A Guide to 11+ English Assessment28/08/2023 / 11+ Tuition
English topics and content
11+ English incorporates a wide range of different forms of assessment which might include:
- Grammar questions
- Punctuation questions
- Spelling questions
- Vocabulary questions
- Comprehension with multiple-choice or long-form answers
- Writing tasks
You must find out if you can, whether the English paper your child is sitting is from GL or whether it is produced by the school. (CEM does not currently produce an English paper, as their Verbal Reasoning paper has a more curriculum English focus). This can give you and a tutor crucial information about planning and preparing for this part of the 11+.
Comprehension required for CEM Verbal Reasoning is different from that required for English. It will be covered in more detail in the Verbal Reasoning blog.
The English Assessments
More detail about the types of questions your child might experience:
The following details are relevant to the preparation for GL and papers created by the Local Authority. This will be noted if a detail is specific to GL or school-created material.
Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar and Vocabulary Questions
Often multiple choice in nature, children have to identify mistakes in sentences or pick the correct form of punctuation. They may need to circle a particular word type within a sentence or provide a word that provides a similar function.
Hopefully, your child will have been doing regular spelling practice throughout their time at primary school. Any additional spelling work that can be done with the child will be of great benefit. They may be asked to:
- Select the correct spelling
- Fill in missing letters
- Spot words spelt incorrectly
Your child should be able to identify and use the following punctuation forms correctly, including choosing the correct punctuation unprompted:
- Full stop
- Capital letter
- Question mark
- Exclamation mark
- Speech marks
- Quotation marks
Commas, in particular, can cause problems. Children need to know when and how they can be used.
You will want to make sure that your child can explain and identify the following word forms:
- Prefix and suffix
They should be able to construct sentences that ‘agree’ and recognise the difference between a main clause and a sub-clause.
GL English papers do not test for vocabulary in the same way that Verbal Reasoning papers do. It is more likely to form part of a comprehension. For example, a child may be asked to:
- Give a definition of a word
- Find a word in the text with a specific meaning
- Give a different word with a similar meaning
As well as being tested on specific words, having a broad and advanced vocabulary for their age will be of immense value to students in all parts of the English paper. 11+ vocabulary can be extremely challenging, and the sooner you can introduce your child to a wide range of vocabulary, the more easily it will be embedded.
Ideas and resources for improving vocabulary can be found in the ‘Preparing Your Child for the 11+ Exams‘ blog.
Comprehension is an extended piece of fiction or non-fiction with questions that assess the child’s understanding of the text. Poetry is also common.
If the English paper is by GL, the questions will be multiple-choice. Children will have to answer a range of questions on the text. Some questions will be simple identification of information, but most will require drawing together evidence from different parts of the text. Inference is also required. This is where a child reads between the lines to make a judgement about the text. This requires a great deal of practice and is often one of the skills children preparing for the 11+ find most challenging.
There may also be vocabulary or grammar questions about the text, again multiple choice. Children should also be prepared for questions asking them to identify style features, such as simile or alliteration.
If the comprehension is written by the Local Authority, the school may have familiarisation papers on their site. These can provide useful examples of the skills your child will be tested on.
Typically, children will have to do a range of the following tasks in an independently produced comprehension:
- Answer simple questions which require straightforward factual detail.
- Find evidence to support a judgement, for example – that a character is angry or excited.
- Identify style features such as:
- Answer questions about how the writer creates a particular effect, e.g. a sense of danger.
Questions like the last one can carry a significant number of marks. Children are unlikely to know how to approach them unless instructed. They need to be given lots of examples and learn how to provide quotations from the text to support what they are saying.
One of the challenges of English papers produced by Local Authorities and consortiums is that the child is usually required to handwrite all their answers. Spelling, punctuation and vocabulary may be assessed as part of longer answer questions.
Parents often worry about handwriting. However, there is no link between neat handwriting and intelligence! Handwriting is not assessed as part of the 11+. Nevertheless, it is certainly in your child’s best interests to ensure as far as possible that their writing is legible and they are using a suitable writing pencil (e.g. HB).
Extensive fiction and non-fiction reading from an early age is the most beneficial way to improve a child’s comprehension, vocabulary and engagement with texts. If you can also make time to read with your child and discuss the texts together, recapping what has happened so far and thinking about what might happen next, comprehension will become a natural companion of reading.
