Comprehension Tips – 11 Plus

Here are some useful tips when taking your 11+ English Exam.


1. Before reading the text of the passage, read as many of the questions as you can. You might think this will slow you down, but in fact it doesn’t. It helps you to focus on the important parts of the passage when you read it.

2. Then read the passage: if you see something that you have read in the questions quickly mark the place in the margin with the number of the question.         

3. If you find yourself losing concentration – stop; take several deep breaths before carrying on. It’s important to read the passage carefully. It my help you to focus if you follow the words with your finger or pencil.

4. The passage is usually been taken from a book. ALWAYS read the name of the book. You will usually find this at the end with the name of the author. There may be a clue in it for the place or time.

5. Underline names when they appear. You are likely to be asked about the characters in the piece when answering the questions. If you underline the names you will find them more easily later.

6. Underlining names will also help you to use them if you are asked to continue the story in the composition.

7. Highlight or underline important words or phrases – but don’t underline everything!

8. If you don’t understand the meaning of a word try to read on to see if you can work it out. Do not get stuck . If you can’t work it out move on. 

9. When looking for answers in the text remember the questions usually come in order. This means you should find the answers to the first five or so questions at the beginning of the passage, the middle questions in the middle and the last questions nearer the end of the passage.

10. Be aware of the number of marks for each question. Always try to answer the questions with the most marks. It makes sense!


1. It’s OK to answer 1 mark questions with a single word or short phrase. Don’t waste too much time on the low mark questions. You don’t need to write out a full sentence it takes too long.

2. Look at the marks. With questions worth 2 or 3 marks you need 2 or 3 parts to your answer. These are usually straight forward questions like:

When the ship first started sinking what happened? (3 marks)

You are looking for 3 things that happened and you should write your answer as a full sentence. Your answer might read:

A. When the ship started sinking the siren went off (1), the people started gathering on deck (2) and the crew began launching the lifeboats (3).

3. High-mark questions: 5 or 6 marks+ are designed to test in-depth comprehension or understanding of the passage. You must have a go at these questions. They are usually near the end. This is how to answer them:


1. Make your point (1 mark).

2. Give an example to support your point from the text (1 mark).

3. Explain why you are using the example to back up your point (1 mark).

For example, if the question is:

Question: What indications are there that lifeboats were in danger of sinking? (6 Marks)

Make your point: The boat was full of people and the sea was rough.

Find an example in the text: “The water was splashing over the sides and slopping around their feet.”

Explain: When a boat is overloaded it sits low in the water and the waves splashed into it. If it starts filling up the boat will sink.

But remember you need 6 marks remember and you only have 3 so far!

So find another point: The people aboard the boat were upset and calling for help.

Another example: “A woman burst into tears and her husband comforted her.”

Another explanation: The people in the boat wouldn’t have been upset if they knew they were safe.

If you do this you will have 6 marks!                                                                                                     


Remember Comprehension means Understanding. The examiners want to know if you have understood the question as well as the passage.

Watch out for these key phrases in the questions and answer them correctly:

1. ‘in your own words’

2. ‘with reference to the passage’

3. ‘use evidence from the passage to support your answer’

If you see any of these in question then watch out! This is what they mean and how to answer them:

1. ‘in your own words’: rephrase the relevant part of the passage, but do NOT quote or use the words used in the text.

For example, if the text says: ‘The ship’s captain was a strong, silent man with a neat white beard and the crystal blue of the sea in his eyes.’

Don’t write:  ‘The captain was strong and silent with a neat white bread and his eyes were crystal blue like the sea.’

Why? Because you have used silent, crystal, strong, white and sea in your answer.

Try to make it more you: ‘The captain hardly ever spoke. He was a big man with a clipped beard that covered his chin like snow and his eyes were clear and pale blue like the sea.’

2.  ‘with specific reference to the passage’: they want actual references or reasons using evidence from the words in the text.

For example, don’t just say: the ship was sinking, say, the ship was sinking because of something (give the precise reason why). You can use words from the passage here, but remember to put speech marks if you use the exact words.

So your answer could be written:

either: The ship was listing badly to starboard and sinking because it had hit an iceberg and had was holed under the waterline. (words taken from the text: listing, starboard, holed, waterline).

or: The ship was, “Listing to starboard and sinking,” because it had been, “Holed beneath the waterline by an iceberg.”

3.  ‘use evidence from the passage to support your answer’: When answering this question always quote from the passage as in the second example above.

REMEMBER to look at the number of marks: you may need more than one example and/or quote for the answer.                                                                                                                    

© Yellowbird Education. Exam Help 11+ English 3.