11 Plus exam preparation for a year four child.

Year four should be all about helping your child perform to the best of their ability regardless of the 11 Plus exam. During year four the items to focus on are exactly the same for every parent whether you hope to try for the 11 Plus exam or not.

We would strongly urge you to resist any desire to move children ever faster forwards, the approach which is best for children of this age is to ensure their foundations are absolutely solid, and when you are convinced they are solid, go back and make them even more solid.

All the work children do in year four will be useful during their school career.

Parents should be looking at developing their child’s core skills so that they can get into the top sets at their school if they are not already in them. Results won’t come immediately but over six months to a year significant progress will be made. Our experience shows children will normally make at least two sub-levels of progress in six months in addition to normal school progression by carrying out this programme of work (E.G the difference between a child being a 5c vs a 4b).

You’ll notice the vast majority of the work we suggest is core skills work. These are the hardest things to move forward and take the most time and effort, but without progress in these areas children are unlikely to do well enough to get through the 11 Plus.

1/ Getting children used to sitting down and doing a little work after school.

While many primary schools don’t give out much homework, children who get into a good routine of working a little each day find things much easier as they get older.  Children at this stage benefit from doing a little work each day. Little and often is ideal for year 4 11 Plus exam preparation.

Aim: Do something after school each day. Many parents find 15 minutes to 30 minutes to be an ideal time period.

Why: Getting into a routine early is much easier than forcing it later.

2/ Reading as part of a year 4 11 Plus exam preparation routine

Children develop at a wide variety of speeds. Some will already be independent readers others will still need lots of help and won’t read properly by themselves at the beginning of year 4.

Aim: To have children reading for at least half an hour every day, either with a parent or independently if they can. Children should be reading out loud to parents in a paired reading environment once or twice per week (or more if they are not yet fully fluent readers)

Why: Reading is the very best way of helping children develop their core English skills, particularly their vocabulary. Building up a wide vocabulary takes a long time but if children start to read early then they have a head start. Read as much as you can. Children with a weaker vocabulary are more likely to not be successful at the 11 Plus than children with a wide vocabulary. The mistake made by parents at this age (especially those families where English is not the first language) is to focus on other things. Reading is absolutely critical as a tool to build a wide vocabulary.

NB During year four we’d suggest children do what reading the school asks of them, that they have their own book at home they are reading independently and that you have another book you are using for paired reading twice a week. The reason for this is that often schools do not let children go as quickly as they need to with reading and so having their own book at home gets over this problem. The rationale behind having a different book for paired reading is simply to ensure that the paired reading does not interrupt the development of reading for enjoyment which children develop from reading books that interest them in their own time.

3/ Times tables as part of a year 4 11 Plus exam preparation plan

Children leave their times tables far too early. Times tables form the building blocks of Maths. Children need to know them backwards, forwards,  out of order and mixed and need to be able to give answers at lightning speed. This only comes with a great deal of work. The common mistake is to believe that children know their times tables just because they can go backwards and forwards through them without making any or many mistakes. They can always get better at it and if they stick with it then their Maths will also be much better.

Aim: To give children really solid tables foundations.

Why: Children won’t be doing division and multiplication of fractions until the end of their 11 Plus preparation, nor will they be doing more complicated four operations calculations until later but, without absolutely rock solid times tables they will make lots and lots of unnecessary mistakes and spend longer working things out than others. Without excellent times tables knowledge children will struggle with the 11 Plus and with Maths throughout their education.

NB It is quite normal to find Parents coming to us during year five with the problem that their children keep making calculation mistakes in their practice 11 Plus papers. Very often when you dig into it the problem is that their times tables are too weak to stand up to the pressure of doing a lot of questions accurately in a limited time. Of course at that stage it’s often too late or too difficult to go back. We have seen on countless occasions parents move their children away from times tables in their thirst for ever faster advancement. It often goes wrong. As you can tell this is something we feel very strongly about.

4/ Mental Maths- Four operations and beyond.

Many children simply don’t answer enough Maths questions in school to gain sufficient confidence to get really good at the subject.

Aim: To give children greater fluency in answering questions and keep their skills current and natural.

Why: Children might well spend a lesson learning a new skill but it is only through practice that they become really proficient. Skills need to be properly embedded through doing lots of examples for children to be able have confidence in their abilities.

