EPSO Verbal Reasoning Test - a complete guide

From reading books, magazines, letters to reading an online article, you are using your verbal reasoning skills to process, organise and make sense of the information provided on a daily basis. If you are applying for a role that requires you to sit a verbal reasoning test, there are strategies you can use to interpret the information and choose the right answer. In this article, we will explore what verbal reasoning means, why the tests are used and then we’ll run through a series of helpful tips, designed to help you to raise your game.

What EPSO verbal reasoning tests are!

Most roles will expect communication in both verbal and written forms, it is how business works. However, these tests, also called verbal comprehension or verbal critical reasoning tests, are designed to assess the ability to reason with written information and deduct the correct answer or to work out a particular inference of the information.

What they are not!

They are not tests of attainment, which are retrospective and explore what you have learned, know and can apply. They also do not assess literacy, that is your ability to read or write or about fluency, the ability to write or speak easily and accurately.

Why and how they are used

Everyone uses verbal reasoning skills in both written and verbal communication. They are:

• a fair and objective way to assess verbal reasoning skills. • used because they predict future performance at work. That means they are prospective: they focus on what the person is capable of achieving in the future or their potential to learn.

They require you to pay attention to detail, concentrate and interpret information through analysis. If you consider an occupational setting, for example, we read e-mails, memos, reports, instructions, etc., and we adjust our actions in response to the information that these texts contain. The ability to understand and to analyse verbal data is a crucial quality for employees at all levels. The skills help you to think strategically about problems and developments within a field of work related to the position you’re applying for and how you assimilate, process new information and integrate this information into the overall picture.

With problem-solving, for example, you will:

• gather written information to present options; • consider options in a written format to decide which options to eliminate; • synthesize chunks of written information to come to a coherent decision • use written information, to make judgements that impact upon a team, an organisation, and even the customer.

Preparation

Our particular verbal reasonings test are designed to get you to extract and work with meaning of information and its implications from passages of text. The passage of information WILL contain all you need to work out the correct answer, however, the answer will not be obvious. You’ll find that tests rarely tell you if they prefer speed over accuracy, but you can improve your chances of accuracy by using strategies for solving issues. This means your skills of inference, deduction and checking assumptions, by finding keywords, eliminating wrong answers, finding contradictions, absolute words, quickly, etc. We’ll explore these strategies further on in the article.

Reading instructions thoroughly is important. This part is not timed, it doesn’t form the test itself, so ensure you understand what you are being asked to do and how the test progresses. Once you have practiced, you can note down the strategies used and then work out what you struggle with. When you understand the common issues that you face, work can work through those so you build confidence for when you sit the test itself.

Prior to the test, you will receive information advance notice with an explanation of the testing process and usually, the part that test will play in the overall process. As soon as you know about your test date, that is the time to start your preparation.

I would advise reading articles that are more complex that you usually read to ease your brain into that level of complexity. Read difficult passages in newspapers and check out Forbes too, review positive and negative arguments; what objective evidence is being used in an agrument, and even try to summarise passages of information into a succinct sentence. This type of practice will help you to work quickly through the passages presented to you.

Top Tips

• Working against the clock without interruptions will help you to develop a technique. • If you have prepared, you will feel more confident knowing the strategies used. • Mentally, if you think you’ll fail, you will. See the test as a challenge, one that you can give your best shot. • Don’t guess unless you are really stuck. Smart- guess instead. If you can eliminate at least one answer that will increase your chances from 1 in 4, to 1 in 3. Try to get to a 50/50 chance situation if you have only 20 seconds left of that question time. • Don’t leave out an answer if you are close to the end, it is worth completing. You don’t get penalised by wrong answering. • In all cases, only ONE answer is correct. If you’ve judged A to be the correct answer and you are sure, move onto the next question. The questions will become more complex!

Solution-finding Skills

Let’s go through how a test is created.

So, with all of our passages of information, you will see they are relaively short, less than 200 words. They are based on factual situations and information, rather than fiction, and can cover historical themes, culture, geography, medical, scientific, techonlogy and general business. Between 10- 20 quesions will feature in the tests.

They are crafted to become more complex, so we’ll highlight an example of medium-level complexity and a higher-level complexity. You don’t need to know the subject matter, and if you do, just remember that the information you need to answer the question WILL be contained in the passage, not what you might think it to be. After the passage, the question you’ll see is a constant stem question.

