Raising your Grades with Grammar
By Sarah Collins
19 Jun

Following the increased emphasis on grammar teaching in recent years, the 11+ and Common Entrance Pre-Tests are now reflecting these changes. With specific exercises targeting grammar (as well as spelling and punctuation) in English and verbal reasoning tests and a clear mark allocation in writing tasks, grammar has never had greater focus.

Since, like many parents, you may not have received a thorough grounding in grammar during your school years, or simply can’t remember the detail, it can be very hard to support children who are revising these skills. This blog will give you some ideas on where to begin and ideas for extra teaching and practice.

1  Why is grammar tested?

Being able to communicate your ideas and understand the ideas of others is a cornerstone to success in all walks of life, which is why so much emphasis is placed on spelling, punctuation and grammar in schools. As children gain confidence in their ability to spell, punctuate text and use grammar, this enables them to concentrate on the creative writing process in English and experience a deeper understanding of the texts they read.

While the 11+ tests assume a competence in these key areas of English, there is also an understanding that children are learning to express their ideas and perfection is not anticipated in the writing tasks. A senior school will look more favourably on a well-planned, clear and imaginatively expressed piece of work with the odd mistake than a dull, though technically correct, piece of writing.

2  How is grammar tested?

Grammar is tested in several different ways in the English 11+:

  1. English comprehension

    1. specific questions about the grammar in the comprehension text

    2. technical questions about the function of certain words in this text

  2. Spelling, punctuation and grammar exercises

    1. a passage of text to correct or rewrite to remove the errors

    2. separate sets of questions focussing on each of these three areas with errors to be highlighted or the correct word to be chosen from a selection.

  3. Cloze exercises

    1. a passage with missing words (or letters within words) for the children to fill in the blanks

    2. unrelated sentences, each with a missing word (or letters within a word) for the children to fill in the blanks.

  4. Verbal reasoning

    1. shuffled sentences for the children to reorder

    2. lists from which to pick out a word that doesn’t relate to the others

    3. sets of words which have something in common.

The following section explains how your child can develop their grammar skills so that they can tackle these exercises with confidence.

3  Developing grammar skills

Parts of speech

If you can name and understand the function of different words in sentences, then you know your parts of speech! Common parts of speech are: nouns, pronouns, abstract nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and conjunctions.

Your child will need to be able to identify these words in sentences and understand their role to answer some questions in English comprehension exercises.   
Understanding the function of words in sentences can help your child to develop both their ability to interpret texts and their creative writing skills. For example…

  • Reviewing the adjectives in a persuasive text or newspaper can reveal the intent of the author.

  • Understanding how to use conjunctions makes it possible to create complex and varied sentences, and convey different moods. 

Talk about particular parts of speech (such as adverbs and adjectives) in a newspaper or magazine article and ask your child to explain what they think are the author’s views.

Some words fall into more than one part of speech and children who are confident and practiced readers are generally better at spotting these words. For example:

noun – The school party eventually arrived at the end of the winding pass.
verb – Anna passed though several villages on her bus journey.   

Verbal reasoning tests frequently include questions that test this knowledge of word usage.  The following question being an example:

Find one word from the list that has a link with the words in both sets of brackets.
warm, light, glow, shade, soft                        (fair, pale)            (lamp, lantern)

The answer is ‘light’. The word is used as an adjective in relation to ‘fair’ and ‘pale’ and a noun in relation to ‘lamp’ and ‘lantern’.

Encouraging your child to read for pleasure using texts they enjoy is the best way to build their knowledge of how words are used in different ways.

Page 36 in the Galore Park 11+ English Revision Guide reviews the different parts of speech, words in fall into more than one part of speech and also provides practice exercises.

Chapter 2: Understanding Word Meaning in the Galore Park 11+ Verbal Reasoning Revision Guide covers a range of Question Types relating to Parts of speech with explanations and practice exercises. Match the meaning on page 32 gives examples and practice of the Question Type shown above.


Words that are often confused

Words like ‘pass’ in the previous section are called ‘homonyms’ – that is, words which look and sound the same but have different meanings (homos = same, nym = name). Children should be able to spot these and some other confusing words.

The other main type of confusing word is the homophone.
‘Homophones’ are words that sound the same but look different and have different meanings (homos = same, phon = sound), for example:

flea, flee
two, too, to

In addition to the different parts of speech, your child will need to be able to identify these words types in sentences to answer some questions in English comprehension exercises. They are also very commonly used in question categories 2–4 listed in Part 2, above.

Understanding how a sentence is constructed is important when choosing the correct homonym or homophone to use. For example, if you are aware that the missing words in this passage are verbs and are also aware of the tense being used, then the correct answers are easy to spot.

Anthony knew / new it was true. He saw / sore the burglars from his office, watching as they entered through the window at the back and leave / left / leaf the same way minutes later.

