11+ Insert A Letter To Make A Word Illustration | Scrabble
Rearranging letters helps children with these types of question.

VR - Finishing and Starting Words

Finishing and Starting Words (or Insert A Letter To Make A Word as it's also known) is simply turning words into new words through the addition of a single letter. This letter is the same as that needed to do the same to another word.

It is a test of vocabulary, spelling and (to a lesser extent) of logic.

How Are These Sort of Questions Posed In The Exam?

Candidates are shown two words (or two groups of three letters), or occasionally four. A letter can be added to the start or end each word (or group of letters) to create new words.

The best way to illustrate this, is with an example:

Example Question One


Find one letter which will complete both words by finishing the first and starting the second.

hit ( ? ) hot


The question mark represents a letter and the required answer must be suited to ending a four-letter word beginning with ‘hit’ and starting one which ends ‘hot’.

Most papers will offer a multiple-choice of answers. If so, then children can easily find the right answer through a process of elimination (more on that later in the lesson). If no multiple-choice answers are given, then things are a little trickier!

Although not fool-proof, there are some tips to save wasting a bit of time. Most people should be able to solve a relatively easy problem like this without much thought as there are only a few possible answers (at most 26, of course) but it’s helpful to gain a few seconds advantage.

In this example the second word will have a second letter ‘h’, and this means that there is a limited number of possible starting letters. Likely answers could be ‘c’, ‘s’, ‘w’ and ‘t’ although these should be starting points rather than absolutes as there are possible alternatives.

The answer is ‘s’ because it would create the words ‘hits’ and ‘shot’.

Technique Tip:

Help your child learn which letter strings go together. This is a useful skill in spelling in general and certainly helps in these sorts of questions as well as other tested types. Knowing which letters frequently precede or follow others is fundamental to spelling and there are common themes despite the English language being so diverse and vague over spelling.

One method I use in class to teach spelling (and you may want to try it with your child or in a family group) is to ensure they know that letters like ‘n’, ‘r’, ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘s’ are common ends to words, but if there is a consonant as the penultimate letter, it’s much more likely that the final letter is ‘e’ or ‘y’.

Common sense and knowledge of letter frequency and phonic blends provides a child with a more targeted list of possible letters to answer a question with, rather than merely going through from ‘a’ to ‘z’ for each one.

Example Question Two


Find one letter which will complete both words by finishing the first and starting the second.

year ( ? ) early


The simple approach is to start listing from ‘a’ to ‘z’ with the first word and then checking it with the second. For example, the child could create the word ‘yeara’ in their head and dismiss it as not a proper word and progress to ‘yearb’ etc. This is reasonable but there may be some shortcuts.

My technique is to get the child to concentrate on one of the words which seems easier to work with. In this case I would say that there aren’t many words which begin ‘year’ so it may be easier to look at this first as it is more restrictive. Going for a word which seems to have many options only slows you down.

Common sense would say ‘s’ is a good starting point. ‘Years’ makes sense but then ‘searly’ is not a word. Going through common ending letters, the only other letter that makes any sense is ‘n’, forming ‘yearn’ and, importantly, ‘nearly’. ‘N’ is therefore the answer.

If a child cannot make sense of the word ‘yearn’ then they will struggle here. This means that they could find it easier using ‘early’ to guide them to the answer. If they do this they will find ‘d’ (‘dearly’), ‘n’ (‘nearly’), ‘y’ (‘yearly’) and ‘p’ (‘pearly’) all work. Also, misspellings such as ‘m’ (‘mearly’) may creep in. These can all be put at the end of ‘year’ to see whether they create words and hopefully the right answer will be chosen.

Technique tip:

Use the least familiar word as a starting point. This restricts the number of possible letters to work with. Write down letters you have tried to keep track. Be prepared to look at completed words with a fresh eye – the pronunciation may change totally so don’t think about what the original sounded like. For instance, ‘inter’ and ‘winter’ have quite different pronunciations in most accents.

Now we come to the multiple-choice format of question. These are much easier, as we shall see.

