11 Plus Essay Tips

If your child is preparing for the 11+, they may well have to take a written English paper as part of the test. This varies from area to area. Some regions don’t set a writing task at all; others do, but use it only as a decider in the case of borderline students, while in other areas, it’s a vital part of the exam. We asked 11+ tutor Anita Clemens, who has been helping children prepare for the creative writing task for 20 years, for her words of wisdom.

Know what you’re writing about

The type of task your child will have to do for their creative writing test will depend on which region you’re in. ‘Typically, they will need to produce a leaflet, letter, newspaper report, review, story, script or diary entry,’ says Anita.

In some areas, children are given a choice of which subject or type of writing to tackle, but in others, there is one set task, which children won’t know about until they open their exam paper. ‘It’s essential that children produce a piece of writing that fits both the title and the topic,’ Anita says. ‘For instance, if they’re asked to write a newspaper report but write a story, they will be heavily penalised.’

It’s a good idea for your child to practise writing in a range of styles, especially as they may not have covered them all in depth at school. ‘Play scripts, for example, are usually covered in Year 4, and unless they practise in the interim, children may have forgotten the conventions by the time they take the 11+,’ explains Anita.

Read widely

Being an extensive reader is one of the secrets to success for the English writing task. ‘Reading across a wide range of genres helps children to develop their vocabulary, knowledge of writing conventions and sentence structure,’ says Anita. ‘Children who don’t read for pleasure are at a real disadvantage in their English skills by 11+ age.’

Use the planning time wisely

Children in some areas are given an additional 10 minutes’ planning time before they start their written task, while in others, they’ll need to allocate their own time to planning from the overall time allowance. In either case, it’s essential that your child does take the time to put together a proper plan, with written notes and a clear structure. ‘Children generally need to be taught to plan, so that they come up with a solid overall plan rather than a vague idea that leads to them wandering off the point,’ Anita explains.

Be original – but not too original!

Eleven plus examiners will want to see that your child has good ideas, so encourage them to think of an original twist on the subject matter they’re given. ‘But while their interpretation should be original, it shouldn’t be so off the wall that they don’t get anything done because they’ve made their idea overly complicated and are thinking too hard about it,’ Anita advises. 

Use sophisticated language and sentence structures

One of the key things that 11+ examiners are looking for is an excellent standard of written English. ‘They will want your child’s spelling, punctuation and grammar to be correct, or very nearly correct,’ says Anita. ‘Your child needs to demonstrate a wide vocabulary, a variety of punctuation and use of complex sentence structures, not just simple ones.’

Show off your best handwriting

First impressions count, and children who produce neat work and create a good overall impression at first glance tend to get better marks in the test. ‘Handwriting must be legible; ideally it should be joined, but if your child struggles with this, it’s better for them to use unjoined script that is clearer to read,’ Anita says.

Write the right amount

There’s no set amount for how much children should write in the English task, but Anita advises aiming for a side of A4. ‘For children with larger writing or bigger spaces between words, this may be more like a side and a half, but children shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that the more they write, the better: it’s more important to produce quality than quantity,’ Anita says.

Check and correct

It’s essential that your child leaves time to read through their work and correct any mistakes. ‘This is a vital part of the writing task,’ says Anita. ‘Also, remind your child that if they find an error, it is always better to correct it: some children are reluctant to alter their work because they don’t like to make it look messy by changing things, but a neatly corrected error is always preferable to leaving a mistake in place.’

Independent School Essay Writing

Tips for English Essay Writing

The following article was written by an Eleven Plus veteran, Kushal Kotecha, who in 2005 gained several offers from all the senior independent schools and the grammar school of his choice: Queen Elizabeth’s School for Boys in Barnet, Hertfordshire which he attends. The article has been added to by contributions from various members of the 11+ forum.

Most senior independent schools require candidate pupils to write an essay as part of their selective entrance exams. Typically the school permits 20 – 30 minutes for the essay, offering up a selection of up to four essay titles. One of these titles often requires the child to continue the story within the comprehension they may have just completed in a previous section, or complete an essay for which the first few lines/paragraph is given or sometimes to write about a personality.

