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.
Creative Writing at 11+ is, for many students, one of the most difficult sections of the 11+ exams. Whereas questions in Maths simply must be solved and there are only a finite number of topics which are tested, with creative writing it can sometimes be difficult putting pen to paper and starting to write. If ten minutes or so passes in the exam with little written down, panic can slip in and it can be difficult to gather your thoughts under the tight time constraints.
So, how can students improve their creative writing skills and by extension maximise their chances of scoring highly on arguably the trickiest part of the 11+ exams.
So here are six of My Tutor Club’s core strategies which, with practice, can help boost your child’s mark in creative writing at 11+
At My Tutor Club, our tutors are fanatical about essay planning. It takes 5 minutes of your time but it is time so well invested. Having an idea of how your story holds together, and ends, before you start writing gives you a sense of direction when you write. Unless you are a very able writer, navigating your story to a well-structured conclusion while you are writing, having avoided the initial planning section, is incredibly difficult to do.
Keep it simple
Descriptive writing that is deep and meaningful will always win the day over action packed stories. Most candidates at this level write about action. The stories tend to be “action packed thrillers” talking about how this happened, and then that happened and then this happened. Writing about action well is actually a very difficult skill to acquire. It is much better, and simpler, to write about one object, say a “tree” or a “mountain,” and talk more about emotion, feelings, sentiment and description. In these stories very little will actually happenbut the level of descriptive writing and attention to emotion will result in a piece of writing far more impressive, mature and sophisticated.
If you are having trouble thinking of a story, don’t panic, start brainstorming. The best way to do this is to take a blank sheet of paper in the exam and just start noting down anything that comes into your head relating to your title. Spend a couple of minutes putting anything down, don’t hold back. Ideas are more likely to come to you as you write down snippets that come into your head.
All creative writing pieces need a beginning, a middle and an end. At My Tutor Club, we use the “hamburger” analogy: the top bun for the beginning, the 100% pure British beef (or veggie bit if you’re vegetarian) in the middle, and the bottom bun for the ending. When brainstorming, think which of the three sections your ideas will fit into.
How to be descriptive
Revise your key lists of adjectives, adverbs, similes, metaphors, colours and emotions. As an emergency, have a couple of phrases that you can use. Of course the idea is not to learn phrases by heart, but if you have a couple of “golden phrases” up your sleeve that can be applied to many circumstances, then they are worth remembering in case your writing flow starts to cease up.
Leave 5-7 minutes to read through what you have written. It is so much better to write less but higher quality (with no silly grammar or spelling mistakes) than to write more but with mistakes. Less is more (to an extent). It’s amazing how you will probably pick up 8-12 silly errors when you read back through your work. Don’t let these silly errors drag your mark down. Check your work.
Below is a list of creative writing titles that have frequently appeared in past 11+ papers:-
- The Day Trip
- The Broken Window
- The Abandoned House
- Lost Boy
- The Voice in the Darkness
- The Garden
We are more than happy, a gratis, to take a look at creative writing at 11+ pieces over the coming weeks if you email them to us so that we can mark them and offer suggestions for improvement.
For further details about 11+ preparation, tuition, or My Tutor Club’s 11+ Revision Booster courses in December and January, please contact [email protected]