"Which of the following statements is correct"

Four statements will follow, only ONE will be TRUE, and when you find that, answer, and move on quickly. Your task is to decide whether the conclusion follows or does not follow based on the information from the original passage.

Now, we can use this diagram to help you understand some of the terms we have mentioned.

True

With a TRUE, it will be obvious to draw the conclusion from the presented facts if it is a DIRECT MATCH. You deduce that the conclusion is justified as it is directly stated. With a TRUE, it may be less obvious and you need to either collate information from different parts of the text, or you have to dig deeper and extract it and make a judgement, even if it is not directly stated. That is known as INFERENCE. For a statement to be true it must closely mimic a certain idea in the text. So, inference is quite different from a clear deduction where you have the information at hand to decide true or false.

Cannot Say

From True, you move down into onto CANNOT SAY. Test designers like to use CANNOT SAY because there are many design strategies, that’s tricks to you, that they can use. We’ll cover these shortly.

When deciding upon a Cannot Say, there may be more information provided than is included in the passage, often used where there is over generalisation of the details of the passage, even if it seems like a definitive conclusion. Secondly, where there is insufficient information to make the decision between true or false, you use the wording of the statement to help you determine whether an inference can become true, or whether it is too big an assumption.

You have to ask yourself these questions:

Does the information present a broader inference than the one supported by the passage?

Or:

Are you missing information that makes it either a TRUE or a FALSE? Is it a big assumption?

If so, that means your answer is a Cannot Say.

False

Then finally, with FALSE, it is more straightforward, although test designers use a few tricks here too!

False can be due to an EXTREME word that changes the meaning so it is naturally a false. Or there is a CONTRADICTION.

A statement is False only if it directly contradicts something mentioned in the passage. You must find that piece of information in the passage that confirms the contradiction. Then there is a clear mismatch between the passage information and the statement.

Example of Deduction & Inference

Machu Picchu, the famous ruins, are a UNESCO world heritage site. The difficult terrain surrounding Machu Picchu meant that Spanish conquistadors never discovered the city. Archaeologists discovered the construction of the buildings relied upon cutting thousands of perfectly-fitting granite blocks without using any kind of mortar.

  1. The high-altitude protected Machu Picchu from the Spanish conquistadors.

Answer is False: The difficult terrain was the reason of the lack of discovery, not the altitude.

  1. Skilled stonemasons were involved in Machu Picchu’s construction.

Answer is True – It is mentioned that the buildings were constructed using perfectly-fitting blocks without the use of mortar, inferring that skill was required in the cutting of the stone and putting it together.

Strategies & Examples

There are many strategies to cover so we’ll highlight the key ones for you to understand. Some are trickier than others but once they enter into your awareness, you will then start to notice them, especially certain words and phrases.

Partial Truths - This is where there is some truth, but then there is extra information added. This can render a statement Cannot Say or even False. Look at this example. The passage sentence: The retail stores along the high street struggle to compete with Amazon.

This is different to the statement: The retail stores along the high street are struggling to compete with all online stores.

The first part of the statement is true, but then it adds All into the mix, which renders it a False. It is too specific.

Comparatives - 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.

Passage: The Amazon river in the widest river in the world.

Statement: The Amazon river is the longest and widest river in the world.

Just because a river might be the widest in the world, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the longest. It is too big an assumption to make. It is a Cannot Say.

Passage adjustments - Be alert to words that change the meaning between the passage and the statement.

Read this passage and answer the question. I have highlighted the keywords I would choose. More about that later!

Every day brings news about crime. In particular the role of knife crime. Knife crime has a huge impact on children and the communities in which they live, with 2018 seeing a rise in knife crime in London. Crime is a societal problem and it cannot be tackled by schools or single agencies alone.

Consider this statement: is it true, false of cannot say?

In 2018, crime in the UK increased.

Answer Explanation:

So, we have the words rise and increased ad a common date of 2018 in the passage and statement. However, there is INSUFFICIENT information to state that crime in the whole of the UK has increased, only have specific information relating to 2018 to state that “knife” crime has increased in “London”. This example has specific information in the passage and a generalisation in the statement, therefore it is a Cannot Say.

Causation/Correlation

Cause and correlation are also confused so let’s clear up any confusion. Correlation is when X and Y have both changed in a certain way, but they could be unrelated. Causation means something causes something to happen, but causation does not mean correlation.

Causation: “Since 2017, the rise in peanut allergies has led to an increase in the number of patients suffering anaphylactic shock.”

