The 11+ is an examination taken by some school pupils in their last year of primary school to get into a grammar school of their choice. For many parents only just learning about the exam or only just beginning their child’s 11+ campaign, it can be overwhelming to figure out what you and your child can expect from the exam, and where to even begin with their preparation. Fear not – Eleven Plus Exams is providing a crash course on each subject tested in common entrance exams to help ease this confusion.
Most 11+ exams will test some or all of the following subjects:
- Verbal reasoning
- Non-verbal reasoning
Students – and parents – need a good grasp of what to expect from the exam for each of these subjects. Even the brightest students who are well out-performing their peers may struggle in the competitive, ever-evolving 11+ exam if they do not know how they will be tested on the subjects they otherwise know so well. For some subjects, like verbal and non-verbal reasoning, there is specialised knowledge to learn that is not covered by the national curriculum.
What is 11+ English?
Like mathematics, 11+ English tests a lot of the core skills taught on the national curriculum. In general terms, the 11+ English tests will cover only those topics that have been taught during key stage 2. It is therefore essential that your child is secure in their basic literacy skills, their spelling, punctuation, grammar and their vocabulary.
The format of the 11+ English paper varies considerably around the country. In some cases a school may simply set its own paper and change the style of it year to year in order to keep the material fresh and to prevent parents from passing on “inside information” about the test. Other schools use a pre-set paper written by a publisher such as GL Assessment (formerly NFER).
The best way to know the format of the English test in the exam your child will sit is to ask the school that will provide it directly. Sometimes this information can be located on the school’s official website. If not, speak with teachers or check our forum for first hand experience from other parents.
A typical GL Assessment paper (NFER), with a time limit of 50 minutes, may feature:
- A comprehension exercise, usually consisting of two pages of prose, followed by questions about the content of the passage
- Questions about the meaning of words used in the passage
- Grammatical questions asking pupils to identify the types of words used in the text – nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc
- Questions asking the pupil to identify spelling errors in given sentences
- Questions asking the pupil to identify errors in the use of capital letters and punctuation in given sentences
- Questions requiring the student to choose the best word from a list that will complete given sentences
Other types of paper usually feature some (or all) of the following tasks:
- Ordering words to make a grammatically correct sentence
- Punctuating sentences with capital letters, full stops and question marks
- Placing words in alphabetical order
- Identifying synonyms and antonyms (a question style similar to that which appears in Verbal Reasoning papers)
- Identifying rhyming words
- Identifying correct/incorrect uses of capital letters, full stops & question marks
- Identifying compound words (also found in Verbal Reasoning papers)
- A ‘cloze’ exercise in which the pupil must fill in gaps in a given sentence of passage (usually from a bank of words provided).
Most 11+ English exams will feature a type of comprehension test. A comprehension requires students to read a passage and answer questions that demonstrate their understanding of it. The questions are usually either fact-finding, simple inferences, personal judgements and/or questions identifying aspects of English language (identifying grammar, literary devices and vocabulary, for example.)
The content and difficulty level of 11+ English comprehension exercises can vary considerably. Although every child will have done comprehension work at school, in the 11+ they are working to a strict time limit, which they may not have experienced before. Comprehensions can be more challenging than they first appear because they require a student to read quickly and efficiently.
The text used for the comprehension may be factual or fictional, including passages from classic novels. These often contain archaic phrases and words that children have never encountered before. This is why reading is such an essential part of 11+ preparation, as it can help children to recognise more of these words and it can help them to become accustomed to understanding unfamiliar language based on context. You can read more about this in our blog post here, along with some tips and tricks for encouraging reluctant readers.
Some English exams require students to write an essay/short story within a limited time frame – often between 20 and 30 minutes.
Examiners in different areas may have different priorities. In some areas they will mainly be interested in the content of the work, rather than demanding good spelling or punctuation. In other areas accurate grammar, punctuation and spelling may be required as well. All examiners will be looking for one key thing: the structure of the writing and that a pupil has a clear grasp of the “beginning, middle and end” of their essay, whether fiction or nonfiction.
You can read more tips and tricks here for success in the writing section of the English exam.
How can I practise 11+ English at home?
For free resources and practice questions and answers that can be downloaded and attempted at home, you can visit our English Revision aids page at elevenplusexams.co.uk.
The ElevenPlusExams’s Virtual Learning Environment is designed for success in selective school entrance exams. The content is written by experienced teachers from our own tuition centre, that is updated regularly and includes a comprehensive range of material for verbal reasoning practice, including preparation material for GL, CEM and MORAY house question styles.
It includes explanatory videos for the most common English topics and hundreds of exam style questions with answers and full explanations. It is ideal for children who are looking to learn, revise and refine their abilities in this subject, and allows everyone who uses the platform the ability to track progress and analyse achievements, so that areas that require additional work can be easily identified and remedied.
Similarly, the Eleven Plus Exams’ First Past the Post series is ideal for 11+ English practice at home. These books and papers provide essential exposure to the question styles and answer layouts that will appear in an actual exam. With full answers and explanations provided in every book, they are an ideal way for children to learn from each mistake and to refine their exam technique through practice.