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Reading comprehension: top tips for 11 plus tests


I asked children in my reading comprehension class to share their top tips for attempting a reading exam paper. Wow! Great ideas.


Here you’ll find a mixture of my top tips and theirs. If you have any of your own, please do let me know!


Read to the end of this post: here you’ll find a list of tricky, keywords often seen in exam papers. See if you know what they mean.


What to do when you first see the text and questions.

There are two ways to approach this. Either:

1) Read the questions first, then the text. Annotate the text at the side with short one- or two-word notes. For example, this can be about a change in time, place or character.


2) Read the text first and annotate with key information. Then, read the questions.

What to do when you read a question.

1) Remember, every comprehension paper is testing your understanding of the text.

2) Underline command words: Who, What, Where, When, Why.

3) Take note of phrases. For example, ‘In your own words’. This means using NO direct quotes and re-phrasing evidence from the text.

4) Note how much of the text you need to consider in your answer. The question might say ‘Using the whole text’ or ‘Using lines X to X’.

5) Go back to the text for EACH question. Do not rely on your memory.

6) For standard written questions (not MCQs), use full sentences, unless the question says, for example, ‘Choose ONE word’ or ‘Choose TWO adjectives’.

7) Questions often come in order. So, the evidence for the first few questions may well come at the beginning of the text.

8) Double check the marks given for each question. This will show you how many pieces of evidence you will need.

9) If you are stuck on a low mark question, move on. You may well be able to answer a higher mark question really well.


Multiple choice questions (MCQ).

  1. Go back to the text. Here your annotations will help you quickly locate relevant parts of the text.
  2. Eliminate the answer options in the question that it is definitely not. You might then be left with two options that sound similar.
  3. Take your time (you will increase speed as you revise more). Re-read the questions again to make sure exactly what you are looking for.
  4. Go back to the text and find the section that supports the question.
  5. Read the sentence before this and after this (for context).
  6. Only put your answer once you have carefully considered both options left.

Standard answer questions (written).

1) Read the section above, ‘What to do when you read a question.

2) In addition to this, there may be 3-mark or 6-mark questions that require using the Point Evidence Explain (PEE) structure. Unless a question says, ‘In your own words’, you will usually need to accurately use direct quotes from the text.


For example, this 3-mark INFERENCE question is based on the modern fiction book, The Island at the End of Everything, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.


Question (inference question for 3 marks):

Using evidence from the text extract above, how might the men feel about the narrator?


(POINT) The men might feel that the narrator is unclean and maybe infectious.

(EVIDENCE) This is indicated by the quotes, “they cover their noses and mouths with cloths” and “they duck”.

(EXPLAIN) This suggests that they are keeping out of the way of the narrator.


Or, this question may be slightly longer and offer 6 marks. I this case, repeat the PEE structure twice: PEE + PEE.

Question (inference question for 6 marks):

Using the whole text, how does the writer make you think that the narrator is well or unwell? Explain your answer using evidence from the text.


(POINT) The narrator talks of the boatmen acting as if she/he is unclean in some way.

(EVIDENCE) This is indicated by the quotes, “they cover their noses and mouths with cloths” and “they duck”.

(EXPLAIN) This suggests that they are keeping out of the way of the narrator.

(POINT) Also, the boatmen burn the boat and the narrator’s house has also been burnt.

(EVIDENCE) This is shown in the quote, “They will burn the boat when they get back, as they did your house.”

(EXPLAIN) This implies that the narrator is so infectious that everything they come into contact with must be destroyed.


Keywords from exam papers

compare, technique, explain (fully), react, summary, statement, atmosphere, contrast, purpose, effective, comparison, quotations, function, select, impression, phrase AND sequence.