What are the common mistakes made with Maths preparation?

1/ Doing too much.

It may sound strange but many children don’t get the results they want because they have spent too long on Maths. Many of these children get 100% on the Maths test but their VR or English scores are much lower and drag them down. They have made the fateful error of spending too long on one subject. In some households where English is not the first language there can sometimes be a temptation to focus overly hard on Maths because the parents feel that is where they can help their children because of the English barrier. Concentrating on Maths in this way almost certainly is detrimental to those children’s chances. Any Maths schedule of preparation needs to ensure that enough time is left over to improve performance on other subjects.

2/ Pushing too far ahead.

Pupils will generally need to cover the syllabus to the end of year six as this will be the focus of most questions on any 11 Plus exam. Some parents make the mistake of pushing and pushing ever onwards so that a child is working way beyond the level required by the time they take the 11 Plus. This is often counterproductive. These children will have spent time studying subjects that simply will not come up in the test, or studying subjects at a higher complexity than needed. Instead they could have used the time to hone their skills in other areas. Pushing too far ahead is not an efficient use of time. It also means that pupils may overcomplicate questions in the exam by trying to use skills that aren’t needed.

3/ Pushing ahead too fast.

If you have a child who is gifted at Maths and at a Primary School then they will probably be in the top group for Maths. Until year five there is little point in working at their Maths to move them ahead of even the top group. If children are too far ahead at school then this can create behavioural issues at school, they can become bored and demotivated. There is a balance to strike. If your child is in the top group and is gifted at Maths then resist the temptation to move them further forwards. During year five they will need to cover what elements of the syllabus they have not yet seen (if any). Use the benefit of having a child who is gifted at Maths to free up time to then spend on other areas. English skills take a lot longer to develop and if you have a child who is very good at Maths then sometimes spending more time on English development can result in a better overall result.

4/ Not recognising the role of confidence in a Maths performance.

In this day and age there’s a bit of competition in schools amongst the brighter children to get 100%, to always be right when you put your hand up. This has created a section of children (often girls) who lack confidence. This manifests itself in questions which are not attempted for fear of failure and gradually it leads to an under performance in Maths. Often if parents can act to install their children with more confidence then they will actually start to use the skills they already have. In these cases parents have a key role to play in encouraging their children to have a go, get some wrong but get some right and receive praise and encouragement outside the competitive classroom environment. Often in these situations growing confidence levels will have more effect than any skills based learning. It is not unusual for children to make a significant and quick leap forwards once confidence levels have been boosted.

5/ Moving on from topics too quickly.

Maths isn’t something where you learn skills and then move on. Effective learning at this age needs constant re-enforcement, topics need to be brought back time and time again. If parents have a desire to move ever further forward there are situations where children reach a point where their foundations have simply crumbled because there has not been enough iteration and revision. Consolidation is as important as moving ahead. One skill needs to be built on the firm foundations of an earlier skill. Don’t be tempted to scream for joy at the school gate that your child is showing an early interest in differential equations when they have not learnt their tables absolutely and totally immaculately or don’t know their angle or measurement facts like the back of their hand. Preparing a child for the 11 Plus Maths exam should be a process of careful building of skills and confidence, not a box ticking and move on exercise.

6/ Times tables.

The cause of most ‘silly’ mistakes in Maths papers (after not reading the question) is a lack of rigour with times tables. Most children at this level feel the know their times tables, and they could indeed write them all out perfectly, the trouble is they don’t know them well enough to survive the pressure cooker environment of doing lots of calculations in a short space of time.

This is a mistake made by parents in years 3, 4 and 5…. By year six it is often too late to fix as the work is seen to be beneath them.

If you go into a class of year six children and do a times tables quiz you will find a huge variety of speeds and accuracy levels. This is not an area which should be impacted by intelligence levels for averagely gifted children. Everyone has enough maths ability to have very strong times tables foundations.

Without strong times tables foundations you’ll find children make silly mistakes on calculations or spend too long on questions (just doing paper after paper won’t help because the problem is with their core maths skills). A child getting 85% on a Maths paper might be capable of scoring 90% plus with stronger times tables. It can make this much difference.

The best advice is not to leave times tables too early, don’t be swayed by complaints of boredom, stick with it. These days there are plenty of interesting games to play which help children see how much they use their times tables in practice, it is the core of Maths at this level.

If you have a child in year five and you want to see how well they know their tables then devise a verbal test of 20 questions…. Include five or six questions from the middle sections of the table (eg- 7×6, 8×7, 6×8, 6×7, 7×7 or 42 divided by 6, or 48 oranges shared equally between three sets of twins etc.) What many parents will find is that errors occur or they notice that their children are considerably quicker on some questions (eg- 3×2) than they are on others. Where children struggle more often than not it is in the middle sections. This isn’t rocket science but will give you a good idea of where problems lie. In most cases it is true that children could know their tables better. The most common ‘silly mistake’ errors on 11 plus maths papers are those involving table calculations.

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