‘can’t say’. So, when taking a VR test, don’t let your general knowledge cloud your responses. 


  • Watch out for red herrings


Verbal reasoning tests will often use a ‘red herring’ to mislead you, so be wary of this. Let’s return to the previous example to see how this works. 

In the above example, ‘physical activity’ is a red herring because it encourages the test-taker to make a false assumption.

In the second sentence, it states that ‘51% of adults are overweight or obese and many scientists believe this is due to a poor diet and lack of exercise’.  Then, in the final statement, it says that the NHS have run physical activity campaigns, but there is no mention of healthy eating campaigns.  

However, because ‘diet’ and ‘exercise’ were conflated in the previous sentence, the lazy part of our brain will find it difficult to separate these two concepts. This means we’re inclined to falsely agree with the statement that ‘The NHS run campaigns to encourage healthy eating’.

So, watch out for red herrings in your verbal reasoning tests!


  • Read the sentence backwards 


As mentioned, the sentences in VR tests are often long and difficult to read. This is not ideal because VR tests are usually timed, so you won’t have hours and hours to interpret the text. 

So, if you’re finding it hard to understand a sentence, try reading it backwards instead. Often, the most important point is at the end of the sentence, so reading it backwards can be more effective. Let’s take this sentence as an example: 

“Veganism, according to the The Economist, is a growing trend and is set to explode throughout 2020, as it’s predicted that more than 60% of restaurants will offer plant-based meals on their menus.”

This sentence has multiple clauses so it’s difficult to absorb all the information. As mentioned, the most important messages tend to be towards the end of sentences so try to read them backwards instead. In this case, ‘More than 60% of restaurants will offer plant-based meals on their menus’ is the most important takeaway message, and most likely to be tested in the questions section.  


  • If in doubt, ‘can’t say’ is your best bet 


Generally speaking, statements that are ‘true’ or ‘false’ are usually quite easy to deduce from the text. So, if a question has left you feeling really puzzled, it’s probably because you ‘can’t say’ what the answer is. 

Remember, ‘can’t say’ means there is not enough information in the text to give a definitive answer, so these questions are bound to inspire more uncertainty. So, if a question has left you feeling really confused, and the clock is ticking fast, your safest bet is to choose, ‘can’t say’. 


  • Exercise the left side of your brain 


Research suggests that the left side of the brain becomes activated when we practise verbal reasoning tasks. Also, engaging the left side of our brain on a regular basis may help to enhance our verbal reasoning skills. Other brain activities that engage the left side of the brain include: 

Puzzles – such as Sudoku, Countdown conundrums, escape rooms, or other logic-based brainteasers.

Essay writing – writing an essay requires logic and planning, particularly if you have to stick to a specified word count. In fact, any kind of writing will activate the left side of the brain (especially if it has been well-considered). 

Planning new routes – Route planning is a perfect activity for exercising the left side of your brain! 

Try these on a regular basis and see if your verbal reasoning improves. 


So, if you want to score highly on your next verbal reasoning test, keep these tips in mind. But don’t wait for your preferred company to invite you to take a test – start practising now! We provide practice psychometric tests that are very similar to the recruitment tests used by leading UK employers. Our tests are free to use, so why not start practising today? 


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