What is a verbal reasoning test and how do you pass one?

Last updated: 16 Jun 2023, 09:50

In this complete guide to verbal reasoning tests, find out what a verbal reasoning test is, targetjobs’ expert tips for passing one and links to free practice resources.

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Graduate employers such as the Civil Service and ‘Big 4’ firm PwC set verbal reasoning tests as one method of assessing job applicants. However, this type of psychometric test certainly isn’t limited to the recruitment processes of public sector and consulting organisations. In fact, you’ll likely come up against a verbal reasoning test for any role in which it’s important to be able to understand and analyse written information.

So, what is verbal reasoning?

Verbal reasoning is our cognitive ability to understand concepts expressed via language, both spoken and written. Forming logical conclusions via verbal reasoning is an essential ability for the workplace, as it underpins how we communicate with others and make decisions based on what we’ve read and what we’ve heard.

As a graduate employee, you will have to process and form an understanding of complex information. And so, along with numerical reasoning , verbal reasoning is often seen by employers as one of the most important cognitive abilities to put to the test when hiring.

What is a verbal reasoning test?

Before you can pass a verbal reasoning test, you must first understand its format. A verbal reasoning test is typically set as a series of passages of texts each followed by a question(s) relating to the information contained in the passage. The topic of the question is determined by the employer and prior knowledge of the topic is not required.

There is typically then the option to select whether you think the statement outlined in the question is true, false or inconclusive. However, verbal reasoning tests can assess any combination of the following:

  • Comprehension and analysis. You could be asked to draw logical conclusions based on the text in front of you.
  • The ability to evaluate arguments and statements.
  • Vocabulary. You could be asked to identify words that have been used wrongly in a passage of information. This might include testing you on words that are similar and easily confused.
  • The ability to extract and summarise the key points from written information.

You will usually have between one and three minutes to respond to each question. You will likely have a time limit per question or an overall time limit in which you must try to answer all questions.

How do you pass a verbal reasoning test? Tips for success

The following three advice points are essential for passing a verbal reasoning test.

Read each question carefully

In an effort to save time, it can be tempting to quickly skim read a question without fully understanding the passage of text. Although quickly skimming may be enough to understand the passage for some applicants, it’s advisable to read it carefully and all the way through before you answer. Just be mindful to give yourself enough time to also decide on your answer.

Don’t make assumptions

A core aspect of passing a verbal reasoning test is to ensure that you only use the information that is at hand to form a conclusion. Each question assesses your ability to understand the information contained in the passage and base your answer on this alone. Therefore, making assumptions will hinder your chances of success.

Practise verbal reasoning tests

Ensuring that you practise sufficiently before taking the real verbal reasoning test is paramount. Practising will give you the best idea of what you’re likely to face when you sit the employer’s test and help you to answer questions in less time. This is important as dwelling too long on a single question can eat up the precious time you have to answer the remaining ones.

Here are some practice verbal reasoning tests from third-party providers (both free and paid for):

How can you improve verbal reasoning abilities?

Aside from completing practice tests, reading is one of the best ways to improve your ability to reason verbally. Keeping up to date with relevant industry news and developments that affect the area of work you’re trying to enter will give you reading practice and boost your commercial awareness .

An increased commercial awareness will help you to become familiar with the terminology used in your chosen career. Although a verbal reasoning test won’t assess you on this directly, similar terms could crop up in comprehension passages. When reading news stories:

  • Think about meaning. Consider what statements really mean and how they could be interpreted. Reading unfamiliar or technical information and trying to understand it may also help you to develop your skills. If you come across words you don’t understand, look them up.
  • Be aware of commonly misspelt words. Most English grammar books and websites have lists of commonly misspelt or 'confusable' words, such as 'its' and 'it's', or 'complement' and 'compliment'. Check you are also aware of the English spellings of words such as ‘liaise’, ‘favourite’ and ‘organise’.

Reading aside, you may see ‘brain training’ apps, especially those offering word-based exercises, as an attractive way of improving your verbal reasoning skills due to their game-based nature. Although these apps claim to improve your cognitive abilities, the scientific jury is out on whether such claims are accurate due to the lack of evidence.

Therefore, if you do decide to use these apps as part of your preparation for a verbal reasoning test, ensure that the majority of your preparation comes from sitting practice tests and reading.

More psychometric tests help from targetjobs

It’s likely that a verbal reasoning test will only be one of the psychometric tests that an employer sets you as part of your application. To get yourself fully set, head to targetjobs’ complete guide to psychometric tests . You’ll discover all the information students and graduates need to know about them along with links to more practice resources.

And remember: targetjobs is your complete platform for graduate career preparation. Make sure to create your free graduate profile and tell us about your career interests to get tailored content including advice, events and career opportunities.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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