“How should I use your papers to prepare for an 11+ English exam?”

Here I answer a common question from a customer

Confusing 11+
Robert Lomax
Robert is a teacher and educational author. His books and online materials are popular in the UK and internationally. For a full biography, click here.

I would like some advice on how to complete your comprehension papers with my child. He has three months until his exam, and I would like to know how to spread the papers out in order that he can complete them in time and make the best use out of them, as ideally I want him to have completed both packs.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this article in the dark days before 11 Plus Lifeline. The books mentioned here are still as relevant as they always were … but now there’s more RSL Educational comprehension material than ever!

D ear Sameena,

The first thing I would say is that it is important to work carefully, rather than rushing to complete everything. It is more important that your son learns from his mistakes and successes than that he completes every paper: rushed work tends to involve reinforcing errors rather than correcting them.

I would start with papers 1 and 2 of Volume 1. If these are fairly successful, I would move on through the pack. If, on the other hand, your son finds them difficult, you can use papers 1 and 2 from Volume 2, which are similar. Work through Volume 1 like this, then complete any papers from Volume 2 which have not yet been used.

It is very useful for a child to repeat answers or whole papers which they found difficult, consulting the mark scheme as they make their second attempt. Skills and knowledge really sink in when they are repeated. My materials are designed for careful, slow work, rather than speedy exam practice (of course you can use them in timed conditions, but this doesn’t make the most of the detailed feedback provided).

About a month from the examsif the basic skills are in place, it is worthwhile to start practising timed papers. I don’t know which schools you are applying to, but they will probably publish their own past papers. If not, schools such as Manchester GrammarSt Paul’s Girls and Habs’ Boys have lots of papers online.

I have some advice about how to develop exam timing skills here.

Also, don’t neglect your son’s creative writing. As a guide, around 1.5 pages of A4 lined paper is a suitable length for an exam-style story. He should focus on being descriptive and interesting, rather than recounting tales of goals or explosions!

The most useful pieces of advice I can give for creative writing (it is impossible to do justice to this in a brief email) are to use as many of the senses as possible (touch, taste, etc.), avoiding the most obvious one in a given situation; and to pay special attention to punctuation, above all else the placement of commas and full stops. There is much more creative writing advice in this article.

As a final comment, in my experience too much preparation can make a child so bored of the whole process that they don’t really want to succeed any more. Therefore it’s important to strike a balance between encouraging your son to work, and letting him play and enjoy his life.

I hope that helps.

Best wishes,


This video shows how to use my 11+ resources most effectively. There’s lots of English advice, relevant to this blog post.

I recommend watching it with the sound on. You can also choose to view it in fullscreen mode.

If you found this post useful or have a question, please leave a comment below! I’d love to have your feedback. (Tick the “Receive email updates” box to receive an email when I reply.)

For the most comprehensive range of resources to help with preparation for the 11+ exam, you might like to try 11 Plus Lifeline (with a money-back guarantee in the first month). Every practice paper has full example solutions, with a detailed discussion and explanation for every question – like being taught by an excellent private tutor.

According to Tutorful, it’s “the gold standard for independent and grammar school 11-plus preparation”.

If you’d like further advice about DIY 11-plus preparation, my free video series gives some helpful pointers, and comes with an extensive set of free RSL practice papers, example answers and solutions:


  1. Robert

    If you have a question, ask me here and I’ll do my best to help!

    • Fahima Nasrin

      Very thoughtful advice

  2. fazal gul

    You touched upon some interesting facts, the key issue i find is reading, my son does not read a lot and therefore finds it a little challanging now, with 3 months left, how many comprehensive pieces do you recommend he does in a week? I am aware though that Quality over quantity is essential.


    • Robert

      Hi Fazal! The answer really is in your last sentence. You need to judge a rate of work that is best for your child’s learning and their patience (which can be two sides of the same coin). Even one comprehension a week is good, if a child goes over it in detail, repeats questions they find confusing, and learns a lot from it. Some children benefit most from careful, meticulous work like this; other children need a stream of new challenges to keep them motivated.

  3. Obi

    My son hates reading…it’s a huge challenge to encourage Him to read regularly.
    Subsequently I am aware his comprehension is lacking.

    Where do I even begin to help him improve his skills? Is it sufficient to work through various comprehension texts to give him exposure? Or is there any way I can encourage him to read more regularly?
    ( he is perfectly capable of reading, he just doesn’t enjoy it).

    • Robert

      This isn’t something in which I have a lot of expertise. My main suggestion is to find things that he enjoys reading, even if they aren’t very high-brow! Anything that makes reading a positive experience is worth encouraging in this situation. This reading list might offer some ideas: https://www.femketuition.co.uk/blog/reading-list

      Good luck!


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