Do the keyword dance: How to use (and not use) keywords to answer multiple choice comprehension questions


Forgive the capitals and the warning, but I’m writing this immediately after a teaching session, in which my very capable student learned a hack and then did something unexpected that your child must not do!

To set the context, I’m including the entire hack here, so you can teach your child and understand the Keyword Dance fully. You’ll hopefully see this is a very practical step that your child can actually do on their own, once you have looked at it together. This is Happy Hack 12 from the instantly downloadable book, Grammar School Success in Multiple Choice English – 59 Easy Ways to Score High in your 11 Plus English Exam. It’s also on kindle at amazon,

as well as being part of a summer learning deal at less than half price.

At the end of the hack, we’ll discuss the unexpected thing my student did. To be clear,

keywords are important words in the question

that tell you exactly what the question wants to look for. Once you have identified these (I show you how in the book, in a separate hack), you have something to look for. Okay, here’s your hack…

Happy Hack 12:

Back and forwards, back and forwards

Do the Keyword Dance!

No, not the keyboard dance, the keyword dance. Get off your computer now, silly.

After you’ve read and spotted and underlined keywords in the question and the writing, do the Keyword Dance as you attack each question.  Here’s how:

1. Find the question keyword or phrase in the passage.

2. Read the whole sentence the word is in.

3. Read a sentence or two before it (Back).

4. Read a sentence or two after it (Forwards).   

Doing this is sometimes enough to find the information you need to answer correctly.   

Say you want to answer the question:

Q. How do the people near the tiger feel?

a) Terrified.

b) Confused.

c) Happy.

d) Really tired because they’ve been running away from it all day.

Your gut, common sense brain might think terrified is the most appropriate answer – it’s a tiger after all. But wait, do the keyword dance.

You look for the word ‘tiger’. You find it. Great, but it doesn’t tell you enough yet. Read before and after to find out about the special world this word lives in.

Is the tiger in a zoo? In the wild? About to eat its lunch? Shopping in Asda? Only a pretend tiger, really it’s your teacher dressed up for charity? This will make a huge difference to your answer. 

What happens if the Keyword Dance doesn’t work?


Maybe the keyword is in more than one place. You’d expect to find the word ‘tiger’ a few times in an article about tigers, wouldn’t you? Maybe the first place you find it is telling you what tigers eat. Not what you are looking for.

Just look for the keyword somewhere else, along with other keywords in the question. In the question above, we could be looking for the word ‘near’ as well, or a phrase like it, e.g. close to.

TIP: Quite often, we need two keywords to be together to find the right answer.

This is one way the answers try to trick you, by giving you one keyword and hoping it will turn you into a Rushie.

No, thank you.

Each time you find the keyword or words, do the dance – before the word, after the word, then the sentence before, the sentence after, occasionally two sentences before and after. 

It’s only one hack of many, yet it’s one of the most helpful in finding the info you need to answer the question.  

…Okay, welcome back to the blog post. You can see that keywords are amazingly helpful. In the lesson I was giving this morning, we were rehearsing a couple of hacks, one of which was the Keyword Dance. The question asked why the bay was good for fishing boats. The paragraph that we were asked to look at had lots of info about types of fish, types of boats, types of fishermen, as well as info on the weather and time of day. My student explored the paragraph twice, but was adamant that he couldn’t find the answer.

Why? This is what he did – he didn’t look even once for the keyword: bay. He was confused by all the info, felt there was too much, became sidetracked with the similarity of fishing boats with fisherman and fish, and was thrown off course by the weather info.

I asked him to go back to the question. What was the one word that was most important – what did the question actually want him to know? He looked again: “Aaah, BAY!” he yelled. Immediately, he found that word, which only appeared once in the paragraph, did the keyword dance and found the answer – the bay was sheltered.

So simple, if you actually use the hack. If you actually look for the keywords. Otherwise, you’ve wasted seconds underlining keywords that can’t help you even though they want to because you don’t use them.

Two large, lovely lessons from today that absolutely work as a team:

  • Teach your child the Keyword Dance. Practise it in your practice papers.
  • Children – USE IT. Actually look for the words that matter. You are not trying to answer a random question – the questions are very specific. Find the keywords in the question you are answering and find them again in the text. The answer will be there, promise!

