Countdown to the 11+ exam: Comprehension

The Bond Countdown to the 11+ exam series offers step-by-step guides to answering key 11+ exam questions.

Testing understanding of the meaning of words in comprehension extracts is a common question type in 11+ English exams.

The purpose is to assess your child’s level of vocabulary and their ability to apply their knowledge of words to a given context.

Your child will be expected to read a comprehension passage to gain clear understanding of the majority of the content, but also to work out the meaning of more complex words or phrases. Where several options for word meanings are supplied, your child is required to select the most appropriate one.

Let’s take a look at the questions below for some examples of 11+ question styles.

Read the following passage and answer the question below:

They had a pleasant ramble that day over grassy downs and along narrow by-lanes, and camped, as before, on a common, only this time the two guests took care that Toad should do his fair share of work. In consequence, when the time came for starting next morning, Toad was by no means so rapturous about the simplicity of the primitive life, and indeed attempted to resume his place in his bunk, whence he was hauled by force. Their way lay, as before, across country by narrow lanes, and it was not till the afternoon that they came out on the high-road, their first high-road; and there disaster, fleet and unforeseen, sprang out on them—disaster momentous indeed to their expedition, but simply overwhelming in its effect on the after-career of Toad.

Which of the following is the best antonym for ‘primitive’?

  • basic
  • modern
  • happy
  • mystery

Answer: modern

Explanation: This question is testing that children understand that antonym means 'opposite' and that they have sufficient knowledge of the word ‘primitive’ to identify which of the options is opposite in meaning. If your child does not immediately know that the word with the closest opposite meaning to ‘primitive’ is ‘modern’, then they should rule out those which would not make sense. ‘Basic’ means the same as ‘primitive’, so this would not be correct. We know that Toad is not feeling enthusiastic about his experience, so ‘happy’ would not apply and ‘mystery’ is a noun, not an adjective. For that reason, it would not fit grammatically.

Can you find the simile in this extract?

‘At this time I used to stand in the stable and my coat was brushed every day till it shone like a rook’s wing’

Answer: my coat was brushed … till it shone like a rook’s wing

Explanation: a simile compares two different things, drawing a likeness between them to make a description clearer or more vivid. This is the only example in the extract that says something is like something else. ‘Like’ and ‘as’ are common words found in similes.

Helping at home:

  • Begin by encouraging your child to read from a broad variety of genres and to explore different topics to broaden their vocabulary base. Encouraging your child to read widely will not only help prepare them for the 11+ exam, but any future assessment. It will also help them develop better communication skills. You can also use your child’s spelling lists from school to reinforce word meaning and association.
  • Develop their familiarity with definitions of grammatical terms that are likely to appear in the 11+ exam questions, for example 'antonym', 'synonym', 'metaphor', 'alliteration' and so on. Bond’s 11+ English Handbook includes worked examples, or try an 11+ English sample quiz with Bond Online for free.
  • Encourage your child to read each question thoroughly, so that they are sure what is expected of them. If they rush into responding, they may be misled by distractors intentionally placed to cause confusion.
  • If your child doesn’t immediately know the meaning of a word, it’s important they take the time to eliminate the options they are sure about first. They should read the passage a couple of times: once for the overall gist and a second time to better grasp the context of the passage, and start to focus on the words or phrases that relate to the question. They can then discount the answer options that could not apply.
  • If they have tried to eliminate incorrect options and they’re still unsure, they shouldn’t be afraid to make a sensible guess. They will have a better chance of getting something right this way than if they don’t provide any answer. In this case, remind your child not to dwell on the question for too long as this is a timed exam and they may miss out on other questions in the paper. They should give it their best try, then move on to the next question.

Jane Bayliss

About the Author:

Jane Bayliss has 18 years of experience tutoring pupils for their 11plus exam. She has authored two verbal reasoning books in the Bond series in addition to writing content for Bond Online.

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