Reading Technique for 11+

The reading technique for exams differs from how students are taught to read for pleasure. Under time constraints, many children skim a text and so struggle to identify and then explain key points of the passage. 

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Ineffective Reading Techniques

Build good reading habits through mock exams.

As part of their 11+ or entrance exam preparation, children will often sit mock exams. Mocks are a brilliant way for teachers and students to identify gaps in learning and help them create a plan to address them. They also highlight how well a child understands the reading techniques needed for that exam. Paying attention to how students read in mocks, and addressing issues early on, can improve performance in English exams.

In the 11+ comprehension or entrance exams, there tends to be two mistakes that children make in their reading technique. Both of these come from an enthusiasm to do well and mean that students are trying to answer as many questions as quickly as possible. 

Glossing over words

Reading the extract too quickly on the initial read means that children gloss over words and miss the point that the author is trying to convey.
The purpose of the comprehension is to assess understanding of written texts, not the speed at which a child reads. They should, therefore, be aiming to read to understand not to get through it as quickly as possible.
Students who rush through the initial reading process need to look back to check the passage for answers more frequently. Or, if they answer from memory, they have often missed a crucial word and get the answer wrong.

Eager to answer the questions

Sometimes children are so keen to answer the questions, they jump straight there before reading the text. While it is true that questions are usually given in the order they are found, there are usually questions that depend on the understanding of the passage as a whole.
Students who look at the questions first tend to spend longer going backward and forward to the extract the find the relevant pieces of information. Consequently, they spend longer on the earlier questions as they hunt for answers and run out of time for the questions at the end that score more marks.

Literacy and Comprehension

What is Literacy?

When considering how to test comprehension, teachers and assessors take into account different understandings of what literacy is. Essentially, reading (and therefore literacy) skills are broken down into many different levels. These levels are noticeable when young children first learn about phonics  and how to read in school.

First, children learn graphemes for individual phonemes, then digraphs and trigraphs. These then get blended together to make different words. While essential, this kind of reading technique is very mechanical. Children spend a long time decoding the individual words that they don’t grasp the meaning of the whole story or text. At this age, they are beginning to build the vocabulary they will need later.

By the time they reach the 11+, students have moved beyond the mechanics of reading. However, skimming and scanning for information limits their understanding of a text to word level. Every reading exam that a child does will include different types of comprehension, but those who are aiming to sit the 11+ or entrance exams should look to answer more interpretive, applied or affective comprehension questions. 

If a child skims and scans through a text, they’re relying on answering lexical or literal comprehension questions only because they’re searching for individual words.

Instead, if children read for meaning, they will be able to answer the simpler lexical and literal questions too. 

Reading for Understanding

When students slow down, their understanding improves.

Skimming and scanning is a great reading technique to find a part of the text to check an answer. When reading for meaning, however, students miss too much to be able to understand what the text is about.

There are many ways to slow students down and to get them to visualise the extract, rather than simply reading the words. At a Pixl conference a couple of years ago, GCSE students were being taught to imagine the extract as a film on a screen. Then, whenever the camera angles or focus changed, they marked off changes on their text. The difference in comprehension of the passages was astounding. Children went from being able to identify 3 or 4 key points about the extract, to being able to answer a series of detailed questions. 

This is a very useful way of reading, particularly for the 11+ and entrance exams, because it allows children to answer the easier questions from memory. By reading carefully and for understanding on the first read, they don’t have to go backward and forward through the text hunting for answers. Children are then able to answer the later, more nuanced, questions about the tone of the piece of writing, or the effect of a particular quotation. This is because they understand what the text is conveying and can explain what the text is about. Skimming and scanning through for the answers does not give the same understanding.  

Reading Slowly

Reading for Meaning

As part of 1-2-1 tuition, I teach many different ways of slowing initial reading down, to speed up the answering of comprehension questions. Here’s a couple of my favourite methods to get children to pause, think and reflect on the text. 


After a student has read each paragraph, they should write in 1-2 words in the margin about what it is about. This helps to ‘chunk’ the text down into sections, allowing them to find key parts of the text quickly. It also helps children to remember what they have just read so they don’t have to keep re-reading the text.


As they’re reading the extract, children should read with a pen or highlighter in their hand. Poised and ready to identify key parts of the text, they should draw attention to ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘where’. This is a skill that takes time to master: most children want to highlight the whole extract! Instead they should concentrate on the first time people, places, or key objects are mentioned.

Our Tuition Services

In 1-2-1 English sessions, we cover a range of reading techniques and skills to prepare students for key exams, including the 11+.

Exam Prep

Mock Interviews

Skills Building

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If you have any questions or queries about reading skills for the 11+, drop us a message and we will be happy to help.

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