This article provides advice for students about the creative writing task in the 11 plus / selective school entrance examinations.
How is creative writing tested?
Creative writing for the 11+ may require you to write either an original story or complete a continuous prose exercise in the same style of writing (when you are given the start of a story/piece of writing and you continue it). Both types of task will examine your ability to plan, create and then write in a structured manner.
You may be given just one title/opening paragraph to write from or you could be given a set of options from which you choose your preferred one. A few schools may present the creative writing task at the end of a comprehension exercise where you are asked to continue writing the comprehension text or creative a piece of work about the comprehension text/information.
Some entrance examinations, for selective schools, will assess the creative writing task only as part of a borderline check in the review process if you have fallen marginally short or only just passed the given pass mark for that entrance exam.
Unlike creative writing lessons in school, there will no time allowed to do all the usual planning, drafting and revising required to produce a final piece of writing; the 11+ creative writing task is completed in a very short time, in one sitting, with no time allowed for any drafts.
What is the examiner looking for?
Creative writing skills include the following components:
- Effective planning
- A ‘fluent’ and interesting writing style
- Correct use of punctuation including the use of some ‘advanced’ types
- Correct use of English grammar
- Correct spellings
- An extensive and interesting vocabulary
- A well-structured piece of writing
There will be a specified time given for the writing task. The length of this will vary between schools. Ensure that you know what this is and keep an eye on your progress in order to be able to finish in time and include a check of your work.
Skills to practise
Never just start writing. Planning will help you to organise your thoughts and this will give your writing structure. It really does not need to take long but is always 5 minutes well spent. This planning time may form part of the whole time given to write or it may be an extra 5 minutes provided at the start before the writing is timed. Use a planning technique that works well for you e.g. flow-chart, mind map, spider diagram, chart. If you do run out of writing time you can ask the examiner to refer to your plan to see how you would have continued/ended your work.
2. Using you creativity/imagination
Some people are naturally creative with words, story-lines etc. and find this skill easy. However, your imagination can be greatly improved by reading a variety of books.
See this suggested reading book list.
3. Fluent writing style
Your writing style is unique to you. It should demonstrate ‘joined-up thinking’ and an ability to write in an entertaining manner that creates such an interest for the reader that they want to continue reading.
You will be expected to use all the correct punctuation marks in a piece of creative writing. The correct use of punctuation is required to make your writing clear and avoid confusion. Apart from the standard simple forms of punctuation you will already be familiar with, it is best to also demonstrate your knowledge and correct use of some of the less commonly used punctuation marks e.g. ellipses(…), brackets( ), colons(:), semi-colons(;), hyphens(–) and apostrophes(‘).
English Grammar follows rules and you will be expected to use them correctly in your writing. Speaking and writing use different accepted forms of grammar. It is therefore important that you do not write as you may speak or as you communicate in a text message. Your writing should use the word groups i.e. nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, connectives, prepositions and articles correctly and in the right order within your sentences. All sentences should be complete and make entire sense on their own, using the correct word endings as appropriate for the number of items and the correct form of the verb for the tense used. Use a variety of sentence structures, in addition to simple sentences, including compound and complex sentences to showcase your abilities.
The use of correct spelling is essential in any form of writing. Some people are naturally good at spelling and others need to work at learning them. You will probably have been taught some spelling rules in English lessons, revise these and practise them however some awkward or irregular words just have to be learnt. Reading a lot will improve your spelling ability as will playing some word games e.g. Scrabble, Boggle and Hangman. Although a dictionary will not be allowed to be used in a test, make looking up spellings in a dictionary part of your 11+ preparation.
An extensive and interesting vocabulary takes years to develop. Some tutors/parents like to use vocabulary lists LINK to extend a child’s vocabulary but the best method is to read numerous books and look out for new words that you can use in your writing. Keeping a word list of new words is useful and this can be added to when reading books, watching TV or out and about. When you are practising your writing skills use a thesaurus to improve and extend your vocabulary and make an effort to include lots of interesting adjectives and adverbs.
It is important to demonstrate that your writing has structure in the form of clearly demarcated paragraphs that organised by characters, topic and time. Ensure that you have a good opening paragraph, if this is not supplied, to draw the reader in and then a suitable closing paragraph to conclude your writing.
