11+ practice and progress

Preparing for 11+ exams

It's the time of year when parents are on tenterhooks, waiting to hear if their children have passed the 11 plus and clinched a prized place at a selective secondary school.

The 11 plus is still used in both the state and independent sectors. While much of the country abolished the 11 plus several decades ago a few local authorities - including Buckinghamshire, Kent, Birmingham, North Yorkshire and some London boroughs - still use it for their (highly competitive) grammar school entry.

Grammar schools

England's 164 selective grammar schools are more over-subscribed than ever before, with up to 13 applicants for every place. But 11 plus exams vary hugely. Some local authorities test applicants' English and maths while others assess verbal reasoning (VR) and non-verbal reasoning (NVR). Many heads believe the latter are better indicators of raw intelligence than English and maths and say VR and NVR can't really be coached.

So if your child is taking the 11 plus this year, how can you prepare them? Some parents seek out the best tutors they can find but others - usually the more laidback ones - leave it to fate, figuring that if children have to be tutored to pass the exam the school might not be right for them. As the mother of one recent 11 plus candidate told us: 'Parents need to be realistic. Children will learn best if they are happy. If they have been crammed and only just pass the 11 plus will they really be able to cope with the academic pressure of a selective school? Many children who find they have scraped in may always be at the bottom of the class and unhappy. Is it not better to be a bright star in a less academic school?'

Finding the best tutor

When it comes to finding the best tutors in your area, you can either go to a tutor agency or seek word of mouth recommendations.

However, one Good Schools Guide editor reckons that the most effective method is to ask parents whose children passed the 11 plus a couple of years back. She told us: 'Competition is so intense that many parents with children the same age as yours won't share the details of their tutor or will just lie and say they're not even considering relying on anything bar their child's natural brilliance.'

Helping your child

  • Ask teachers about your child's 11 plus chances. They will be able to give advice on your child's strengths and weaknesses.
  • Find out the entrance procedures for the schools you have in mind, the timetable for applications and tests, any fees required and the subjects your child will be tested on.
  • Check what your child will be expected to know for the tests.
  • Get hold of some past papers. These can often be found on school websites, although not all schools provide them.
  • Look at 11 plus study guides. There are a plethora of books and practice papers available at WH Smith and on Amazon.
  • Start working with your child early enough (at least six months ahead of the exam). Taking a look at his or her numeracy skills and finding them wobbly midway through the autumn term of year 6 might not leave enough time to prepare.
  • Make a revision plan with short and long-term goals - and stick to it.
  • Set reasonable targets. Your child already does a day's work at school and may have homework too, so don't overdo it.
  • Do some interview practice. Don't over-prepare your child but encourage him or her to shake the interviewer's hand and look them in the eye. Encourage them to have a book they have read recently and can talk about, an idea of what's in the news and a question to ask about the school. Above all, remind your child to try and enjoy the interview.
  • Don't make the 11 plus exam the be all and end all. Rather than telling your child 'you've got to get into this school,' say something like 'let's have a go at it.' As an experienced Good Schools Guide writer told us: 'Don't convey any anxiety you have to your child. There are other lovely schools.'
  • Make sure your child eats well, sleeps well and gets lots of fresh air, exercise and time to relax and play.
  • Ensure your child has an early night and healthy breakfast before the exam. Afterwards, don't do a lengthy debrief - and don't comment on any mistakes your child might have made. If they are upset or worried, reassure them that they have done their best.

Searching for the right school? Agonising over the options?

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription gives you:
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  • The ability to save a list of possible schools and compare their results and performance

It is very imprtant that students have understanding about the exams before the exams day. To give the students a feeling about the exams, please get the students take Mock 11+ exams. It is critical that students learn the time and pressure management by taking the mock exams.

OK, we've made the decision to go for it. What now?

It's wise to do some preparation for the tests. Sending a child into the exam room who has never encountered the kind of questions involved will do them no favours when the fact is most other candidates will have had some prepping these days.

How much to do and when to start are difficult questions to answer though. What's needed will depend on where your child is at academically, how competitive it is to get a place at your target school(s) and if they will do any swotting up for the 11+ at their primary school.

