11+ Essay Writing
Independent School Essay Writing Next Page.
With thanks to various 11+ Forum members, particularly Freya, for their helpful posts on this topic.
Children often feel that the essay element of the 11+ is a monumental task, and parents preparing them for it often feel the same way! We hope that the advice on this page will help your and your child to break the task down into manageable pieces, and also provide you with some useful shortcuts.
On this section you will also find advice on essay writing from an 11+ veteran who took several Independent School exams. The advice given is particularly helpful for longer essays and for more challenging topics and tests.
The essay test may be as little as 20 minutes or as long as 50 minutes, and may be factual or fiction. There is usually a choice of titles, but it is important to check the type of topics that have come up in the tests for each school in the past. There are some examples below of essay titles that have come up in past 11+ tests around the country to get you started.
Examiners in different areas may have different priorities. In some areas they will mainly be interested in the content of the work, rather than demanding good spelling or punctuation. In other areas accurate grammar, punctuation and spelling may be required as well. All examiners will be looking for one key thing: the “beginning, middle and end” that most children find so difficult to achieve in essays.
If your child does not excel at fiction writing and you know for certain that they will have a choice of factual or fiction topics, you could focus on developing their ability to write a persuasive factual essay rather than battling uphill with creative writing.
Learning good planning technique is essential to success in an 11+ essay. The elements that need to be planned are:
- Who are the characters? Can you describe them?
- Where is the story set?
- What is the plot – what will happen in the story?
- How will the story begin?
- What will happen in the middle?
- How will it end?
With very limited time for planning an essay in the 11+ a child must learn to make rough notes on all of these points within a very tight timescale. In some areas the children are given 5 minutes specifically to plan their essay, but in other areas that time is included in the time allotted for the whole task, and speed is critical.
Building up a “bank” of characters and settings that your child can fall back is well worth doing. Typical characters might be: a criminal; an old lady; a spooky person; a scary man, a nice friend, etc. Settings might include: A rocky seashore; a dark wood; an old, empty house, etc.
To develop the “beginning, middle and end” balance, you can work out how much your child is likely to write in the allotted time and then start to rule 3 sections on their page, one short one, a longer one and a third short one. They then have to complete the “beginning” within the space allowed in the first section, fit the middle into the longer section and the ending must take up the whole of the last section
Even after extensive practice a child may still find that they are running out of time. It is well worth preparing some “emergency endings”, and never, ever falling back on the stock phrase: “And then I woke up and realised it was all a dream”. It is an ending that makes the hearts of teachers and examiners sink to their boots!
Plenty of adjectives and adverbs will make for interesting writing, and you can help your child to make “stock lists” of appropriate words for different settings. For example, if the story is a “spooky” story, help them to think of dark, scary adjectives and adverbs.
As time goes on it is also worth helping a child come up with “stock phrases” that can fit into almost any essay, such as:
- Linking mood to weather: Tears like the rain/waterfalls; Eyes bruised like dark clouds; Heart beating as raindrops thundered; Eyes twinkling like dew on fresh grass.
- Descriptions of surroundings: Sweet, cloying scent; Patchwork of autumn leaves – vibrant reds, ochres, etc; Shafts of sunshine dappling; Trees whispering to each other; Angry water seething and boiling.
- Descriptions of being frightened: Being chased, hiding and anticipating being found.
For creative writing, the topics set for 11+ essays tend to have the same common themes, and it is worth having a “stock” story that can be used in each of these settings:
- Being lost, scared or alone
- Doing something exciting or achieving something (’the best day of my life was . . . ’)
- Taking a holiday
- Having an adventure
- Being in a city or in the countryside
These are topics that have come up on past 11+ papers around the country, with a few additional titles contributed by our 11+ Forum members:
- A surprising spy
- Break time at school
- Write a story about a lost key
- Is life too hectic to enjoy fully?
- My favourite memories
- A farewell party
- An attempted robbery
- It was a while before I realised my cat could talk
- Moving Houses
- I don’t know what that noise was …..
- The new pupils
- The storm
- The Burglary
- My Brilliant Idea
- Visiting Relatives
- The Balloon
- The school rules
- A place that inspires you
- Your favourite day out
- Are Jamie Oliver’s new school dinners a good idea.
- What makes a good friend?
- Describe the scene and the activities at a bus station.
- What are your reactions to discipline? How far is it necessary both at home and at school?
- How does the life of your generation differ from that of your grandparents?
- Discuss the good and bad effects of competition in modern life
- Is life too hectic to enjoy fully?
Independent School Essay Writing Next Page.
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’!
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.
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.
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 )
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.
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