Words Won't Bring You Down - How To Become An Expert In Verbal Reasoning | EU Training

Words Won't Bring You Down - How To Become An Expert In Verbal Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning tests are a bugaboo for many candidates. While the importance of the verbal reasoning test has been lowered in the most recent competition rounds for Administrators, it still continues to be the most important element of the pre-selection tests for Assistants and Secretaries.

In this article we’ve collected some practical tips on how to tackle this often daunting task, and look into the common frustrations experienced by many candidates, such as why it takes longer to feel the progress when preparing for this type of test? 

The Basics 

In the verbal reasoning task you have just under two minutes (approx. 108 seconds) to read a short passage and evaluate four statements connected to the text. The statements that you will encounter always fall into one of three categories. 

  • Correct statements are statements that you can prove to be correct based on information gathered from the text passage. This is the statement that you need to find and pick as the correct answer.
  • False or incorrect statements are statements that you can prove to be false based on information gathered from the text passage.
  • The third category is the so called insufficient information or “cannot say” statements. Statement that you cannot determine with certainty to be true or false. Just like false statements these are also incorrect options from a scoring perspective, but it is important to be aware of their presence; we’ll see in a bit why. 

Some Practical Tips 

When approaching this type of task experiment with different techniques and see which helps you the most. Some people find it easier to solve these questions by looking at the answer options first, and then search for the specific information in the passage after. Others will quickly read over the passage first to get a general understanding of the context, and then proceed to examine the answer options afterwards. Once familiar with both the text and the statements, they can locate within the passage the hidden information they need, this time only re-reading the important parts carefully and attentively.

Avoid Common Pitfalls 

There are some common mistakes you can consciously look out for as well. These usually fall within one of the following categories: 

  • External information: “Cannot say” statements usually fall within this category. These statements will often be true in the real world, but from the task’s perspective they won’t be correct. This is because these types of tricky statements rely on external information; something you might know to be true, but what is not included in the text. For example, if you have a celebrity magazine text about Jean-Claude Juncker’s hobbies, the statement: “Jean-Claude Juncker is the President of the European Commission since November 2014” won’t be correct, unless it is mentioned, or can be logically inferred from information provided in the passage. Going a step further, even if it is mentioned that Mr Juncker is the President of the Commission, the statement still won’t be correct unless it is evident from the passage that he assumed office in November 2014.
  • Generalisations are also typical examples of hidden traps. These are statements that extrapolate a piece of information provided in the passage to a larger set. For example, if the text states that “French citizens are protesting against the government's increasingly harsh stance on immigration.”  the statement ‘The French society is not supportive of the government’s harsh stance on immigration.’ is not correct. It is not correct because it extrapolates the opinion of a group of people to the whole society without any supporting information from the passage.
  • Restrictive wording is very similar to generalisations, only it works the other way around, limiting the scope of the information provided in the passage. If the statement was “A small group of French people are not supporting the government’s harsh stance on immigration.” it still would not be correct because the passage makes no reference to the size of the group. To give an even better example, if the original text said “French citizens are protesting against the EU’s increasingly harsh stance on immigration.” and the statement was ”Only the French are protesting against the EU's increasingly harsh stance on immigration.” this would also not be correct, as we have no information in the text about people in other countries. 
  • Mixing up possibilities and facts. This is quite straight forward, but sometimes hard to spot in actual questions. If a piece of information is mentioned as a possibility in the passage, but the answer option states it with certainty (or vice versa) it cannot be correct. Getting back to the example, the statement “The government's increasingly harsh stance on immigration might lead to protests among French citizens” is not correct, because according to the passage the protests are already happening. 

A practical piece of advice that can help you avoid these mistakes is to be on the lookout for words such as: ’all’, ’every’, ’each’, ’only’, ’most’, ’definitely’, ’certainly’, ‘possibly’, ‘might’ etc. or any other similar words that alter the meaning of a statement. Seeing these words should always ring a bell, cautioning you to pay extra attention when evaluating these types of statements. 

The Magic Of Practice And Revision

Although the above tips can help you consciously spot a few traps, there is a special element to the verbal reasoning task that makes it different from abstract and numerical reasoning tests. This unique quality makes persistent practice vitally important for this type of test.

Loads of people experience the same frustration when preparing for the verbal reasoning test.  They say it takes longer to feel the progress or improvement when compared with other styles of tests. Why is this? With abstract and numerical reasoning you can learn to master a finite set of rules and strategies (which are also much easier to articulate) that will enable you to solve such questions quickly and correctly. However, with verbal reasoning, although there are some strategies regarding what to look for in questions and how to approach them, strictly speaking, there are no formal rules that will guarantee you the correct answer. As such, what you learn through extensive practice is not how to follow a tried and tested formula, but rather a way of thinking (reasoning) about these types of questions. With practice, you will gradually acquire a sense of solving these questions with greater efficiency and more effectively. However, similar to mastering an automated process like riding a bike, or playing the piano, it is a longer learning process, and thus it takes time.

So the final advice is simple: Read through the methodology and become familiar with it. Be conscious of how these questions are constructed and what pitfalls to look out for. Then go ahead and practice…a lot. Simple as that! 

For a more in-depth look at Verbal Reasoning methodologies and the role this test plays in the EPSO competition you are undertaking, be sure to check out these insightful webinars:

FREE Beginner’s Guide To The EPSO Verbal Reasoning Test

Pro Tips For The EPSO Verbal Reasoning Test

For one-on-one personally tailored guidance and feedback, try our Personal Coaching services: How EPSO Candidates Are Boosting Their Confidence