Example Question Three

Find one letter which will complete all the words by finishing the first and starting the second in each pair.

hear ( ? ) ear me ( ? ) own

Choose the correct answer:

a) N b) G c) D d) S e) T

This is a variation on the style of question and is no different really – you just have to be more careful in not going for the obvious answer without checking.

The technique when you have multiple choice answers is the same as the previous questions, but you are going to only have a few choices. Pick out a combination of letters which seems less common and work from there, but obviously stick to the five possible answers when trying to form words!

I would stick with ‘hear’ as there aren’t too many words which start with that combination of letters. In your head you should place the letters given after ‘hear’ and see if they create words. Dyslexic children in particular should think about writing down the words that are created although of course this takes extra time.

Ensure that if your child is dyslexic that they are getting all the support and extra time that they are entitled to well in advance of any entrance exam being sat.

Let’s explore the ‘hear’ combinations:

There are five possible ‘words’:

hearn
hearg
heard
hears
heart

The first two make no sense; as long as your child is remembering to forget about the way that ‘hear’ is pronounced they will quickly see that the last three are all reasonable answers. The answer must be ‘d’, ‘s’ or ‘t’ so these must be applied methodically to the next word, ‘ear’.

dear
Sear
Tear

All of these are words although I’d be surprised if ‘sear’ was at the level of vocabulary expected of a child of this age. Nevertheless, we cannot discount a further letter yet, so we move on to the next word, ‘me’.

med
mes
met

While ‘med’ is a common enough abbreviation, it is not a normal word in English, while ‘mes’ is not a word at all. These two should be discounted and ‘t’ is presumably the correct answer. However, double check that it makes sense in the final word to avoid any silly mistakes!

town

The final word also makes sense therefore the correct answer is ‘t’.

Once your child is familiar with the type of question, the whole process will take place in a far shorter time than it has taken to read through this page!

Example Question Three


Find one letter which will complete all the words by finishing the first and starting the second in each pair.

bal ( ? ) arn te ( ? ) lite

Choose the correct answer:

a) L b) M c) D d) E e) A

Okay, let's be systematic about this. There are several 'reasonable' options if you don't see it straight away and, given the possible answers in the choices provided, there are plenty of pitfalls.

Start with one of the words or one of the letters. Given that last time we started with a specific word, let’s try the alternative approach.

Choose a letter and put it in each of the places to see what we get. The only downside to this method is that you may have to go through all five before you find an answer (or four that don't work, thereby making the fifth the correct answer!) On the plus side, it can be quick if you pick the right letter to start with.

Don't feel obliged to start with the first letter. As long as you're on top of things and are crossing out the letters you've tried, it's irrelevant which you go for. Scanning through the letters shows one that is rarely used to end words - 'A' - so we'll not use that first. Let's use D as that's a common letter to start and finish words.

balD - no problem
Darn - also good
teD - NOT GOOD. Be careful - these 'informal abbreviations' are not allowed in the test and your child needs to know what is acceptable as a spoken word and what is proper, formal English. Whether as a name or an abbreviation for a teddy bear, this isn't a 'real' word.

So, let's move on, having put a pencil line through the option that we've tried on the question paper if it's written there. Next we'll try 'E' as that's a common ending for words.

balE - fine, although some children may struggle to see it as a word, especially if they're unfamiliar with the countryside
Earn - no problem
TeE - again, it's fine but a lot of children will be put off if they have a limited vocabulary and don't recognise this as a term in golf or a 'starting point'
Elite - four words are okay - this is another that some children won't know but, of course, it's a legitimate word

The answer must be 'E'.

Sample Tests

As with most kinds of question in the Eleven Plus Verbal Reasoning exam, the best way to get to grips with them is through practising. There are four Insert A Letter To Make A Word quizzes on the Education Quizzes site which will help.

Show the quizzes to your child first of all. You may find that they have a natural aptitude for this sort of question. If not, then teach them the techniques we’ve shown you here and then they should be able to correctly answer all forty questions.

You’ll find the quizzes in our Eleven Plus Verbal Reasoning section or, alternatively, you can follow these links:

Insert a Letter 1

Insert a Letter 2

Insert a Letter 3

Insert a Letter 4

As ever, practise makes perfect - good luck!

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