Checking your work
Always leave enough time at the end of your writing to check:
- Consistent use of the same tense
- Good vocabulary
You have to become your own spelling and grammar checker. Read through carefully with a critical eye and carefully, neatly correct any errors or omissions.
Can your handwriting be read?
There is no point in writing a stunning piece of work if the examiner cannot read it. Although your handwriting is not usually included in the creative writing mark/grade it will certainly influence decisions made about your work. Additionally, punctuation errors may be assumed if it is difficult to differentiate your capital letters from the lower-case letters.
It is never too late to improve, try using a different pen and practise writing at speed.
Practise your ideas
It is a good idea to have a few ‘stock’ essays and/or ideas already practised and prepared that you are able to use, altering as required, for the examination task. Creative writing for 11+/selective school exams tends to follow some fairly predictable themes and styles that can be practised in advance.
Try Chuckra’s Writing Feedback Service for tailored guidance on how to improve.
If your child is preparing for the 11+, they may well have to take a written English paper as part of the test. This varies from area to area. Some regions don’t set a writing task at all; others do, but use it only as a decider in the case of borderline students, while in other areas, it’s a vital part of the exam. We asked 11+ tutor Anita Clemens, who has been helping children prepare for the creative writing task for 20 years, for her words of wisdom.
Know what you’re writing about
The type of task your child will have to do for their creative writing test will depend on which region you’re in. ‘Typically, they will need to produce a leaflet, letter, newspaper report, review, story, script or diary entry,’ says Anita.
In some areas, children are given a choice of which subject or type of writing to tackle, but in others, there is one set task, which children won’t know about until they open their exam paper. ‘It’s essential that children produce a piece of writing that fits both the title and the topic,’ Anita says. ‘For instance, if they’re asked to write a newspaper report but write a story, they will be heavily penalised.’
It’s a good idea for your child to practise writing in a range of styles, especially as they may not have covered them all in depth at school. ‘Play scripts, for example, are usually covered in Year 4, and unless they practise in the interim, children may have forgotten the conventions by the time they take the 11+,’ explains Anita.
Being an extensive reader is one of the secrets to success for the English writing task. ‘Reading across a wide range of genres helps children to develop their vocabulary, knowledge of writing conventions and sentence structure,’ says Anita. ‘Children who don’t read for pleasure are at a real disadvantage in their English skills by 11+ age.’
Use the planning time wisely
Children in some areas are given an additional 10 minutes’ planning time before they start their written task, while in others, they’ll need to allocate their own time to planning from the overall time allowance. In either case, it’s essential that your child does take the time to put together a proper plan, with written notes and a clear structure. ‘Children generally need to be taught to plan, so that they come up with a solid overall plan rather than a vague idea that leads to them wandering off the point,’ Anita explains.
Be original – but not too original!
Eleven plus examiners will want to see that your child has good ideas, so encourage them to think of an original twist on the subject matter they’re given. ‘But while their interpretation should be original, it shouldn’t be so off the wall that they don’t get anything done because they’ve made their idea overly complicated and are thinking too hard about it,’ Anita advises.
Use sophisticated language and sentence structures
One of the key things that 11+ examiners are looking for is an excellent standard of written English. ‘They will want your child’s spelling, punctuation and grammar to be correct, or very nearly correct,’ says Anita. ‘Your child needs to demonstrate a wide vocabulary, a variety of punctuation and use of complex sentence structures, not just simple ones.’
Show off your best handwriting
First impressions count, and children who produce neat work and create a good overall impression at first glance tend to get better marks in the test. ‘Handwriting must be legible; ideally it should be joined, but if your child struggles with this, it’s better for them to use unjoined script that is clearer to read,’ Anita says.
Write the right amount
There’s no set amount for how much children should write in the English task, but Anita advises aiming for a side of A4. ‘For children with larger writing or bigger spaces between words, this may be more like a side and a half, but children shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that the more they write, the better: it’s more important to produce quality than quantity,’ Anita says.
Check and correct
It’s essential that your child leaves time to read through their work and correct any mistakes. ‘This is a vital part of the writing task,’ says Anita. ‘Also, remind your child that if they find an error, it is always better to correct it: some children are reluctant to alter their work because they don’t like to make it look messy by changing things, but a neatly corrected error is always preferable to leaving a mistake in place.’