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Understanding the question is more than half way to answering it correctly

Identifying the vital keywords is the key to understanding the questions

Answers to Most Common Questions by Subject Area

Subject Specific

English Comprehension

Main part of the English test is on comprehension. Basically, you have the comprehension section, where the questions range from true and false statements, equivalent words section, choice of descriptive phrases relating to the passage, closest meaning questions, express with your own words questions etc. Then, there are the punctuation and grammar questions, distinct from the comprehension section. Comprehension section revolves round a longish passage taken from a book. Questions on comprehension could account for 70-85% of the total score.

Is there a recommended reading list for the English test?

The answer is simply, no. The passage could come from any book, by any author, be it a novel, literary classic or even documentaries etc. So, no need to waste time trying to compile a list of books for your child to read. Encourage the child to read as much as possible. Get the child to enjoy reading by not restricting his/her repertoire to certain writers or genres.

How should I stimulate the reading process?

It would not bring great benefits to treat each book or story the child reads as an exam piece, where they feel they are obliged to exercise their comprehension and question answering skills. Let them read to enjoy, as this is the best way to get the maximum out of what they read. In any case, the practice papers will take care of the skills they need to develop for the English test. By all means, ask them about the books they just read, get them to tell you parts of the story they enjoyed most, in their own words, casually helping them at each opportunity for better or different choice of words. ‘Casual’ or ‘in passing’ are the operative words here. If the child senses that you are testing them all the time, they may start seeing books as temporary tools to achieve their goal and that could be quite counter productive.

How should we practice for the comprehension test?

Your child’s reading habits and comprehension faculties would obviously have a bearing on this. If your child is a good reader and enjoys variety of writers and genres and can comprehend paragraph after paragraph in one read, that would be an advantage. However, most of the comprehension questions are quite specific to certain parts or even sentences of the story and general understanding would not be sufficient to answer most of the questions. T

herefore, we would recommend that the child skims through the story once to get an idea of where each theme is in the story and then goes back to the story before answering each question, rather than answering from the memory. Many questions may appear to have more than one possible answer and the child will not get marks for any close answers.  Besides, the memory, which is a product of the whole process of growing up, is also full of ideas about rights and wrongs, hard learned opinions about facts of life, value judgements, conditioning etc etc. So, during the process of answering the comprehension questions these fragments of information creep in and the child takes the easy way out by choosing an answer form his/her own experience. However, what is required is what is written in the relevant part of the article, what the author thinks about the subject that may or may not coincide with child's own reckoning. Hence, the child must let the author do the answering, by going back to the relevant section of the passage and checking each time before making a choice, even if this means a question or two is left unanswered due to time restrictions. What really counts is not whether or not the child answers all the questions, but how many questions he/she gets correct.

General tips for answering comprehension questions.

The question categories in the comprehension part of the English tests generally include, true and false statements, equivalent words section, choice of descriptive phrases relating to the passage, closest meaning questions, express with your own words questions etc.

As always, the most important advice to give your child is to read the question carefully and make sure what is asked for is understood.

Understanding the question, though, has two sides to it: Generally understanding what the question relates to and ascertaining the scope of the answer. Some questions need a single answer, while others may ask for more than one option. In most cases, this is emphasised by bold letters. But, this not necessarily the rule and the child should watch out for this. If more than one option needs to be picked, say 3 for instance, and the child, not reading the question carefully, only picks one, 4 percentage points of the overall score for the subject will be lost. If the child finds it hard to pick all 3, he/she can still make an educated guess for the remaining options, rather than leaving them blank. Besides it may be easy to disregard some of the options and the chances of hitting the right options increases greatly.

For most questions that require the children to write the answer in their own words, using the actual question to structure the answer is the preferred method.  Eg.

Question: Why does Mathew feel that he should wait a little longer?

Answer: Mathew feels he should wait a little longer, because...

Another question category asks the children to find the ‘equivalent’ or ‘most closely corresponding’ words from the story to a list of given words. This section may have about 10 words in it and children seem to find the category more difficult. Common mistakes are choosing the correct words from the passage, but for the wrong words in the given list. Getting the child to check the answers once this section is completed and switching words over if necessary may help.

Your child must not be scared to underline, mark, circle any part of the story text while fishing out the answers. This could prove quite useful with certain questions, as demonstrated by the following example:

Question 9 of English paper set by Essex in 2005 reads: “In lines 16-19 how many different houses are described?” The lines 16-19 read: “Nearby houses strained for peculiar grandeurs: [mock, ivy-covered castles with turrets and arrow-slit windows]; [plantation-style villas with white Palladian porticoes]; [soft-cornered adobe bungalows complete with protruding pine roof beams and garland of red jalapeno peppers].

This question produced answers ranging from 2 to 7. If the children divided the text into parts by marking it (as shown with red square brackets), they would realise there are only 3 types of houses mentioned and the rest of the words are adjectives and phrases describing those houses. Another clue to how the text should be divided correctly are the semi-colons ending each section.

