11 Plus Comprehension Tips: Exam Guide

January 14, 2022

The 11 Plus can feel daunting, not only for our 10 year olds, but also for us parents too! Especially when faced with a raft of question types that neither you or your child have seen before. Luckily 11 Plus comprehension is one area of the exam that you will be more familiar with and can be something you can support your child with at home.

As English is taught as part of the school curriculum, your child should be familiar with many of the comprehension activities covered in the 11 Plus English exams, however, the exams will include higher level questions than they may be used to. Let’s look at ways that you can help. 


11 plus students in the classroom


What are the types of comprehension in the 11 Plus?

There are four types of comprehension questions your child will come across in most 11 Plus English papers:


  • Direct comprehension/ information retrieval
  • Reading for meaning
  • Analytical comprehension
  • Inference comprehension



Understanding the different types of reading comprehension and examples


  1. Direct comprehension/ information retrieval – this is where the exact answer can be found and copied from the passage. Example: In what year did Titanic sink?
  2. Reading for meaning these may ask you to explain the meaning of a word or a phrase. There is often a line number or paragraph reference so you can easily find the word in question. You need to use the information in the sentence or context clues to help you if this word is new to you. Example: What does the phrase ‘at sixes and sevens’ mean?
  3. Analytical comprehension – This is based on information in the passage but will require an explanation. You will need to scan for the relevant paragraph and answer using the P.E.E method – write your point, give your evidence and explain. Example: Why did Annabelle miss school?
  4. Inference comprehension – These are often the trickiest type of question. You need to answer a question based on what is implied in the passage rather than actually written. You need to form an opinion, this might be based on the vocabulary used and/or the tone of the passage. Again using the P.E.E method is a good way to answer these questions. Example: Did John have a good day? Explain why.


Two boys practicing 11 Plus comprehension in the classroom


Common comprehension difficulties and handy solutions

Common challenges that children come across with comprehension are:

  • Misunderstanding the question
  • Being thrown by an unknown word
  • Treating it as a memory test
  • Spending too long answering a question
  • Leaving questions unanswered


You can support your child in the following ways.


Misunderstanding the question

Encourage your child to read the question aloud to you and ask them to highlight the key information they are looking for. What do they think the question is asking them? Do you agree? 


Being thrown by an unknown word

sometimes when children come across a word they don’t know they feel that they can’t answer the question or understand the sentence. However, there’s a lot that we can learn from the other words in a sentence. Encourage your child to ignore the word and tell you what they think the sentence means without it. Often they will have a good enough understanding to answer the questions. 

Treating it as a memory test

Sometimes children will read through the passage once and then answer all the questions without looking back. It’s important for them to know that they should look back over the passage for every question they answer.


Spending too long answering a question

Look at how many marks the question is worth. If it is the same as all the others on the page then you should spend the same amount of time on all of them. If it’s taking too long, move on and come back at the end. 

Also often your first response is the right answer. Sometimes thinking about it for too long can make you more confused.


Leaving questions unanswered

It’s better to have an educated guess rather than nothing at all. Especially if the paper is multiple choice. You can always go back if you have time at the end of the exam and double check your answer.


Students writing in their notebooks


How can I improve my child’s 11 Plus comprehension?


  • Reading together and talking about what you read will have the greatest impact on your child’s comprehension. 
  • Read widely. Include a mix of genres, fiction and non-fiction, old and modern. For a great starting point download our 11 Plus reading list.
  • Follow our tips for building a rich 11 Plus vocabulary.
  • Make a word list. Record new vocabulary in a notebook and try to use new words in your speech or writing each day.


11 Plus English comprehension techniques

There are two types of paper that your child may sit for their 11 Plus exams – Standard Format (where questions are written) and Multiple-choice Format (where a correct answer is selected). There are different techniques required for each exam.


11 Plus comprehension standard format

At Explore Learning we encourage children to follow this tried and tested approach to comprehension when following the standard format. (This is the same approach that we recommend for the SATs). 

  1. Read the passage carefully all the way through.
  2. Read all the related questions.
  3. Go back to the passage and skim read to work out the answers to each question.
  4. Write your answer in complete sentences.
  5. Look at the mark scheme. You will generally be awarded a mark for each point. 
  6. Read back over your answer to make sure it makes sense.


11 Plus comprehension multiple choice

When you complete a multiple choice paper your technique needs to be slightly different. 

  1. Read the passage carefully all the way through.
  2. Read the questions.
  3. Read the whole question before you attempt to choose an answer and think about the answer in your head before looking at the options.
  4. Read all the possible answer choices for each question.
  5. Cross out answers that you know to be incorrect to help consider the options more carefully.
  6. Go back to the passage and skim read to work out the answers to each question.
  7. Don’t leave any question unanswered. Take an educated guess and mark questions for review at the end if there’s time.


11 Plus comprehension books

When looking for material to support your child be sure that it is appropriate for the exam that your child is sitting. Often schools will recommend suitable practice papers and publications. At Explore Learning we offer a range of 11 Plus resources to stretch and challenge your child to be able to tackle all the grammar school exams they will be sitting.


11 Plus comprehension exercises

Little and often is the best approach with all 11 Plus revision. Exercise your brain like a muscle. Try completing 5 comprehension exercises each day. This will make comprehension tasks more familiar, easier to tackle and less daunting in readiness for the exam.


11 Plus comprehension papers and worksheets

Try a variety of paper based activities with different layouts and answer sheets. At Explore we provide members with workbooks, sample papers as well as online resources to provide a varied user experience. This keeps learning fresh and students adaptable if the exam papers they sit look a little different to what they expected.


11 Plus comprehension practice

When preparing for an exam it makes sense to know what your child’s areas of difficulties are. Complete a practice test or paper and mark the question types that they found most tricky. Prioritise these topics in your daily revision.


11 Plus comprehension test

Remember your child’s comprehension skills are not tested in isolation. In most cases this will be included within an 11 Plus English test covering a range of topics such as grammar, vocabulary, punctuation and spelling in addition to comprehension. Mock exams are the best way of testing everything together. 


A young girl reading in a bookshop


More 11 Plus comprehension tips


Undoubtedly comprehension is a life skill that will be vital for your child’s secondary school journey and beyond. Any investment of time you make now will pay off in all areas of your child’s future academic career.

If your child is struggling with any aspect of the 11 Plus journey we have a specialist team that can help. For the last 18 years, we have been preparing children to pass 11 Plus and entrance exams throughout the UK. We have dedicated managers who know exactly what requirements your local grammar schools and independent schools have and the skills your child needs to pass them. 


From creative writing to verbal reasoning – get in touch with Explore Learning’s 11 Plus tuition specialists today for grammar school and 11 Plus English exam in-person or online tutoring support. 


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