13 Plus and Common Entrance English Papers

The following papers have been written by our 13 Plus English tutors, all of whom are qualified teachers with experience of preparing students for entrance exams. They are free for anyone to use for non-commercial use. The papers are designed to reflect the various examination styles used and expected levels at 13+ English.  

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Kelly was fantastic. Super supportive and very easy to work with. Our son aced his entrance exams. We are very grateful and would highly recommend working with Kelly.

Parent of 13 Plus student (Fettes)

13 plus English – The Written Comprehension Paper

Well written comprehension answers are concise, developed and well supported, and this can sometimes be tricky for adolescent readers to achieve. However, with the right approach, written comprehensions can be easier to tackle. Here, one of our top 13 plus tutors Michael, guides us through the assessment.

What skills are being tested?

The first step is to have a good understanding of what your child may face in the exam:

Retrieval questions

Usually the first skill that candidates encounter; these questions assess the ability to find information in the passage. They are usually worth four marks and directed towards a specific focus. For example: Identify and quote four details about the interior of Catherine’s room.

Paraphrase and Inference questions

These are found towards the beginning of the paper because their purpose is to check the candidate’s understanding of the explicit and implicit meanings in a specific section. Simply, these questions require the candidate to explain in their own words how a character in the passage is thinking and feeling at a particular moment.

Directed explanation questions

This is where the differences between the 11 plus and 13 plus examinations start to become apparent. Directed explanation questions will ask candidates to explain how their inferences about a particular idea in the passage can be extracted from the words or phrases they have been given.

Undirected explanation questions

These questions usually follow their directed counterpart. Candidates are asked to examine a section of the passage and explain what they have learnt about a specific idea e.g. Catherine’s feelings. This question may look different, but it can be answered in an equivalent way to the question that preceded it. Candidates explain how their inferences about the idea in the question can be extracted from specific words or phrases. The only real difference here is that this time, they must choose the words and phrases.

Analysis questions

These questions are usually worth a minimum of six marks and are included in the examination to distinguish the higher ability candidates. Analysis questions require students to examine how the writer has used language to achieve their intended purpose. To do this successfully, candidates should be proficient with a range of linguistic and literary devices and feel confident in discussing the ways that they can be used to shape the reader’s understanding of character, plot, and social and cultural themes. There will usually be two analysis questions in a 13 plus examination paper. The first one will direct the candidates towards an idea that is present in a section of the text and the second one will be a holistic response to the whole passage.

Whole passage questions

This is the defining question of the comprehension paper. It can be viewed as the culmination of the tasks that have gone before because this question  requires a reflection on the passage as a whole. The most important distinction to note here is the role of structure. Candidates are asked to evaluate how the writer has used words/phrases and language devices throughout the passage to develop meaning and guide us towards its concluding ideas. Success in this question, therefore, relies on candidates being able to judge how parts of the passage work together to shape wider meanings, create turning points and achieve the writer’s overall aim.

How to use Owl Tutor’s 13 Plus English Comprehension Papers

Owl Comprehension papers are designed to incorporate the above features, which should give an insight as to what your child will face during the real thing. To make our papers as effective as possible, it is important to follow some simple rules:

Read the passage (carefully!)

Read the text in full to understand how the passage begins, develops and ends. Candidates should think about the narrative of the passage at this point. What problem or idea was introduced at the beginning? What kind of resolution is present at the end?

Read the questions

Next, read through the questions and highlight the key words. It might be useful to underline and highlight relevant parts of the passage at this stage. It is important not to try and write full answers just yet though. Simply focus on identifying what each question requires and the evidence that might be used to support a successful answer.

The next step is… answering the questions!

The following tips are designed to help your child to write effective and credit worthy responses to all comprehension style questions:

Full sentences are a must

Many children struggle to start their response. The easiest way to solve this is to get into the habit of using the command words in the question. e.g. If the question is, “How does the use of similes help convey excitement to the audience?” the answer could begin: “Similes help to convey excitement by…”. It’s particularly important that answers don’t begin with ‘Because…’.

Make sure answers are well punctuated

If there is a three-mark question, it’s a good idea to use commas to show the three points.

Don’t over-do the quotes

Sometimes candidates use overly long sentences from the passage in the hope that more content equals more marks. Instead, it’s always best to focus on quoting focused and shorter phrases which relate to the question. A rough, but useful rule of thumb, is quote no more than six words at a time.

Avoid repetition

It is very common when writing longer explanation or analysis for children (and adults too) to repeat themselves. Getting into the habit of proof reading early and often can help with this.

Use P.E.E.A

This is a commonly used acronym to help children answer longer explanation or analysis questions.
P.E.E.A = Point – Evidence – Explain – Analyse and helps children to write fully developed answers.

Don’t forget technical language

For example, when asked “Explain how the writer uses words, phrases and/or language techniques” your child needs to find and quote any imagery, verbs, similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, etc evident in the text.

These questions are designed to test whether your child has the ability to explain the writer’s purpose in using these literary devices.

Understand the marks

The number of marks each question is worth can provide a huge clue to how much your child should write. If there is an explanation question worth 4 marks, this usually means that your child should provide at least 2 quotations where their inferences are properly explained. If there is an analysis question worth 9 marks, this means that your child should fully examine, explain, and analyse the way that the writer has shaped meaning in at least three different moments from the passage.

Finally, practice makes perfect

If the first comprehension paper your child does is a disaster, that can actually be a positive experience! It provides a baseline and, by using the mark schemes provided, will give you and your child an insight as to where they should focus their efforts. We hope by following this advice and practising lots, your child will flourish in their examinations.