This is actually an amazingly short time to plan and write an essay from scratch, especially one that contains a proper introduction, body and conclusion. If you don’t believe it try one yourself, bearing in mind this essay is written typically by a ten year old at the end of a day in which the prospective pupil has sat Verbal Reasoning, Mathematics, and English comprehension examinations in an intimidating alien hall full of hundreds of other prospective pupils all competing for a limited number of places. One eleven plus veteran described her state as ‘practically brain dead’ by the time it came to writing her essay. However she was grateful her mother had instilled the ‘3Ps’ in her, ‘Preparation, Practice and a Prayer’!

Preparation Overview

A good starting point is to source examples of good short stories written by their peer group, or last year’s successful eleven plus veterans, especially those essays that they wrote in their own preparation. The benefits of this are instant. For instance your child can tangibly identify the three sections of a good essay (‘Introduction, Body, Conclusion’ or ‘Beginning, Middle, End’ respectively) written in a language and a vocabulary they can relate easily to, as well as get the main point of being able to write something interesting yet succinct enough to conclude within the allotted time.

Ask your child to critique these example essays, spot grammatical errors, suggest better vocabulary, spot rambling sentences (like many in this piece of work) and suggest alternative endings. Once you have critiqued a few essays jointly with your child, he or she will be thinking along the right lines, and their mind will be more fertile and focused.

Practice Overview

Begin by exploring permutations of typical titles with your child, initially verbally, trying out a host of endings, introducing additional characters both male and female, changing locations, different times of the day etc. Make sure most of the creative thinking is sourced from the child, by seeking inquisitive opinions. Accolades, encouragement and enthusiasm are the order of the day, since confidence should outweigh doubt in the child’s mind. Making this into a game will make revision more fun, involve other siblings if possible.

The next stage is to start planning essays. There is no ‘industry standard’ for this. Some children will write notes under headers of ‘Introduction, Middle and Conclusion’, others will use memory maps or bubble diagrams. Experiment with your child to see what works best for them. In an examination if your child fails to complete the essay, the examiner may make reference to the plan to see how your child had planned to conclude it, otherwise it is largely ignored.

Writing Overview

The actual practice of essay writing is a slow iterative process. Remember, in the short allotted time, your child has to, at the very least:

* Make a plan
* Complete the essay
* Keep the handwriting legible
* Demonstrate an extensive vocabulary
* Demonstrate a mastery of grammar and punctuation
* Strike a balance between the three sections of the essay
* Trying not to make too much happen whilst keeping the story interesting and flowing

All this is not something that is instantly achievable by the best of ten year old candidates. So practice is essential.

Typical Essay Titles

  • Write a story with Alone as the title, where you suddenly realise that you are on your own. It may be true or entirely made up, but it should include your thoughts and feelings as well as what happened. (Question from Merchant Taylor School , Northwood, London )
  • Write a story (true or made up) about a visit you make to some relations of your own. (Question from Merchant Taylor School , Northwood, London )
  • Write a letter to a cousin inviting him to stay with you. You should try and interest him in some of the varied and unusual activities he can take part in. (Question from Merchant Taylor School , Northwood, London )
  • Describe a situation which you have experienced which might also be called A Magical Moment, showing what your thoughts and feelings are. (Question from Merchant Taylor School , Northwood, London )
  • Write a clear description of an animal you know well. Make sure you describe what it does and how it behaves as well as what it looks like. (Question from Merchant Taylor School , Northwood, London )
  • I prefer Winter to Spring ( Dulwich College , London )
  • The door and what was behind it ( Dulwich College , London )
  • The prince of Darkness is a Gentleman ( Dulwich College , London )
  • Ash on an old man’s sleeve ( Dulwich College , London )
  • My hobby ( Emanuel College , London )
  • Write a story that begins with the words, I had been waiting for such a long time for this to happen ( Emanuel College , London )
  • Write a description of someone you admire. (You may choose someone you actually know, or someone you have never met. Describe them and explain why you admire them.) ( Emmanuel College , London )

Sample Essays

The following sample essays were written by children preparing for their 11-plus selective examinations for entry into senior independent school. Whilst they have been typed out, the original spelling errors, grammatical errors etc have been left in deliberately. You can use these to critique with your child.

Original Essays:

11 Plus Sample Essay 1: Original Version and Corrected Version: Tsunami

11 Plus Sample Essay 2: Original Version and Corrected Version: Alone

11 Plus Sample Essay 3: Original Version and Corrected Version: Ace


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