Comprehension: Techniques for the 11+

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

There are various techniques that you can practise in order to ensure a high mark in the comprehension section of the 11+. Here, we’ll look at some that you should be aware of, and think about how important they are.

The Introduction

You’ll often notice that the passage has a short introduction, written by a teacher, that sets the scene and provides vital context. It is of the absolute utmost importance that you read this. It will often provide you pieces of information that make the rest of the text far easier to understand. Examples that immediately come to mind from past papers are: the fact that the narrator is a dog, the fact that the narrator is no longer alive, or the fact that the people in the story speak a strange different type of English with made-up words. If you skip over the introduction, you’ll find yourself very confused by what follows.

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You’ll sometimes find that the passage is divided by subheadings. If this is the case, then make sure to read these subheadings too. They will, like the introduction, provide you with context that can help you understand what’s going on. They’ll also help you to better position yourself within the text, and therefore be able to understand where to look for the answers.

Should you read the whole text?

In general, it is advisable to read the whole text through before you begin the questions. Remember that you are provided with dedicated reading time, and it is wise to use this. You might find it useful to strike a balance between ‘skimming through’ and reading in more detail. The key should be to get an idea of the narrative, who the characters are, and the context of the story. By the time that you’ve finished reading, you should be able to answer these questions:
Where is this taking place?
When does this seem to be taking place?
Who is the main character?
What are the main character’s motivations? What are their thoughts, feelings, desires, and fears?
What are the other characters like? Do they seem to be portrayed in a positive or negative light?
What is the atmosphere at the end of the story? Where do you think it might go next?
What made you interested in the piece? Were there any particular techniques that you noticed the writer using throughout, or using in particular?

Should you Annotate?

Some will find it helpful to annotate (make notes) whilst reading. This can be a great idea. If there are parts of the text that you think are particularly interesting, then write next to them. What words stand out, or what phrases? Are there any sections that you are struggling with? If so, you can write next to them, or try to write out what they might mean next to them. Sensible things to write alongside the text often include the names of characters, locations, or specific details – as this will make the process of pulling them out to answer questions later much easier. However, you should only spend time annotating if you are confident that you can get through the text in the time provided.

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Should you underline?

Similarly to annotating, this is worth doing if you have the time to do so. You might want to underline key words or phrases, or words that you find difficult. However, until you have seen the questions you might struggle to know what is more or less relevant. As with annotating, underlining people’s names and the names of places is sensible, but going beyond this might be a waste of your time.

Answer the Questions

You should begin to answer the questions as soon as you have read through the text (assuming that you are permitted to). Don’t waste time reading and re-reading the text. You should already have a fair idea of it, and know what the general gist of it is. Ensure that you check back to the specifics of the text when answering questions rather than relying on memory, as it’s often easy to mistake things on a first read. You should be able to locate the questions easily in the passage, as you have the first read-through to help you understand where to look.
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