13 plus English – The Extended Writing Section

Often the 13 plus extended writing paper is seen as something that children ‘can’t revise’ for in the same logical way that they can approach the written comprehension paper. However, the extended writing paper is not only a place where children can show off their creativity, flair and imagination but it is also something that can be actively prepped for – Creative writing is a muscle, like any other, that your child can strengthen and develop.

What skills are being tested?

In most cases there are 30 marks available for the extended write, across 5 assessment criteria that are each worth 6 marks each.




Language techniques

Technical accuracy and presentation

How to use Owl Tutor’s Extended Writing Sections

Our 13 plus papers are designed to give an indication of the types of assessments your child could face. These cover the different purposes that your child may be asked to write for: writing to argue and persuade or writing to describe and explain w. There will always be a selection of text types to choose from such as a formal letter, a diary entry or a short story. It is important to note that the 13 plus exam will only ask your child to write about one of these ideas. However, when practising, it is highly recommended that you use all the prompts as different writing tasks.

Here are our top tips for tackling a writing to argue or persuade question

Planning makes perfect

When asked to argue their point of view on a social issue, such as whether 19th century fiction should be included in the 21st century curriculum, it is crucial that students plan out at least three arguments that support their perspective before they begin. The best responses to a writing to argue statement have a clear sense of purpose and this means that the candidate’s thesis should build to a clear and convincing conclusion which draws together the evidence from all three of their arguments.

Build your argument with evidence

An argument is only as good as its ideas. Therefore, it isn’t enough to simply make the interesting point that 19th century fiction provides a limited, white male perspective, candidates must have well explained examples that evidence this point. For example: illustrating how the under-representation of female writers in 19th century fiction may be impacting the engagement of female students with the GCSE English language syllabus would give this line of argument substance.

It’s okay to be biased

A common misconception when candidates respond to these persuasive writing tasks is to try to give both sides of the argument. However, this isn’t how the art of persuasion works. If your child was seeking to persuade you to let them have an ice cream before their dinner, they wouldn’t give you all the reasons why they shouldn’t in an attempt to appear balanced. Counter arguments should only be used, therefore, to be challenged and derided. For example, to emphasise the point that 19th century fiction provides a limited, white male perspective, a candidate may acknowledge the idea that Victorian literature was a period of great innovation in order to question these ideas of ‘greatness’.

The Art of Rhetoric

There’s what you say and then there’s how you say it; A distinction that every public speaker understands. The art of rhetoric is where a candidate’s flair and style really come into play, and they have the opportunity to show off what they can do with their writing. A great acronym to help children remember their rhetorical devices is JARHEAD which stands for janus sentences, alliteration, rhetorical questions, hypophora, emotive language, anaphora and direct address. If candidates can master this, their extended write will have the resonance of Martin Luther King’s infamous ‘I have a dream,’ speech: and that would certainly be top marks all round.

The best writers know how to edit

Writing is a process. And it doesn’t finish when the candidate gets to the ‘end’ of their piece. It is important to remember that every minute in the examination counts and that some minutes can be used more effectively than others. I would say that, as a general rule, once a student has got two or three developed paragraphs onto the page that they have demonstrated what they can do without any editing. At this point, more marks can be achieved by going back and improving what they have written than by continuing in the same vein. The first thing that a good writer checks for is clarity: of content and of SPaG. But after that, it is a question of honing the style of the piece. Asking questions such as: can I use a more ambitious word at this point? or would a better image convey my idea here? are the kind of editing questions that allow candidates to make meaningful changes to their work.

Here are our top tips to aceing a writing to describe and explain question


Even time sensitive pieces of writing should have a clear structure. It’s not uncommon to assess pieces which are written brilliantly but lack any kind of coherent storyline or plot. A general rule of thumb is to a) start your story with a problem for the protagonist b) make sure that the problem has been resolved by the end of the story.

Engage from the start

It goes without saying that a strong opening will keep your reader engaged. An engaged examiner is going to reward your child more than a bored one will. Strong openings, whether in media res or an action-packed start, can help invest the reader in the piece. For sample starters, you might find this site useful: (https://www.literacyshed.com is a good place to find interesting story openers).

Describe and Explain

This is more relevant for tasks that require the candidate to write about a personal experience. Most children will be happy with the concept of descriptive writing but writing to describe and explain is a little different. It involves using the description as evidence for a particular idea that the writer wants to communicate. For example: I might describe the features of an old suitcase from the second world war that I have found in my attic, but I then need to attach clear thoughts and feelings to that description to explain why I find it intriguing.

Show, don’t tell

Assessors can determine more advanced writers by their ability to use figurative language to convey ideas. This is often more interesting, and therefore effective, than simply describing what is going on. For example, a child may be happy so you could write: The child was happy and started to laugh. However, a more advanced and interesting way would be to show the child is happy by describing their features like this: A corner of his mouth twitched, slowly at first, lifting up to his shining eyes. Within seconds, the smile had lit up his entire face and after a moment, he let out a chuckle.


Of paramount importance is the competent and consistent use of good Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. For those higher reaching 13 plus exams a wide range of punctuation is expected (where your child will be expected to use colons, semicolons, brackets and hyphens as well as maintaining a consistent level of accuracy with their more basic punctuation such as full stops and commas).

Hopefully these tips will prove useful as your child tackles the 13 plus extended writing papers.

These papers will not only help with the Common Entrance assessments; they will also help children develop a sense of themselves as an independent, creative user of language prior to the interview stage.

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