What’s the logic behind reasoning?


I think the Dalai Lama XIV can kick off this conversation: ‘If one’s cause is supported by sound reasoning, there is no point in using violence. It is those who have no motive other than selfish desire and who cannot achieve their goal through logical reasoning who rely on force.

The age of reason ushered in a new century of conversation from the late 17th century. It was a time to communicate and discuss matters of science and philosophy, over coffee. Reasoning is often seen as a random topic that pops up just before the 11+ and soon slides into oblivion. If reasoning is not part of the National Curriculum, why is it used as a key assessment tool? Essentially, it is a way to gauge a child’s thinking skills, or cognition. 

Reasoning is fun!

If we give the mind free rein to make its own way through a problem or challenge we are allowing it to reason. Even the chaps from the Enlightenment era would agree that reasoning is the use of logic to see connections and make good judgements. Reasoning develops maturity and self-regulation, without resulting in, as the Dalai Lama suggests, an act of violence. To undertake the full journey allows us to use all of our higher order thinking skills: application, analysis, evaluation and creativity, as indexed in Anderson’s Taxonomy. 

Back to school

Reasoning assessments are split into two overlapping disciplines: verbal (VR) and non-verbal (NVR). They seek to develop skills that support learning and thinking whilst allowing pupils to be creative and plan different methods of problem solving. 

Verbal reasoning, as its name suggests, is about using letters, words and numbers to understand and analyse a paragraph, sequence or problem. For example, a key topic in verbal reasoning is sorting words. First you need to be a high-quality wordsmith (hence the obsession with getting children to read!). Children must find connections between words or apply their wider knowledge to order words or find similar and opposite meanings. You need to manipulate words and compare the text with the possible answers to find the solution. Or you could be thrown a word, number or symbol code and use that to solve a problem. Without a good vocabulary, verbal reasoning, and indeed English, or science or maths is a challenge. A good vocabulary is the foundation that allows children to improve their writing and communication skills. 

Non-verbal reasoning is focused on spatial and visual information. The skill is in recognising patterns or shapes and finding the relationship between objects. You might be presented with a sequence of shapes that change slightly each time. The task is to spot what has changed in the sequence and decide which shape should come next. Occasionally, questions require you to keep track of multiple criteria, thus stretching the working memory to its fullest. Using mnemonics is a great help with non-verbal reasoning. Once adopted for reasoning, it can be applied to other subjects. When you see the beauty of the patterns and shapes, connections can be made that otherwise would not have been seen or understood.

NVR is a wonderful tool for problem solving and for creating new ideas. 

Becoming a reasoning expert

Once you understand and can logically answer reasoning questions, it is a case of applying the same logic to other thinking and problem solving skills. Processing verbal and non-verbal information is easier, the neural pathway is stronger, and evidence is seen at school. Reasoning questions require a balance between our current knowledge of the world around us and the ability to see the information literally and in its context. Children need to be explicitly taught these skills to be able to draw on them in new situations. 

Bad reasoning as well as good reasoning is possible; and this fact is the foundation of the practical side of logic.” 

Charles Sanders Peirce, an American philosopher in the late 1800s. Journal of Speculative Philosophy; 1877
bias of the mind

When using these logic reasoning skills, we need to think about our own biases. We need to consider how our view of the world may skew our understanding of a situation or problem. Through explicitly learning the skills of practical reasoning, we can limit the effect of these personal biases and be able to understand and find the truth in a situation. We can find the most correct answer or the most practical solution. 

A fascinating new book, Noise, looks at the flaws in human judgement that we all make so easily. Reasoning can develop the thinking processes and levels by making people think differently than they normally would. Through making connections between ideas and topics, a whole host of new ideas can be found and evolved. We need it to make good decisions, analyse information and apply our knowledge in different situations. 

Those with well-developed reasoning skills: can solve an enigma; logically evaluate whether information is reliable or not; and communicate their views with maturity and clarity. And don’t forget, it can also help you break out of an escape room if you find yourself stuck in one… what’s not to like?

At Meta Prep, cognitive skills and tools are the next step in our 11+ Big Picture towards becoming a meta-learner and underpin all that you need to become an excellent ‘reasoner’. We explicitly teach these and believe it is an essential part of our bigger picture of the child as a whole learner. Sign up for our expert learner course during half-term.

We offer holiday courses in specific subjects, including maths, English and reasoning, the current topic of conversation.