Common reasons for not being successful at the 11 Plus

Parents naturally come onto forums such as this to try and learn from others and understand what mistakes to avoid when preparing their children for the 11 Plus exam. It is an area we always get questions on and we have tried to summarise the core reasons as best we can below.

“ What is the most common reason for not succeeding at 11 Plus ?”

There is no single common reason for children not getting a place but here are some of the most common causes:

Having too small a vocabulary is often a differentiator. Sometimes parents get carried away with testing and don’t spend enough time learning. One mistake parents often make is not to focus on reading enough. From as early as you can manage it (year three is ideal) children should be reading for at least half an hour every day. They should continue reading throughout the preparation process.

Not having robust core Maths skills. Many children simply have not spent enough time on their times tables and on ensuring their core 4 operation skills are totally sound. Under the pressure of the exam and needing to work quickly this often results in a few marks being dropped which in many cases makes all the difference. It is most common in families who believe that moving further and further ahead is the right thing to do for the 11 Plus. In fact the opposite is true and children should be spending more time on core skills and not move beyond the syllabus.

Not devising and sticking to a deliverable programme of work. Some families have an appetite for success at 11 Plus but for all sorts of reasons cannot deliver the right programme of work. A typical issue is having a hugely grand plan for working for an hour a day and then letting it slide or not being able to prioritise it. When it slips children get demotivated and the work collapses. Much better to target something you can deliver like half an hour a day or even just recognise it will be a few familiarisation papers. Making a plan you cannot deliver and then failing at it is a common reason for failure. Many parents wish they had the time to do a full preparation but in reality can only really deliver an effective familiarisation exercise. Delivering what you can properly is better than trying to do too much and making a mess of it.

Using the wrong materials. The 11 Plus market is quite varied, some learning materials and papers are better suited than others and it is important to choose the right ones.

Doing timed tests too early. There is absolutely no point in doing timed 11 Plus standard tests too early, children simply do not benefit from being asked to do these tests if their core skills have not been sufficiently developed.

Doing test after test. Tests are useful but only when the bulk of the time is spent on marking,feedback,going through the questions and enhancing knowledge and technique. Children very rarely make much progress by doing test after test without significant amounts of time and energy being used to improve knowledge and technique based on test results.

Allowing children to feel under too much pressure. Some children perform below expectations because they are under too much pressure. Often parents are not aware. Research has shown pressure will reduce a child’s ability to work quickly and accurately, do mental maths and recall vocabulary by something like 10%-30%. Often this is the core difference between getting a place and not.

Lack of organisation on the day. It pays to understand where the test is , how long it takes to get there and be sufficiently organised to get there in plenty of time so children can go to the loo and relax a little. Many parents unfortunately for one reason or another end up rushing on the day.  Some even turn up late. This always damages a child’s chances. Much better to be in control and have a relaxed and calm start.



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    Which 11 Plus Exam Preparation Options Are Right For You ?

    11 Plus Private Tutors

    • Personalised Work
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    • High feedback levels


    • VERY Expensive
    • Lots of work at home
    • Lots of travel

    11 Plus Tuition Centres

    • Structured work
    • Third party involvement
    • Some feedback


    • Some children don't progress
    • Lots of work at home
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    11 Plus Guided Courses

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    • No wasted time
    • Help and advice on hand


    • High parental commitment
    • Cost higher than DIY

    11 Plus DIY- Books

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    • Work can be totally tailored
    • Lowest cost


    • Difficult to plan well
    • Difficult to deliver well
    • Maximum parental effort