5/ Maths problem solving.

Maths skills should be learnt in a flexible way so that they can be applied to everyday situations.

Many children lack the confidence to tackle worded maths problems but if they did a little more work in this area they would become more confident.

Aim: to try to exercise a child’s core maths skills by applying those skills to different problem situations.

Why: Children need to have flexible skills and not be frightened of working out which of their skills they could use to tackle different questions. Children without this kind of flexibility tend to lack the confidence required to try new question formats.

6/ Spelling as part of a year 4 11 Plus exam preparation programme

Schools tend to give perhaps one ten word spelling sheet out per week. Make the most of this by making sure children also know what the words mean.

We would suggest you also do one further spelling exercise per week using a good book which has activities to help embed new words and their meanings. This isn’t work that produces results in a day, week or even month. Over six months to a year your child’s spelling and breadth of vocabulary will be transformed.

Aim: To improve a child’s breadth of vocabulary and develop their spelling ability.

Why: Building a wide vocabulary and decent spelling performance are not skills that can be taught quickly. They are best developed slowly over time. Working on spelling development is one aspect of this work. When children face the 11 Plus having a strong vocabulary is a distinct advantage.

7/ Comprehension during year 4 11 Plus exam preparation work

Comprehensions for children in year three are usually quite fun and it is work children tend to enjoy. We would suggest doing one piece of work per week.

Aim: To improve a child’s comprehension ability.

Why: While children often do face a comprehension exercise in their 11 Plus exam, if they improve their comprehension ability now then their reading skills will also improve. If children begin to comprehend more of what they are reading then they will enjoy it more and will then want to read more. The more they read early on the better off all their core English skills will be.

8/ Verbal Reasoning

Our usual advice to parents would be not to do any and that children would be better off developing their comprehension skills, vocabulary and spelling.

So if children are in the Summer term of year four, if they are old for their year, if they have been reading for at least a year each and every day, if they have been in the top group for English throughout year four then you might be able to try some Verbal Reasoning BUT we’d suggest only if the work (above) is all being done (at this stage vocabulary ,comprehension and spelling development is more important than VR).

If you decide to do some VR then we’d suggest you spend the time getting familiar with the 21 VR question types. Under no circumstances would we suggest doing any 11 + standard timed tests or any other type of timed tests for that matter. At this age it is just counter productive.

9/ Non- Verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal reasoning is not difficult to pick up and while we know some parents cannot resist the urge to have a go, we’d suggest it is better to leave this until year five. Year four should be the time to really focus on the core Maths and English skills children need. If they have done this work effectively then they will have more than enough time to learn about Non-Verbal Reasoning and do lots of test papers during year five.

Typical work plan for a week

Monday: School set spelling work. Focus on learning what the words mean as well as the spelling. Read for half an hour. Spend ten minutes on times tables.

Tuesday: Mental Maths (about ten questions minimum, thirty maximum). Paired reading for half an hour. Spend ten minutes on times tables.

Wednesday: Home spelling work. Read for half an hour. Spend ten minutes on times tables.

Thursday: Maths Problem Solving ( about ten or so questions should be enough). Paired reading for half an hour. Spend ten minutes on times tables.

Friday: Comprehension exercise. Read for half an hour. Spend ten minutes on times tables.

Sat: Paired reading for half an hour. Do any items not completed in the week. Do ten minutes times tables.

Sun: Read for half an hour. Do any items not completed in the week. Do ten minutes of times tables.

Some families will look at this work schedule and consider it to be daunting. Actually it isn’t if you have the right 11 Plus preparation materials AND you have managed to get set into a routine of sitting down for half an hour each day. The secret of making any home preparation regime work (either in year four or in year five when the exam is looming) is to get into a simple routine.

Some parents might feel they want to and can do more work than that which we describe. We would say watch out for the following 1/ Why not try what we suggest first and then see how you feel after three months. It is better to complete a smaller programme rather than bite off more than you can chew. 2/ The level of work we describe is about right for a bright child in year three, they are small and while a little work can really help them, driving them hard will be likely to lead to adverse results. 3/ All we suggest is core skills based and the structure gives variety to keep children interested. If you do want to do more then we’d suggest punctuation and grammar should be the  target.