Our friend Dom Gibson provided us with some top 11 plus preparation tips. Dom is the Educational Enrichment Editor for Tutorful, spending most of his day researching the best educational tools out there and exploring the big education questions asked by parents. He loves all things learning, just like Tutorful; You can take a look at what the UK’s biggest tuition marketplaces has to offer here.
You can also find my guest blog, Practice Makes Perfect: SAT’s, 11-Plus and Entrance Exams, written for Tutorful.
Top 11 Plus tips
Over the years, 11-plus exams have become an increasingly competitive milestone for young students. These exams test a child in a number of areas – verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, literacy and numeracy. The way your child scores on these exams determines whether or not they gain entry to their school of choice and thus the quality of their secondary education.
It is increasingly common among parents to seek tutoring for the preparation of 11-plus. It’s true that expert 11-plus tuition can be worth its weight in gold, guiding your child through revision and preparing with them with the most effective techniques and resources. It’s important to note, however, that there is a multitude of other considerations beyond tuition that you need to factor in to ensure your child performs at their optimal level in the exam.
Below, I’ve outlined some of the key points that you’ll need to take into account when preparing your child for the exam and offered some advice on how to tackle each effectively.
Gauge your child’s ability
The 11-plus tests a student on a variety of areas. These include reading comprehension, composition, and basic analytical mathematics, amongst others.
Now it is perfectly natural that some children will take to some areas with more confidence and ability than others. Your child may be great at reading, writing and comprehending literature but he or she may have a hard time with mathematics. Conversely, he or she may be good at mathematics but may need to polish up on their literacy skills.
So it is vitally important that you gauge your child’s abilities and standing well in advance. In my experience, many parents take a one-size fit all approach to the preparation that they’ve seen suggested online, without understanding the genuine educational needs of their children.
You can avoid this mistake by having your child sit a sample 11-plus test to better understand their baseline ability level for each area of the 11-plus. These tests are available online, both free of charge and paid, depending on the format you’re looking for.
Alternatively, you can have a professional tutor test your son or daughter in different areas and use their expert knowledge to help identify a personalised plan to strengthen your child’s weaker areas.
Start at the right time
When is the ‘right time’ to start preparation? This is a pretty loaded question and again, it really depends on the individual child. For some it’s best to get started in the summer between year 4 and 5, giving you a solid year and a half to prepare. Others may choose to start much later in the academic year, whilst some children will have sat 7+ tests to join middle schools, so will be better attuned to this type of testing and may need far less preparation still. Ultimately, it’s a judgement call between starting early enough to get your child the preparation they need, without starting so early as to risk losing momentum further down the line.
This is where the baseline tests fit in: once you know where your child stands in terms of being prepared for the 11-plus, you will have a solid idea of when the right time to start is. If your child has learning gaps in multiple areas, he or she may need a year or more of preparation to get up to speed. On the other hand, if your child already has the basics of 11-plus on fingertips, he or she may be ready for the exam with just a few months of preparation.
Of course, each of these timescales is purely estimates, with use of the right 11-plus resources alongside an experienced 11-plus tutor able to reduce this period, or simply increase the value of the time spent on preparation.
The 11-plus takes place nationwide in January each year. Whenever you choose to start preparation, it’s important to keep this timeline in mind, especially if you plan to utilise a tutor as their availability will drop off rapidly as you the exam date approaches. Timing your prep correctly will keep the pressure off of your child and make the exam experience far more enjoyable.
Practice with mock exams
Many children tend to panic under pressure when they hit the exam and are faced with the need to answer so many questions in a relatively short amount of time. This is quite understandable and yet you can easily train your child for the scenario by practising it beforehand. Find full-length 11-plus tests or ask your child’s tutor to prepare them for practice. Have your child attempt these mock tests multiple times.
Keep the settings of such mock tests formal. Better still, invite other children to the house or take your child to a setting where he or she may attempt mock tests alongside other kids. Use questions of varying difficulties to thoroughly test your child. Once the test is over, seek professional guidance or a tutor’s help to grade it accurately.
After the test is completed, it’s really important to take apart how your child felt about the whole experience. Give them a chance to break down their psychological experience as much as their academic performance – did they feel confident? If so, great, but why? If they felt stressed, unfocused or even upset, try to help them work through why this was and identify incremental steps together for how they can avoid or better control these feelings next time. This type of performance analysis is vital in enabling your child to perform consistently under pressure.
Use creative approaches
You may not be the main educator in your child’s 11-plus preparation. Still, you can play a vital role as a parent in helping ready them for the exam. We see many children intimidated by the sheer pressure of the exams. Or simply losing interest due to too pedagogical an approach. These are precisely the areas where you can help your child.
Ask him or her about their progress in 11-plus preparation. Provide moral support, see if they are distressed by the pressure and help them cheer up. Better still, find the right creative techniques to help them grasp the requisite basics. You can, for instance, use spelling and punctuation games, storytelling scenarios and real-world mathematical problems to engage their interest. It’s important that they see this a journey in mastery, one in which they forge their path.
Find the right tutor
Every student has unique abilities and unique learning needs. It’s no secret that the help of a teacher or tutor who knows their stuff can be invaluable. It can give your child the boost they need. However, if you are going to invest time and money in finding an 11-plus tutor it’s vital that you find the right fit.
The right tutor makes the preparation process an exciting experience. It can also encourage a focus on the process as much as the result. This will enable your child to develop a strong and flexible approach to the exam and to their learning. Again, the exact approach will vary from child to child. It’s important to find a tutor that works for you. So whilst taking recommendations from other parents can be useful, it’s important to look at all of the available options.
Do look for tutors who’ve gained positive reviews from parents and successfully prepped students for the 11-plus. Don’t take recommendations as gospel. Many tutoring services will be happy to offer trial sessions at a lower rate. So you can get a feel for the tutor before committing to full-priced lessons. And always feel free to switch tutors if that may ultimately help in your child’s exam prep in the long-run.
It’s vital to understand all of the factors involved in 11-plus preparation. Also, that parents always play a significant role in their child’s experience. Success is the goal. A happier student is always likely to perform better than a student who feels under pressure or lacks interest. You are a key component in instilling this happiness.
For a full list of some of the best 11-plus resources out there today, including tests, guides and expert advice, you can take a look at our Ultimate 11+ Resources editorial.
What are your experiences with the 11-plus? Have you put your child through it before, or is this your first time? Let me know in the comments below!
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