11+ Essay Writing
Independent School Essay Writing Next Page.
With thanks to various 11+ Forum members, particularly Freya, for their helpful posts on this topic.
Children often feel that the essay element of the 11+ is a monumental task, and parents preparing them for it often feel the same way! We hope that the advice on this page will help your and your child to break the task down into manageable pieces, and also provide you with some useful shortcuts.
On this section you will also find advice on essay writing from an 11+ veteran who took several Independent School exams. The advice given is particularly helpful for longer essays and for more challenging topics and tests.
The essay test may be as little as 20 minutes or as long as 50 minutes, and may be factual or fiction. There is usually a choice of titles, but it is important to check the type of topics that have come up in the tests for each school in the past. There are some examples below of essay titles that have come up in past 11+ tests around the country to get you started.
Examiners in different areas may have different priorities. In some areas they will mainly be interested in the content of the work, rather than demanding good spelling or punctuation. In other areas accurate grammar, punctuation and spelling may be required as well. All examiners will be looking for one key thing: the “beginning, middle and end” that most children find so difficult to achieve in essays.
If your child does not excel at fiction writing and you know for certain that they will have a choice of factual or fiction topics, you could focus on developing their ability to write a persuasive factual essay rather than battling uphill with creative writing.
Learning good planning technique is essential to success in an 11+ essay. The elements that need to be planned are:
- Who are the characters? Can you describe them?
- Where is the story set?
- What is the plot – what will happen in the story?
- How will the story begin?
- What will happen in the middle?
- How will it end?
With very limited time for planning an essay in the 11+ a child must learn to make rough notes on all of these points within a very tight timescale. In some areas the children are given 5 minutes specifically to plan their essay, but in other areas that time is included in the time allotted for the whole task, and speed is critical.
Building up a “bank” of characters and settings that your child can fall back is well worth doing. Typical characters might be: a criminal; an old lady; a spooky person; a scary man, a nice friend, etc. Settings might include: A rocky seashore; a dark wood; an old, empty house, etc.
To develop the “beginning, middle and end” balance, you can work out how much your child is likely to write in the allotted time and then start to rule 3 sections on their page, one short one, a longer one and a third short one. They then have to complete the “beginning” within the space allowed in the first section, fit the middle into the longer section and the ending must take up the whole of the last section
Even after extensive practice a child may still find that they are running out of time. It is well worth preparing some “emergency endings”, and never, ever falling back on the stock phrase: “And then I woke up and realised it was all a dream”. It is an ending that makes the hearts of teachers and examiners sink to their boots!
Plenty of adjectives and adverbs will make for interesting writing, and you can help your child to make “stock lists” of appropriate words for different settings. For example, if the story is a “spooky” story, help them to think of dark, scary adjectives and adverbs.
As time goes on it is also worth helping a child come up with “stock phrases” that can fit into almost any essay, such as:
- Linking mood to weather: Tears like the rain/waterfalls; Eyes bruised like dark clouds; Heart beating as raindrops thundered; Eyes twinkling like dew on fresh grass.
- Descriptions of surroundings: Sweet, cloying scent; Patchwork of autumn leaves – vibrant reds, ochres, etc; Shafts of sunshine dappling; Trees whispering to each other; Angry water seething and boiling.
- Descriptions of being frightened: Being chased, hiding and anticipating being found.
For creative writing, the topics set for 11+ essays tend to have the same common themes, and it is worth having a “stock” story that can be used in each of these settings:
- Being lost, scared or alone
- Doing something exciting or achieving something (’the best day of my life was . . . ’)
- Taking a holiday
- Having an adventure
- Being in a city or in the countryside
These are topics that have come up on past 11+ papers around the country, with a few additional titles contributed by our 11+ Forum members:
- A surprising spy
- Break time at school
- Write a story about a lost key
- Is life too hectic to enjoy fully?
- My favourite memories
- A farewell party
- An attempted robbery
- It was a while before I realised my cat could talk
- Moving Houses
- I don’t know what that noise was …..
- The new pupils
- The storm
- The Burglary
- My Brilliant Idea
- Visiting Relatives
- The Balloon
- The school rules
- A place that inspires you
- Your favourite day out
- Are Jamie Oliver’s new school dinners a good idea.
- What makes a good friend?
- Describe the scene and the activities at a bus station.
- What are your reactions to discipline? How far is it necessary both at home and at school?
- How does the life of your generation differ from that of your grandparents?
- Discuss the good and bad effects of competition in modern life
- Is life too hectic to enjoy fully?
Independent School Essay Writing Next Page.
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
'I felt guilty when I got my results': your stories of buying essays | Guardian readers and Sarah Marsh
The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
Applying to university? It's time to narrow your choices down to two
Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
Essays for sale: the booming online industry in writing academic work to order
Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
Keep up with the latest on Guardian Students: follow us on Twitter at @GdnStudents – and become a member to receive exclusive benefits and our weekly newsletter.