English Section A: Complete Guide for the 11+

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

The first section of the 11+ English test will vary from school to school. Different schools put a greater or lesser emphasis on grammar and spelling, for example, whilst some will feature multiple choice sections and others will feature as few as one long question on a passage. You must therefore prepare with the schools that you are looking to apply to in mind. Here, we break down some of the keys to success that should stand you in good stead for most schools.

Use all the Information

Many schools will provide a good amount of additional context about the extract in the form of a short paragraph at the top. It is absolutely vital that you get into the habit of reading this and thoroughly understanding it before you begin to read the passage itself. These short introductions will often make the difference between understanding a passage or becoming confused by it. Additionally, if there are subheadings present in the text, then make sure to use these. They will allow you to navigate the text with more ease and understand where you are. They will also provide a quick glimpse into the general direction of the narrative.

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How to Approach Reading the Passage

Opinions vary on the best approach, and you should do what works for you. However, a sensible approach is to give the passage a light read through, ensuring that you do so in the time allotted for reading. Don’t read in too much detail, and avoid getting bogged down over tiny details. Focus on understanding what the narrative is, where and when the story takes place, and what kind of people the characters are. Then, move onto the questions in good time and use these to guide where to focus your reading. Of course, if the school asks only one question that takes into account the whole passage, then you will need to read through in great detail at the outset.

Whether to Make Notes

In general, you shouldn’t spend too much time on making notes or annotating whilst reading through the passage the first time, although it can be a great idea if you find that you are making it through the passage in good time. Useful things to focus on include the names of characters and places, or descriptions that you find particularly useful or informative.

What to Avoid

The number one thing that you must avoid is poor time management. When presented with a passage to read, it can be tempting to read it in great detail and ensure that you understand it ‘perfectly’ before moving onto the questions. However, this can result in you not having enough time to answer the questions, and thus not doing as well as you ought to. You must stick within the recommended reading time that the school provides – normally ten minutes – and not go beyond this. If you find that you are going beyond this, then stop reading and begin the questions. They will guide you and you’ll likely find it easier to understand the passage after you’ve read the questions and given yourself some extra time to think. Make sure that you don’t misread any questions. Schools will often ask you to express your thoughts in your own words – which means using a quote won’t get you any marks. Equally, if you’re asked to ‘find an example from the passage’ then using your own words won’t do – you need to find a quote and write it down.

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Grammar Errors

There are many grammar and spelling errors that are all too common, and we have dedicated articles for both. However, the number one grammar error to focus on is the misuse of they’re, their, and there – as well as associated misuse of you’re and your, or it’s and its. You need to remember that ‘they’re’ is short for ‘they are.’ Therefore to avoid making a mistake, think to yourself, ‘they are.’ Think it out in full, then add the apostrophe to abbreviate. ‘Their’ is the possessive form of ‘them’ – it means that they own something. It could be their laptop, their garden or their dog. There means in a specific place, or at a specific place. We might say, ‘over there,’ or, ‘it’s there.’ If we look at all three words together in a sentence, we’d get:

‘I can see that they’re going to struggle there – it will be a real test of their skill.’

The first they’re means they are, the second there means a place, and the third their is the possessive form of them.

Just as with they’re and their, you should be aware of you’re and your. You’re is short for you are. The best way of avoiding a mistake here, again, is to think about the words ‘you are’ in full. Your is the possessive form of you. It can be used for both singular and plural – so when addressing one person or multiple people. Considering both in a sentence we get:

‘You’re being so mean to me today – is it because your friends are with you?’

Here, the first you’re is ‘you are’ and the second your is the possessive of you.

Parts of Speech

You’ll likely face a question on the different parts of speech. There are eight that you should be aware of, and there’s a dedicated article for this on the BlackStone Tutors site. Here, we’ll focus on the four most common.

First are nouns. Nouns are objects, concepts, places – in other words, they are things. Nouns are preceded by an article – a word like ‘the’ or ‘an.’ Nouns are general things that do not start with a capital letter, whereas a ‘proper noun’ starts with a capital letter and designates a particular thing. As an example a city does not have a capital letter, whereas London does – because it is a particular city.

Next are nouns. Nouns are doing words. They show that something is happening – be it someone doing an action, or simply existing. Sentences can have one verb, or multiple. Remember to be aware of tenses – there is a dedicated article on the site for this too.

Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns, or modify them. They will give attributes or qualities to something, or tell us how numerous something is. They let us better understand it. Examples of adjectives include big, old, few, female, ugly, blue – any word that we can use to describe a noun.

Remember not to get adjectives confused with adverbs.

Adverbs are words that modify verbs. They normally end in -ly, and allow us to better understand an action. For example, we might say that someone ran ‘quickly’ or ‘slowly,’ or that someone fought ‘bravely’ or ‘fiercely.’
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