11 Plus vocabulary – How to build a rich vocabulary

November 15, 2021

We have supported over 50,000 children through their 11 Plus exams over the last 18 years. One of the elements that benefit children the most is having a rich vocabulary. There are many verbal reasoning and English questions that focus on synonyms, antonyms or interpreting the meaning of a text. All of these require a strong knowledge of words.

Find out how you can help your child with the exam with our handy 11 Plus vocabulary guide.


Student studying for his 11 Plus exam


11 Plus vocabulary list

Have a look at some of the words used in CEM 11 Plus and GL exam boards over recent years. It would be possible to list many thousands of words but the selection below gives you a taste of the kind of unusual language your child might encounter.

Would your child know what these words mean?

abhorrent impeccable jocular rancour embellish
banal frivolous intrepid porous frail
stout emulate placate cantankerous meagre
dawdle ample commotion stagnant vague


Why is it important to demonstrate strong vocabulary in the 11 Plus exam?

The 11 Plus English exams can come in a variety of formats, depending on the local area and the school requirements. However, they will include sections on creative writing, spelling and comprehension. For writing and comprehension tasks, having a wide and rich vocabulary will help your child succeed.


11 Plus spelling and vocabulary

The 11 Plus English exam requires your child to:

  • Recognise errors
  • Identify terms


11 Plus verbal reasoning vocabulary

The 11 Plus verbal reasoning section of the exam relies on a strong vocabulary that goes beyond the primary curriculum. 

Verbal reasoning includes:

  • Word problems
  • Vocabulary knowledge of synonyms, antonyms and analogies


11 Plus synonyms and antonyms

In the exam, your child may need to write in a variety of styles including letters, diaries, essays, articles and continued texts. They will also need to analyse a variety of texts including poetry, play scripts, descriptive and narrative texts. Recognising lots of synonyms and antonyms will help them with both comprehension and being creative in their writing. 

  • Synonym: A word that has the same meaning as another word of phrase.
  • Antonym: A word that has an opposite meaning to another word.


Students raising their hands to answer a question in the classroom

How can I help enrich my child’s vocabulary?

Explore some of the ways you can help your child improve their 11 Plus vocabulary…


Read, read and read

Words tend to stick when you read them or hear them being used. So the top thing to do to build your vocabulary is read, read, read (and when you’re not reading – listen to some audiobooks!)


Variety is the spice of life

Reading material should be as varied as possible. Mix fiction and non-fiction, try out different authors, genres, books from different cultures and definitely get acquainted with the classics. Check out our 11 Plus reading list to get you started.


Download our 11 Plus reading list 



The classics have the answers

11 Plus exams are often known for presenting children with words that are rarely used today but if you pick up a book by Arthur Conan Doyle you’ll probably find them all!


Link reading to popular TV shows and films

Reading should be engaging and entertaining. You want to keep the love of reading alive so work to find books that pique your child’s interest. Sometimes finding a book related to something they’ve recently watched on TV or a film can be a good entry into it.


Create 11 Plus vocabulary cards

Encourage your child to create a working vocabulary list of new words that they come across. Look up meanings in the dictionary and write this down.


Check out new words in a thesaurus 

Since many vocabulary questions are linked to identifying words of the same or opposite meaning it’s really good to look them up in a thesaurus and record some synonyms and antonyms alongside them.

Use your new found words

Challenge yourself and your child to use new words as soon as possible. Who can get it into conversation first. Can they use it in their writing today?


Play 11 Plus vocabulary games

There are so many great word games you can play as a family such as Scrabble, Bobble and Bananagrams that keep vocabulary acquisition fun. You might encourage your child to try daily word searches, crosswords and try out some vocabulary apps such as Word Cookies and Wordscapes. 


Use 11 Plus vocabulary worksheets and practice papers

Practicing answering the types of English and vocabulary questions that may come up in the exam can help your child to become comfortable with the format, whilst getting familiar with new words along the way. 

Our free 11 Plus learning resources include practice questions and papers to get you started.


 A school aged girl reading about 11 Plus vocabulary in the classroom


Best vocabulary practice books for 11 Plus

Looking for some more help and resources to stretch their vocabulary? 

Try some of these books:

  • Warhorse – Michael Morpurgo
  • Charlotte’s Webb – E.B White
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy   
  • Rose McGowan – 11 Plus Vocabulary

Or, check out our recommended primary school reading list for children.


Best 11 Plus vocabulary apps to try

If your child responds better to digital learning formats, try these vocabulary apps:

  • Word of the Day by Vocab Ninja (free for Apple)
  • Word Cookies (Apple and Google Play)
  • Wordscapes (Apple and Android)
  • Vocabulary Builder by Magoosh (free for Apple and Android
  • 11+ Vocab Builder by Eleven Plus Exams (£3.99 for Apple)


Preparing for 11 Plus vocabulary tests

Another way to boost their vocabulary ready for the exam is to get them some 11 Plus tutoring support. An expert 11+ tutor can help to build their confidence with English and challenge them with tailored learning content and advice. Whether it’s in a small group setting or individual tutoring online – a tutor can help them tackle any difficulties and give them the best chance of success.


11 Plus at Explore Learning

Of course there is more to exam preparation than just developing a rich and strong vocabulary. At Explore Learning we’ve developed a comprehensive curriculum tailored to the requirements of your local school entrance exams. Work with dedicated tutors to practise speed, hone accuracy and master exam techniques. 

A tutoring session at Explore Learning


If your goal is to pass the 11 Plus, Explore Learning can support you every step of the way into grammar school. Find out more about our 11 Plus exam tuition.


Try Explore for free

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