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What is on the 11 plus (11+) English exam?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction to the 11 plus (11+) English exam

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The first step in preparing for the 11+ English exam is knowing what to expect from the paper, including structure, question type and content. The exact format of your child’s 11+ paper will depend on the exam board or school that administers the test.

There are three main 11+ exam boards, each with its own layout, time allocations and mark scheme. The more informed you are about these details, the better you can help your child build their study plan. Granada Learning (GL Assessment) and Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) are the two main 11+ examining boards for grammar schools. In contrast, many independent schools across the UK use the Independent Schools Examining Board (ISEB). 

In late 2022, CEM announced that they would change their exam format to online rather than paper-based. As a result, most grammar schools are now switching to GL Assessment. If your child is applying for Year 7 grammar school entry, they will likely face a GL exam; however, you should double-check the specifications of your child’s targeted schools. 

GL Assessment English exams have multiple-choice questions and usually last around 45 minutes. CEM integrates all subjects in shorter, individually timed sections and contains standard and multiple-choice questions. 

Some schools also administer their own 11+ English exam, so it is essential to research and understand the requirements of your child’s targeted school. Whichever exam body or school administers the test, the papers will likely cover the following topics:

  • Reading comprehension 
  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar 
  • Vocabulary 
  • Creative writing 

Reading comprehension

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The word ‘comprehension’ means the ability to understand something. The reading comprehension section of an 11+ English exam is designed to test your child’s ability to understand, process and analyse a text. 

In the 11+, comprehension is tested through unseen texts. Candidates are given a passage, often from a classic text, and asked questions to demonstrate their understanding. These questions do not only assess their literal interpretation but also their ability to infer implied meaning, comprehend varied vocabulary, and extract information. 

These texts can vary in length (although they are often around 1-2 sides of A4), genre (fiction, non-fiction, poetry), difficulty level, and time period. 

Reading comprehension questions in the 11+ are often multiple-choice; however, depending on the area or school your child is applying to, they can be given standard questions which require written answers. 

Spelling, punctuation and grammar

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If your child is taking a GL Assessment 11+ English paper, they will have a spelling, punctuation and grammar section after the reading comprehension. 

There are two types of spelling, punctuation and grammar questions in these GL Assessment English exams: 

  • Spot the mistake 
  • Complete the sentence

Your child will usually receive 36 spelling, punctuation and grammar questions, which can be a combination of 24 spot the mistake and 12 complete the sentence questions or vice versa. 

Creative writing

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Whilst the main 11+ exam providers (GL Assessment, CEM, and ISEB) do not feature creative writing in their 11+ tests, many grammar and independent schools design their own creative writing papers.

Grammar schools in the London Boroughs of Baret, Bromley, Kingston-upon-Thames and Sutton, as well as Essex, Kent and Medway, have creative writing sections in their 11+ exams.

In many creative writing exams, your child will be given 30-45 minutes to complete a piece of writing based on a prompt. Although there is no way to know which topic your child will be asked to write about in their 11+ exam, there are a handful of prompts that have regularly come up in the past, including:

  • Write a story
  • Continue a story
  • Write a recount
  • Write a description 
  • Write about an experience
  • Write about an image 
  • Write a piece of non-fiction 

Your child will be tested on their composition skills, punctuation, spelling, grammar, creativity and organisation.

How to help your child prepare for the 11+ English exam

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  • Practice papers and resources

Working through papers can help students become familiar with the exam format, question types and time constraints. It also allows you or your child’s teacher to identify their strengths and weaknesses so you know what to focus on. 

Numerous resources are available to aid in preparation, including revision guides, online resources, and tutor support. At Examberry, we offer a wide range of 11+ revision resources and 11+ practice papers to try. Here, you can access practice papers for English (standard) and English (multiple-choice), enabling you to precisely determine your child’s strengths and the areas they need to work on. We also have a variety of area and school-specific resources, so you can find tailored support for the school your child is applying to.

  • Make writing a habit 

Encouraging your child to write regularly can significantly improve their skills, which is [particularly useful if they have a creative writing assessment. Establishing a writing routine can help your child practice consistently, gradually building their writing skills and confidence. 

An excellent way for you to help your child build their skills for a creative writing exam is to offer them daily writing prompts. These could be words, phrases, or pictures to spark their creativity and inspire their writing. You could further encourage your child by getting them to practice different techniques, themes, or styles. 

  • Encourage them to read more

Reading is one of the most beneficial and rewarding activities that your child can do in the lead-up to their 11+. Introducing your child to a wide range of genres and encouraging them to read as much as possible is a great way to help them develop a strong vocabulary, understand writing styles, and become familiar with various devices and techniques. 

Supplying your child with classic and contemporary novels, poetry, plays, and non-fiction will ensure they have a wide range of resources to take inspiration from. 

  • Offer them constructive feedback and celebrate their progress

Providing your child with regular constructive feedback is crucial for their writing growth. Focus on their strengths and encourage them to check, proofread, and edit their work. Getting them to revise and edit their writing is a great skill to help them across their academic subjects.

You should consistently recognise and celebrate your child’s writing achievements to help build their confidence and motivation. You could set up a rewards system for writing and reading goals, ensuring you are regularly praising their achievements. 

  • Remind them that handwriting and timing matters

Handwriting is a part of your child’s creative writing assessment and can affect their grade. Your child does not need perfect handwriting; however, it should be completely legible and easy to follow. You could help your child improve their handwriting by supplying them with pens that are comfortable and easy to use. You could also give them exercises, focusing on individual letters or words they struggle with. 

Teaching your child to allocate their time wisely during the exam is also vital in preparing for the 11+. Getting them to complete practice papers under timed conditions is a great way to help them manage their time efficiently during the actual exam.

Examberry Papers

One of the most effective way to prepare for an 11+ entrance exam is to use practice tests written by experts.

We offer a range of  11+ revision resources including area & school-specific papers, subject-specific papers, spelling & vocabulary resources, and reading books.

Each of our practice tests:

Key Recommendations for the 11+ English exam

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