Was this blog post helpful? You can sign up to the blog for free to keep yourself informed of more tips. There are lots more (58 more, as you will have worked out from the title of the book!) happy hacks waiting to help your child reach their highest mark in Grammar School Success in Multiple Choice English – 59 Easy Ways to Score High in your 11 Plus English Exam. You can buy it alone, or as part of the crazy summer learning deal, which gives you all four books in the series for better than half-price.

Thank you for investing your time in these words and thank you for nurturing your child’s Great Eleven Plus Moment!

Stay happy, Lee

What should I do with my 11 plus child during the summer holidays before the test?

(Part 3 of a 4-blog mini-series.)

It’s getting serious now, right?

A week remains until the summer holidays. After this, a long stretch of time lies between your child and their 11 plus exam in September, or the months that follow shortly after. You, or your child at least, are going to have a lot of time to spend. With hand on heart as a dad and teacher, how your child spends this summer time is going to make a huge difference to their chances of 11 plus success. Do nothing, do little, or do unfocused learning here and there, and it is going to shrink their opportunity. Meanwhile, put a plan into action that targets test-sitting combined with constantly being on the look out for things your child can’t do, then addressing those areas until they can do the things they couldn’t do, and you are adding jet engines and super-boosting your child’s chances of success.

In brief, that really is your summer holiday learning routine. Combine test experience, text skills, subject skills, reinforce strengths, hunt out and be happy about discovering problem areas, and deal with those areas with love, humour, belief and a marathon runner’s approach to one mile at a time, one problem at a time.

The holiday gifts your child 6 weeks of time – a half term of learning, that you can dedicate to 11 plus subjects. My daughter was running away in English at this point, but would only score around 50% in 11 plus maths tests. Within six weeks, it had all changed and she made it to her first choice grammar. We were learning until the minute she stepped out of the car for her test. #useyourtimewell.

Your first consideration is probably work and child care arrangements. If there are moments of time you cannot move, then block them out and feel fine about this. You are living, you are alive, and being alive takes up the majority of our lives!

Now, look at your free time, or look at the time that can be created in the place and with the people looking after your child, supposing this isn’t you. You are going to find fifteen hours or so in a week for their learning. That is still going to leave a huge amount of time for play – an essential non-negotiable – and the rest of life. But fifteen hours is an effective amount of time to commit to 11 plus learning.

Monday to Friday – 2/3 hrs in the morning, leaving their afternoons and evenings free, is a very intelligent approach to try. Why? Your child does their learning before anything else, so arguments about “Can we do this first?” don’t need to happen. They will quickly understand the routine. Equally, they will be generally fresher, not worn out by summer heat and activities, so may focus better. Perhaps most importantly, if your child learns on a morning, then for the rest of the day, at some level, their brain is considering or processing the information, so in a way, twice the learning time is achieved. Do it the other way round, and your child may be thinking about their morning play session during their learning. They don’t get the same background processing opportunity.

Having said that, in a lot of circumstances, a quality morning routine may not be an option. There are benefits to to starting later in the day. If your child does a sport, or has a couple of hours in the park, then their brain could benefit from the positive effects of exercise on education. They may be less restless because they have shaken out all their sillies, their brain is lovely and oxygenated. In this case, they could be better focused.

Perhaps a truly wise routine might change things occasionally and blend morning and afternoon sessions. It is recommended that when sitting mock multiple choice or written papers, your child has experience of 9 a.m. and 1.30 pm starts. In the real test, they could be asked to sit at either time – you can’t choose – so asking your child to be aware of how they are working/feeling/thinking at different times of the day during a test could help them manage either situation on the test day. If your child struggles to get going on a morning, for example, getting up earlier and waking their brain up with some pre-test sums or spelling could help them be alert by the time 9 a.m. comes around.

Okay, 15 hours a week. Join me in my next blog, which I’ll try and do tomorrow, for a zoomed-in look at specific subject/strategy/test routines.

Have an amazing day of learning. Please consider the happy hacks learning series of English books at as resources for you. They are 110% focused on 11 plus exam techniques and content your child is going to need on the day.

Let’s speak again tomorrow. Found this blog helpful, or have more questions? Please leave a comment or get in touch @11plushappy