Correlation: “Since 2017, there has been a rise in the number of allergies and the number of wasp stings reported.”

It does not follow that allergies are rising because more wasp stings are reported, there could be other factors, food allergies, other pollutants, etc.

Ask yourself:

Do I see any words that mean causation? Look out for words such as: due to, because of, led to, etc.

Could it be correlation? That means, did two things happened at the same or similar time that were unrelated.

Time Implications

The key here is to look out for words that indicate a timeline/dates and related phrases and extract the meaning from different points in time – current, yesterday, today, decades ago, or at ANY other point in time. For example,

There are more allergens in the air today, due to pollution, than at any other point in the past century.

Work this out: True, False or Cannot Say

Allergen rates are currently higher than they were two decades ago.

True is the right answer as it follows that if there are more allergens in the air TODAY than at any point over the past century, allergen rates must be higher than they were two decades ago.

Sequences

Some words indicate a chronological sequence rather than a causal effect. For example, the word “then” does not imply that one event or situation caused another to happen only that it happened after.

Words to alert you: then, next, after, later, as examples.

This is an example.

John went jogging, then went for a shower. Sequence

John had a shower because he’d perspired heavily during his jog. Causal

Quantities:

Exact will include, all, none, zero, one third, one etc. Tip: All is different to some or many. All is equivalent to 100% and an absolute word.

Inexact: Most, many, some

Tip: Relatively lower generalisations, unlikely or infrequent, as examples, still have a chance to be true, which is not the same as impossible, none, never, etc.

For example:

Passage:

During digestion, fat is broken down into smaller units of fat called fatty acids. These include essential fatty acids like Omega-3, which the body can't make itself. Fat also plays a vital role in helping the body to absorb vitamins A, D and E and any fat that’s not used is converted into body fat.

Statement:

The body absorbs all vitamins through the role of digestion.

Answer is False: Only three vitamins are mentioned, not all vitamins, and therefore contradicts the passage. Some vitamins would have rendered the statement true.

Claims & Suggestions

Propositions are often used where an opinion is expressed, these may include words such as recommends, advises, offers, proposes, believes. You need to ask yourself if there are enough facts presented to support the opinion.

Watch out for “I think”, “I suggest”, “The writer considers”, “The author claims, etc.

Extreme Words

“Playing a song at peak radio times will always see an increase in sales.”

‘Will always’ is very definitive language, so the answer is more likely to be Cannot Say or False. If the statement said ‘might’ or 'sometimes’ then the answer is more likely to be True.

How to Approach the Test

Firstly, read, only the first or first two sentences of the passage.

By reading the first part of the passage you can gauge the topic of the passage, which will help you when choosing a relevant keyword.

Read the question and pick a keyword

Pick a keyword from the statement or question. This keyword will help you find the information you are looking for in the passage.

Search for the keyword in the passage

Look for the keyword in the passage. When you find it, read from the sentence before the keyword, to the sentence after. This small section of the passage should contain your answer.

Work through an eliminate the wrong answers.

What is fact? What is easy to see as a FALSE or TRUE? Easy deduction, the information is there or is contradictory.

What is implied? Check if it introduces a new phrase or object.

What am I missing here? (Not enough - insufficient, too much information – goes beyond the meaning/changes the meaning)

What isn’t right? (Which strategy is being utilised?)

These are the combinations of answers. Only one will be true out of the four.

1 TRUE: therefore 1 FALSE, 2 CANNOT SAY 1 TRUE: therefore 2 FALSE, 1 CANNOT SAY 1 TRUE: therefore 3 FALSE 1 TRUE, therefore 3 CANNOT SAY

Practice EPSO Test verbal reasoning questions

Put you verball reasoning skills to a test with these two paractice questions that are followed up with an solution to the question.

First example

Second example

Summary

Hopefully, this article will help you to work through any practise questions with ease. And, if you choose the keyword strategy when reading the passage, the information will stand out.

EPSO Verbal Reasoning Test - a complete guide

Remember, look for the FACTS, not what you want to see. Only add your own knowledge if it helps you to definitely arrive at the right answer. The information is there, albeit in convoluted ways. You just need to dig deep, quickly, find what you need, answer and move on as quickly as you can. Try not to over-think the answer. If any answer looks obvious it probably is.

Remember you can find free questions and video introductions to EPSO test abstract reasoning tests by logging in

Read the guide to the EPSO numerical reasoning tests

Read the guide to the EPSO abstract reasoning tests

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