The answers are ‘knew’, ‘saw’ and ‘left’ – all verbs in the past tense.

Discuss verb tenses with your child in everyday contents, such as instructions, adverts and cereal packets then try changing all the verbs to another tense

Verbal reasoning tests include homonyms and homophones in some of the more challenging questions. The following question being an example:

Choose one word in each set of brackets to complete the sentence in the most sensible way.

Can is to (beverage, will, open) as wallet is to (spend, note, leather)

The answer is ‘beverage’ and ‘note’. ‘Wallet’ can only be a noun, so ‘can’ must also be a noun. Therefore ‘will’ cannot be the answer as it is a synonym* of ‘can’ as a verb. The answer is ‘beverage’ and ‘note’ because a ‘beverage’ is the contents of a ‘can’ and a ‘note’ is kept in a wallet.

*a word similar to

Common homonyms, homophones, synonyms and antonyms can be found on the internet for an age-appropriate level.

Page 22 in the Galore Park 11+ English Revision Guide reviews homophones, homonyms and other commonly confused words and also provides practice exercises.

Chapter 2: Understanding Word Meaning in the Galore Park 11+ Verbal Reasoning Revision Guide covers a range of Question Types relating to homonyms and homophones with explanations and practice exercises. Word analogies on page 30 gives examples and practice of the Question Type shown above.

Types of sentences and clauses

There are three main types of sentence: simple, compound and complex. An understanding of these sentence types and awareness of how to use them can greatly improve the quality of your child’s creative writing. The type of sentence used can change the mood of a piece of writing: short simple sentences can quicken the pace, whilst compound and complex sentences slow the action and are used to provide detail and depth to a text.

Simple sentences contain a single idea:
The herd panicked.
Peacocks cried in the darkness.
Nobody was coming to help.

Compound sentences are simple sentences joined with conjunctions, such as ‘and’, ‘so’ and ‘then’.

The headlights had been turned off and the sedan rolled slowly up the driveway but the crunch of rubber on gravel heralded their arrival.

Complex sentences contain two or more groups of words. There is always one section that makes sense (the main clause) on its own with other clauses ‘parachuted in’. This second type of cause (the subordinate clause) doesn’t make sense on its own.

A main clause is easy to spot because it still works if the subordinate clause or clauses are taken out.

main and subordinate clauses
A wiry figure, invisible until the door flew open, sprung out of the car.
main clause
A wiry figure sprung out of the car.

Have a ‘conversation’ with your child by texting each other and using simple clauses (and no emojis!). Then write some of these sentences down and turn them into compound clauses.

Verbal reasoning tests set exercises where sentences are jumbled up. These exercises can contain compound sentences, for example:

In these muddled sentences there is an extra word. To identify the extra word, work out the sentence that uses all but one of the words, then underline the word.

after cake Mum school we had house the all back to made raced and chocolate as

The answer is ‘and’. The reordered sentence is…

We all raced back to the house after school as Mum had made chocolate cake. 

This is an easy type of question to make up and you and your children can set each other questions like this by jumbling up sentences you have read or made up. Don’t make them too long as you may find there is more than one correct answer!

Page 34 in the Galore Park 11+ English Revision Guide looks at types of sentence and clauses and also provides practice exercises.

Page 40 in the Galore Park 11+ Verbal Reasoning Revision Guide looks at Order the sentence techniques and also provides practice exercises.

4  Supporting grammar skills with spelling and punctuation

You will have seen from the detail in Part 3, that grammar is very closely linked to spelling and punctuation, and this is why these three subject areas are taught and tested together.

  • Words with different functions in sentences often have very similar spellings, such as practise (the noun) and practice (the verb).

  • Clauses in sentences are often marked with commas. For example…

Mum cooks dinner, often something with pasta, when we are doing our homework.

  • Whilst placing commas incorrectly can completely alter the meaning of a sentence!

I’m hungry! Is it time to eat, Mum?
I’m hungry! Is it time to eat Mum?

Although your child will have learned the principles in school, many children can struggle with some basic concepts and structures in grammar. By simply taking a small amount of time to review these skills, your child’s confidence in creating their own creative writing can noticeably improve. In addition, once they begin to introduce a few different techniques, this can enhance the quality of their work and also increase their enjoyment of completing their writing exercises.

As we have noted above, the Galore Park 11+ English Revision Guide covers spelling punctuation and grammar in the first chapter in straightforward language. This chapter brushes up on both simple and some slightly trickier skills to prepare them for working in a variety of genre in the following chapters in terms of both comprehension and their own writing.

Tags: 11+, 11+ English, 11+ Revision, 11, 11 plus, 11plus, cloze, English, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, exams, expert, pre-test, pre-tests, revision, Verbal Reasoning

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