In some areas, a couple of months of an hour or two a week will suffice, in others, where grammars are massively over-subscribed, you might need to start considerably earlier, and do more, to give your child a fighting chance.

Is a tutor essential?

Some parents find self-tutoring their kids works out fine - with the bonus being that it's cheaper - but hired help is increasingly common for the 11+. There are quite a lot of considerations here:

Reasons to tutor

  • A good tutor will know the type of exams at local schools and their questions inside out.
  • They should be able to give you perspective on your child's chances (albeit they can't tell you for sure whether they will get in or not!) and advice about which schools to try for.
  • Some children are more likely to want to complete work for their tutor than their parents, making it less of a battle.
  • If your child goes to the tutor's home or office, there might well be fewer distractions around when it comes to getting down to work - no TV, computer games or younger siblings running about.

Reasons to skip the tutor

  • You'll have to commit to a specific time slot each week (although this could be a positive as it will give you a timetable and structure to ensure homework gets done).
  • The expense! Some London tutors charge as much as £50 an hour. £25 to £30 is pretty normal elsewhere.
  • You might not have the same knowledge of the tests and process as a tutor (although you know your child and what makes them tick better than anyone).

Note too that some areas and schools are looking at 'tutor proofing' tests. The idea is that those children from families who can't afford tutoring aren't disadvantaged and the tests will assess ability rather than how coached a child has been.

I do want a tutor, how can I find a good one?

Generally parents seek one through recommendation - perhaps asking around amongst any families you know with children at the schools you're hoping to get into (although other parents can be surprisingly cagey about passing on details of their tutor!) If that draws a blank try going via a reputable agency.

Make your own enquiries about the tutor including seeking references from other parents. The tutor should have experience with the 11+ (not just of teaching in a school) and ideally of preparing children for the specific schools you're looking at sending your child to.

Can they talk knowledgably about the tests for that school? Do they know which subjects are covered? Ask them about their success rates - how many of their pupils got into their first choice school last year? Be wary of anyone who seems to have a lot of availability - any decent tutor will be fairly booked up!

Remember that tutoring is unregulated and anyone can set themselves up as one. All tutors should have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.

What about 11+ group tuition?

11+ tuition groups operate in most area with grammar schools, run either by individual tutors or agencies/ tutoring companies. It will be cheaper than individual tuition and can bring a sociable element to preparations but on the downside, your child won't get the same one-on-one attention.

Ask about class sizes, check how individualised the teaching is, what the tutor's qualifications are and what scope there will be for you to get feedback and guidance about how your child's doing.

How can I help them prepare without a tutor then?

It's perfectly possible to take a DIY approach to the 11+ and many parents do so successfully, although sometimes the parent-child dynamic can make things challenging! Again, the Eleven Plus Exams website has lots of information and resources plus recommendations for workbooks and other useful materials. It's a wise move to get children to 'buy into' the idea of going to your target school - it's much easier to get them motivated if they love the idea of a particular school. Take them to the open day and hope they'll want to go there so much that they'll be willing to put a little work in. Be careful though not to talk the place up so much that going there becomes the be all and end all...just in case she doesn't get a place!

HEADING FOR THE BIG DAY

How can I keep my child calm through all this?

The 11+ exam can be horribly stressful. Lorrae's tips for keeping children relaxed include trying not to talk about it all too much, creating a schedule and keeping to it so there doesn't need to be additional discussion about what to do when, and giving lots of positive feedback about how well they're working and doing their best.

Last-minute cramming is unlikely to help and might just make things worse if it panics your child or tires them out.

Should I offer them a reward for passing?

Lots of parents promise their child a reward around the time of the exams. If you do this, ensure that it's for their efforts not for results per se, as the thought of not getting into the school AND not getting their reward might well just add to their stress!

How can I keep myself calm?!

If you feel your blood pressure hiking up as the exams loom, you're not alone. This can be a tough time for parents.

All the usual relaxation techniques, from yoga, to going for a run or settling down with a nice glass of wine and reading a good book are what the anti-11+ stress doctor ordered.

"Make sure you drive to the school before the big day (maybe on an open day or the same day the week before) so you know the route. Don't get stressed when you see a sea of cars and parents with their little prodigies - just be cool and talk to your child."

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