10 Top Tips for planning an 11 Plus Exam preparation process

1/ Make sure the school you are trying for will really be right for your child.

Think carefully about which schools you want to try for, think about travelling distances and how those schools will fit in with your life. Giving children a good balance between work and other activities is essential if they are to perform to the best of their ability. Children get a lot of homework in secondary school so if they have long commutes to and from school then this will not help them. Long commutes also constrain the amount of after school activities that are possible. Remember a selective school will not be right for every child.

2/ Choose your preparation route with care.

Make sure you select your chosen preparation with care (Private Tuition, Tuition Groups, Guided 11 Plus Courses  and using 11 Plus books at home are the main routes chosen by most parents). They each come with their price tags and their own benefits and drawbacks. The most important aspect to think about when choosing is whether you can deliver it within the family. Any of the four main routes of preparation suits different families in different ways, one or two are likely to be more suitable for you than others- use the links to find out more. Remember higher cost doesn’t necessarily mean better. For some children preparing at home using books is the very best solution (and it is the cheapest).

3/  If you start early concentrate on core Maths and English skills.

There is no harm in starting early (in years three or four for instance) as long as the principal focus of your effort is on core Maths and English skills. Reading every day, making sure times tables skills are absolutely rock solid or doing a little mental maths or spelling work each week are classic examples of work that will benefit your child educationally AND help them prepare for their 11 Plus Exams.

4/ Actively developing a wide vocabulary will be essential.

One of the core reasons some children are successful in their 11 Plus Exams and others are not is because some children have a wider vocabulary than others. Remember that a wide vocabulary is best developed over time: through reading each and every day, through talking with adults at meal times, even through watching the odd bit of television or listening to the radio. It can also be enhanced by specific learning activities but these tend to be a less effective way of developing vocabulary and are certainly less popular with children. It is never too early to start helping a child to develop their vocabulary. Children who do well at the 11 Plus are likely to know something in the region of 1000-2000 words more than their less successful peers.

5/ The secret of good Maths skills lies in rock solid times tables.

In Maths those children who are more successful will not have left their times tables behind too early. Children without very solid times tables skills simply are not able to work quickly and accurately enough to deliver the result required….. one way of looking at this is that if children are not as confident (really as confident) with 7×6, 8×9,6×8 etc as they are with 1×2 then there is still work to do. Parents and teachers come under pressure from children to leave times tables far too quickly. Children might well feel they ‘know’ their tables but they almost certainly do not know them well enough to leave them.

6/ Avoid the urge to move too fast in Maths.

In Maths again often families are keen to march ever faster forwards, tackling subjects of increasing difficulty far too quickly. Some children who are exceptionally gifted may respond well to this, but for most what will be happening is they will be being stretched on shaky foundations. Think about this – the 11 Plus is an exam which does not stray outside the primary school syllabus (except for one or two questions on some Independent School papers). It is much better to be able to deliver against the syllabus in a rock solid way than train to answer questions of a complexity that will never come up.

7/ Have a plan and stick to it.

Don’t get shaken by what others say they are doing. Every year we hear of boastful parents bragging about their children doing some GCSE Maths questions or their child doing 11 Plus Standard Non-VR papers in year four. These are not helpful thoughts…. The child supposedly doing GCSE standard maths may well not have solid enough foundations to be able to do well in the 11 Plus Maths test (which calls for a depth of knowledge of the syllabus, speed and accuracy) and the child already apparently doing 11 Plus Standard NVR tests will be bored to tears in a year or so and children who are bored often under-deliver.

8/ Remember that children need to learn the material BEFORE being tested.

Giving a child a timed test on a topic they are not secure on demotivates them. It is also very difficult to understand where they are at… mistakes will be made on topics they are not sure of, and as they spend too much time trying to work things out mistakes will also be made on areas where their knowledge is sound. Resist the urge to give children paper after paper after paper…. In our long experience it isn’t a sound strategy. Helping children to learn then encouraging them to apply their skills to a timed test is the best way to go.

9/ Pressure and stress – you can do without it.

Parents do often pile the pressure on without realising it…. Every meal time becomes a discussion about how things are going….. Parents keep mentioning how great life is going to be when their child is at such and such school… children hope to please by doing what is asked of them but deep down they are worried about letting their parents down…. Test results at home have been good but that has made matters worse as the child’s parents are now considering a place at their favoured school to be a near certainty…. Parents are asking their child how they feel and telling them it will all be OK but will it? Does the child know what will happen if they are not successful ?…….. Typically all parents mean well, some have a strong work ethic and set high standards but sadly all too often what happens is the child feels too much pressure and underperforms on the day. Too much pressure reduces mental maths ability and vocabulary recall by around 10%-30%, that’s enough for a bright child to not be as successful as was envisaged. All too often parents won’t realise too much pressure has been applied until it is too late. Sometimes the first inkling is only when the exam results come in. Be warned, do everything you can to make preparation as fun, relaxed and as enjoyable as possible. Make sure your child knows that the world will not stop turning if they are not successful.

10/ Stamina is all important- your own and your child’s.

Most 11 Plus preparation programmes fail because of parental stress/lack of time/lack of desire than for any other reason. Equally children need stamina to deliver their best effort on the day. Very often children will walk into an exam room never having worked so hard in a single day before, it is far better to prepare them (either do some mock days yourself or check your tutor does them). For parents the best way of avoiding stress and running out of steam is to only embark on a programme you know you can make work. You know yourself, you know your child and you’ll have a good idea of how much you can do and for how long. Be honest with yourselves. It is far better to do less but do it well than embark on an overly ambitious programme that then falls flat.