Yet another tendency to watch out for is not considering that same words can have different meanings depending on the context they are used in (homograph). When the children asked to write their own word to replace another word from the passage, they sometimes tend to write the first homograph that comes to mind, which could or could not correspond with meaning of the word in the story. Hence the need to go back to the story each time. Eg. “What does ‘individual’ mean (line 27). The child answers: “person”. But, line 27 reads: “All the individual cases of the disease were carefully recorded.” So, the answer should have been; different, separate, distinct etc.

Spelling, grammar and punctuation

On the English test paper, any words or sentences written must have the correct spelling and be grammatically error free. In addition,  there may also be questions to directly test the spelling and grammatical abilities of the children. Ways of improving children’s spelling skills must be devised. We believe most children benefit more if the spelling revision is done in a casual way and gamely fashion. Also what is more rewarding for the child is to see his/her own progress. Punctuation is also a major part in the English test and could count for anything between 10% to 25%. Copying sentences and paragraphs from a book, deleting most of the punctuation marks and asking the child to insert the missing ones is an easy and effective way of revising for this category. However, we must make sure at least two or more pairs of speech marks, as well as a combination of commas, full stops, capital letters, apostrophes, exclamation marks, question marks etc are included.


Maths questions come from a larger pool covering many areas. Simple additions and subtractions, decimals, fractions and percentages, measurements, problem solving, graphs, pie charts, date and time calculations, areas, angles, formulae and equations, geometrical shapes, sequences, symmetry, patterns, averages, probabilities, temperatures etc.

Children achieving average or above average in Maths usually find simple additions, subtractions, divisions, multiplications, coordinates, simple area and perimeter calculations, decimals, fractions etc. quite easy to handle, but these are also the areas where most silly or careless mistakes occur. The child tends, with ‘this one is in the bag mentality’, to rush through such questions, not reading the question properly or without due care for simple arithmetic operations.

I just can’t get my son to understand certain question categories in Maths.

Some Maths question categories on the other hand, are hard for children to understand. This is not due to lack of learning ability, but because some question types like equations, certain problem solving questions, angle calculations, areas of unfamiliar shapes, common denominator calculations, some pie charts may be new concepts, not yet covered by the curriculum or hurriedly passed through.

Let us take the most typical of these; equations:

The first difficulty stems from not getting their head round the new concept. The child may be brilliant with any maths operations using numbers, but as soon as a number is replaced by a variable like x or y, a mental block sets in. Try and substitute x and y with real-life things like apples or marbles, explaining that x and y stand for numbers or values, or a (?) If you like, that needs to be calculated.

Then, there is the difficulty of understanding the actual logistics of equation solving process. Most question types in maths can be made easier to work out and less error prone by applying a specific method that can be adapted to your child's way of thinking. However, the operative phrase here is that the child must be comfortable with it. Here is an example:

6x + 8 = 44

Work out the value of x.

This is an equation. For any given equation you can change numbers round, add subtract, multiply or divide as long as both sides of the equal sign always remain equal. The idea is to leave x on its own on one side, while keeping the equation true. To keep the equation true, we must do to one side of the equation exactly what we intend to do to the other side.

Method 1: What do we have to do to leave x on its own. First, we must get rid of the 8. So, we must take off 8 from the left hand side of the equation (6x + 8 - 8). What do we have to do to make sure the equation is still true: we must do the same to the other side, i.e. subtract 8. So, the equation now becomes: 6x + 8 - 8 = 44 - 8. Next we must simplify the equation by working out the subtraction on both sides. So, 6x = 36. Now we must get rid of 6 from the 6x (remember 6x means 6 times x). But, the rule says we must do the same to the right hand side as well to keep the equation true. We must divide the right hand side with 6 as well. Now the equation becomes: 6x/6=36/6. If we simplify, the sixes on the left side cancel each other out: x=36/6, so x=6.

Method 2: In any equation we can move an item from one side to the other as long as we apply the rules for doing so. What are the rules: We must first move the stand-alone numbers to the other side. Stand-alone numbers would always have either a plus (+) or a minus (-) value. In our example 8 has a + value. When we move one of these to the other side of the equation we must change its sign (+ becomes - and - becomes +). So our equation becomes: 6x=44-8, which is 6x=36. Now we have to move 6 to the other side so that x is left on its own. 6 is a multiplication (6 times x). Any multiplication when moved to the other side becomes a division, and visa versa (any division when moved on to the other side becomes multiplication). So our 6 in front of the x moves to the other side as a division. Equation now becomes: x=36/6. Hence, x=6

What if my son still doesn’t get it?

As a general rule, if the child does not comprehend the dynamics of a question category, in most cases dwelling on the subject would be counter-productive. Switching to another category the child feels more confident with and returning to the topic on a later date would be a better approach. Again, before hastily deciding that this is an area you have to give a miss, make sure it is not the method that is lacking. In the last analysis, it is not the end of the world and the child can still achieve a high score without it.

My child does really well with most maths questions, but has a mental block on certain problem solving questions.

