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How to pass a creative writing 11 plus (11+) exam

Last updated: October 9, 2023

What is 11+ creative writing?

Whilst the main 11+ exam providers (GL Assessment, CEM, and ISEB) do not feature creative writing in their 11+ tests, many grammar and independent schools design their own exams that contain creative writing sections.

Even if your child isn’t facing an exam with a creative writing component, honing these skills offers many advantages. Developing their creative writing skills can help a child improve their creativity, communication skills, emotional intelligence, critical reasoning, and self-confidence.

What does the 11+ creative writing exam look like?

The format of an 11+ creative writing exam varies depending on the area or school your child is applying to. Creative writing in the 11+ will usually ask candidates to either write an original story based on a prompt or they will be given the start of a story and asked to complete a piece of prose in the same style of writing. Both types of assessment examine a child’s ability to plan and write their story in an imaginative, structured and coherent manner.

In the Kent Test, children are usually given five prompts to choose from and the purpose is to gather a writing sample from each child in case of a headteacher appeal. The Medway Test only gives candidates one prompt for an hour of creative writing. In Essex, however, candidates are given two paragraphs in an hour-long assessment which includes comprehension and vocabulary questions. 

Creative writing papers can be presented at any point of an 11+ exam. Sometimes it can be a completely separate paper, with its own timings, or at the end of another section, such as a comprehension exercise. If it comes at the end of a comprehension exercise, candidates will likely be asked to continue writing the comprehension passage or write about the same topic. Sometimes children will be given a list of prompts to choose from or they may be given only one title to write from, so it is vital that they are prepared for either option. 

It is important to note that these creative writing assessments are strictly timed. The length of time given varies depending on which school is setting the paper. It is important to remind your child of these time limits and make sure they are comfortable completing a piece of work in the allotted time.

How to help your child prepare for a creative writing exam

Here are some top tips on how to help your child prepare for their creative writing exam:

  • Make writing a habit 

Encouraging your child to write regularly can significantly improve their writing skills. Establishing a writing routine can help your child practice consistently, gradually building their writing skills and confidence. 

A great way for you to help your child build their skills is to offer them daily writing prompts. These could be words, phrases, or pictures to spark their creativity and inspire their writing. You could further encourage your child by getting them to practice different techniques, themes, or styles. 

  • Encourage them to read more

Reading is one of the most beneficial and rewarding activities that your child can do in the lead-up to their 11+. Introducing your child to a wide range of genres and encouraging them to read as much as they can is a great way to help them develop a strong vocabulary, understand writing styles, and become familiar with various devices and techniques. 

Supplying your child with both classic and contemporary novels, as well as poetry, plays, and non-fiction, will ensure they have a wide range of resources to take inspiration from. 

Reading widely will introduce your child to imaginative plots, creative vocabulary, and help them understand how different characters think and emotionally respond to various scenarios. 

  • Offer them constructive feedback and celebrate their creativity 

Providing your child with regular constructive feedback is crucial for their writing growth. Focus on their strengths and encourage them to keep checking, proofreading, and editing their work. Getting them to revise and edit their writing is a great skill that will help them across their academic subjects.

You should also make sure you are consistently recognising and celebrating your child’s writing achievements to help build their confidence and motivation. You could set up a rewards system for writing goals, share their work with friends and family or encourage them to submit their work to writing competitions.

  • Remind them that handwriting matters

Handwriting is a part of your child’s creative writing assessment and can affect their grade. Your child does not need to have perfect handwriting; however, it should be completely legible and easy to follow. 

You could help your child improve their handwriting by supplying them with pens that are comfortable and easy to use. You could also give them exercises, focusing on individual letters or words they struggle with. 

How to respond to a creative writing prompt

One of the tasks your child could face in their 11+ exam is to write a story based on a prompt. Responding effectively to a creative writing prompt is not just a test of your child’s imagination and creative abilities but also their organisational skills, understanding of narrative structures, and vocabulary. 

Although there is no way to know which topic your child will be asked to write about in their 11+ exam, there are a handful of topics that have regularly come up in the past. Here is a brief list of tasks your child could be asked to write about in their exam and some examples of what this question could look like: 

  • Write a story
    • Write a story about a stormy day.
    • Write a story entitled, ‘Afraid’.
  • Continue a story
    • Continue a story that begins with the line: Outside my front door, someone had left a large cardboard box.
  • Write a recount
    • Imagine you are an alien that has just landed on Earth. Write a recount of your first day.
  • Write a description 
    • Describe a visit to an extremely hot place.
  • Write about an experience
    • Write about a time that you or someone else became very angry by something. Explain what happened and describe how you felt. You should make your writing as interesting and detailed as possible.
  • Write about an image 
    • Write a story based on the following image.
    • Describe this image.
  • Write a piece of non-fiction 
    • Write a letter to complain about the uniform at your school.
    • Do you think children should be able to have smartphones? Write a persuasive article in which you outline reasons for and against.

Here are some tips on how your child should respond to a creative writing prompt in an 11+ exam:

  • Understand the question

The first step in responding to a creative writing question is to analyse the prompt carefully. If your child has been given multiple prompts to choose from, encourage them to make a quick decision and to choose the option that they feel they can write most confidently on. 

Once they have chosen a prompt, it is important for them to understand what it is asking them to do. It could be asking for a story, a description, a personal anecdote or a piece of informative writing, and each of these could inform their writing in different ways. 

  • Start planning 

They should then start to plan their response, spending just a few minutes jotting down any ideas they have and beginning to think about how to structure their writing. 

Briefly outlining how they will start their story, the main events that happen, and the ending can help them with their writing flow and ensure they complete their story within the time limit. Deciding on the setting, characters and sequence of events straight away can also help alleviate some exam stress and help your child feel confident in their storytelling abilities

  • Start writing 

It is important to encourage your child to start writing as promptly as possible, especially if the creative writing exam has a short time limit. Whilst spending time properly reading the question and planning are vital first steps, it is important that your child does not spend too much crucial writing time in these stages. 

A great way to start writing a story is by describing the setting and the first characters. You should encourage your child to use lots of descriptive language and devices (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia etc.)

If your child is being asked to write a piece of non-fiction, a great way to start is by setting out their argument in an introduction. If they are answering a question such as ‘Do you think children should be able to have smartphones?’ or ‘What is your favourite season of the year?’ they should also make sure to include a conclusion at the end of their work. 

  • Edit and proofread 

You should encourage your child to take a few minutes towards the end of their exam to proofread their writing, especially if they are someone who usually finishes early. They can use this time to check for spelling and grammar mistakes or make sure the story flows smoothly.

This is also a good time for them to double-check that they have answered the prompt correctly and included everything they wanted to in their plan.

Examberry's Creative Writing Course

At Examberry, we have a great Creative Writing Course, starting October 2023, designed to help your child reach their full potential in the lead-up to the 11+.

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