Writing tasks form a part of many entrance exams and provide assessors with an insight into the child, which is unlikely to be revealed by anything else in the exam.
Writing tasks are nearly always set by the Local Authority and will change each year. If the exam also includes a comprehension task, they may be linked to a theme or idea raised in that text.
Examples of tasks children might be given:
- Picture stimulus – the child is asked to write a description or story based on a given picture.
- A starting sentence, such as: ‘When I woke up that morning, I knew at once that something was different.’
- An emotional prompt – ‘Write a story about someone who is excited’.
- A simple title – ‘The unexpected guest’.
- A letter – perhaps to the school about a request for, e.g. a school trip.
- A diary entry – about a special day (but it needn’t be true).
- A speech persuading a view or opinion – such as abolishing school uniform.
- An article – about a sport or hobby they are interested in.
- A report – for example, a magazine entry about a new leisure centre opening.
These are just a few examples. Children will need lots of practice in all these types of tasks, preferably under timed conditions, which is why knowledge of the length of the exam is really valuable.
Understanding what the examiners are looking for in these assessments is important. Intelligent children usually have lots of ideas for writing, often too many for their own good in these tasks.
A successful fiction writing task will usually have the following:
- One or two well-described characters who connect with each other and their world meaningfully.
- A plot that is engaging but realistic for the time given.
- A lot of well-written description that includes techniques such as simile and focusing on details.
- Correctly punctuated direct speech.
- Appropriate use of tense.
- Well-chosen and ambitious vocabulary with a variety of sentence forms.
- A clear structure and a decisive ending – this is the most challenging of all!
Successful non-fiction tasks require:
- An understanding of the requirements of the type – what is needed in a letter, a speech, or an article.
- Good persuasive language – rhetorical questions, anecdotes, use of facts and figures, direct address, humour, emotive language.
- Technical vocabulary related to the task.
- Clear structure and responses that are definitely ‘finished’.
In both tasks, the ability to write in paragraphs with excellent spelling, punctuation and grammar will typically receive a specific number of marks. In addition, the examiners will look for originality of thought and expression.
How a tutor can help with English preparation
A tutor can be of great benefit here for several reasons:
- They can conduct an appropriate baseline assessment with your child, quickly identifying gaps in knowledge, areas not yet covered, and areas of misunderstanding or weakness. These can be worked on as a priority.
- A tutor can simultaneously consolidate the work being done in school alongside teaching new material for the 11+ with lots of practice.
- Assessing writing can be difficult for a parent who has limited experience with giving feedback on creative and productive writing, especially when the process can seem quite subjective. A tutor has a much clearer understanding of the level of writing a child should be capable of producing and can give constructive praise and specific feedback.
- Tutoring provides the space to build up children’s stamina gradually. Writing tasks in the exam can be 50 minutes. A tutoring session provides the perfect opportunity to do this in a supervised environment.
- Children need frequent revision of learned topics to ensure that knowledge and methods stay fresh. A tutor will keep careful records to ensure which topics need revisiting and when. They will then be ready for reteaching and revision opportunities when they arise.
- Some children work meticulously but slowly. They need to be encouraged to work faster. A tutor can perhaps show them the most efficient current methods to build up speed with timed practice.
- Other children rush and make silly mistakes. Whilst working at speed is necessary, an experienced tutor will be able to identify mistakes that come from rushing and those that come from misunderstanding. Timed practice can also help set a sensible pace for work.
The English homework children get in Year 5 varies considerably from school to school and will be insufficient to prepare your children for the 11+. Children will need to do additional work to practise their English skills, gradually increasing the length and frequency of the work as the 11+ exam gets closer. See the ‘Preparing Your Child for the 11+ Exams‘ blog for ideas and suggestions for what your child can do for English preparation.
At Principal Tutors, all of our 11+ tutors are qualified teachers with expertise in the UK primary English curriculum. You’ll get feedback after every single session to help you feel in control of your child’s learning and progress, and you can even download resources and request a recording of your tutoring session to help you remember key points later.
To learn how 11+ English tutoring can help your child give us a call on 0800 772 0974 or you can request a tutor using our online form.
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