This is another category which may confuse the child, especially when the wording of the question serves a dual purpose. In other words, some problem solving questions are worded to measure not only the mathematical skills of the child, but also their ability to sieve through a cluster of information to work out the answer. Again, feeling free to mark, scribble, deface any part of the exam paper, without actually interfering with the space where the answer should go, can come to the rescue.

If you can get your child into the habit of underlining the key words in the question and to concentrate on these words it may aid the thought process. Underline the words that show what facts are given and what is actually required. The rest of the words are just filling words and once the child reads the whole question and grasps the overall picture, concentrating on the ‘given’ and the ‘asked’ usually works to disperse the clouds. In some cases in fact, you may even have extra information in the question that has no bearing in the calculations.

Also, get your child into the habit of assuming that the question is quite simple, as with such questions children tend to expect the worst, while more often than not, quite the opposite may be the case. Eventually though, if the answer is not readily forthcoming, more complicated permutations should be considered.

My daughter is very good in maths, but she makes so many silly mistakes.

Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. The children in their haste to answer the questions quickly try to rely on mental maths too heavily with sometimes heart breaking consequences. No matter how good a child is in mental maths, there are some calculations that must be worked out on the paper. No problem doing products that fall within the times table, simple adding, subtracting etc.in their heads, but short divisions, products outside the times table for instance, are best done on paper. Also, there are those categories of questions where method must be marked out, tabled or steps should be displayed. Otherwise, not only these silly mistakes will keep creeping in, but also child's mind will endure extra stress that may have a diverse effect on performance. Transfer the burdening information on to the paper so that the mind can concentrate on the problem solving.  We must not forget that the 11 Plus exams would last about 2.5 hours and the children get extremely tired towards the end of the process and even saving a tiny ounce of mental energy may make all the difference at the end.

Verbal Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning in most regions is the major component of the 11 Plus selection process effecting the outcome. In fact in some LEAs Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning and even Verbal Reasoning alone are the only tests.

This is also the area most alien to children, as it is not a topic which is part of the curriculum, unless the school chooses to make special arrangements to accommodate it. However, verbal reasoning is also a type of subject area that lends itself more readily to the methodological approach. Yes, there are methods and techniques you can apply to almost all question categories in this subject, making it possible in many cases for the children to speedily become quite competent in this field. In fact the children would be totally lost and would not know where to start without using some kind of method in some question categories. Hence, equating such tests to IQ tests, as done by some ‘self-learned professors’ in the market, would be a gross shortsightedness and unfair to the underlying philosophy of the Verbal reasoning tests.

Verbal Reasoning tests measure a wide range of reasoning and deductive skills. Verbal Reasoning has about 25 main categories of questions, ranging from words with opposite meaning, closest words, compound words, incomplete words, jumbled words, hidden words, sums, letter series, number series, words vs codes, arranged words, true statement, jumbled sentences, unrelated words, word pairs with a missing letter, number coded words etc. Then, there are those questions where you need to move a letter from one word to another to make two new words or completing sentences with a choice of given pair of words etc. The list goes on.

After a few practice papers, the children begin to get familiar with different question types. Showing the techniques of answering varying question categories and asking them to use the methods every time could make the difference. With some questions marking the method on the paper could also prove to be decisive. However, we must also make allowances for the children to modify the methods to suit their own styles, provided that it brings real results.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

This is another form of test used in some 11 Plus regions. What distinguishes Non-Verbal Reasoning from Verbal reasoning is the lack of ‘words’. Instead, relationships and permutations in the Non-Verbal Reasoning papers are restricted to icons, symbols, illustrations, patterns, shapes etc. This test predominantly measures children’s practical intelligence.

However, there are also close correlations between certain categories of Verbal Reasoning questions and the configuration of the Non-Verbal Reasoning papers. For example, the pattern sequences of the NVR are basen on similar reasoning of the letter or number series of VR.The pairs of letters connections of the VR can be resembled to analogies of the NVR, where you first need to determine the relationship between a pair of shapes, and applying the same relationship you spot the answer. There are also questions in NVR test, when you are asked to find the figures or shapes not following a certain pattern, as in the case of unrelated words category of VR.  The patterns and codes questions in NVR follow a similar logic to ‘number codes and words’ questions in VR.

While some questions require the children to focus on the details of individual patterns, answers for others may be more readily spotted by the bird’s eye view of the whole sequence. Sometimes actually turning the test paper to view each item may help, as in the case of ‘rotational symmetry’ or ‘congruent shapes’ questions of Maths tests.


Vocabulary is the most important single area that will have a great bearing not only for the English test, but also for the Verbal Reasoning. We must device different ways of enhancing children’s vocabulary. You could for example write the words on pieces of card with the meaning or equivalent/opposite on the other site. You could play a game to see who will get the most words right, giving one mark for each meaning, opposite or equivalent for the card picked at random. Ask your child to read an article or a passage from a book, then ask them to tell you the main points of the story in their own words, helping them at each opportunity for a better choice of word. Get your child to learn animal names, animal genders, collective-nouns, names of animal offspring, male or female animals, animal homes etc. You can find sections dedicated to these in some dictionaries or you can search the Internet.


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