11+ Preparation – A Survival Guide For Parents

The 11+ is an examination taken by some children in their final year of primary school to get into a grammar or independent school of their choice. Where a school is over-subscribed or selective, the 11+ exam is used to rate a child’s ability as part of the school’s admissions process.

What is the Exam Like?

The format of exams can vary depending on the particular school you choose so it’s wise to ask how your child will be assessed, however broadly speaking there are four main disciplines:

  • Verbal Reasoning (VR)
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR)
  • Mathematics
  • English

If you would like further information on these four disciplines, consider booking one of our free assessments? You will see an example of questions that may be on the test and help you decide whether you feel is the best option for your child.

Choosing the Right Secondary School

For parents, this probably one of the most difficult decisions you ever make and many will worry whether you are making the right choice! However if you plan ahead and start preparing your child early, this will take away much of the stress. Remember where you live (or where your child attends primary school) affects your choice of grammar school; some areas have lots of grammar schools whereas others might have only one!

Do your Homework!

Make a list of all possible schools your child might attend (selective and comprehensive), consider journey time from home and decide whether it’s feasible for them to travel there & back every day. Include all the options at this stage just in case your child doesn’t pass the 11+ exam.

Check school admission policies, especially the selection process, to see if there is a realistic chance of getting your child a place.

Read current & previous OFSTED reports to ensure you’re happy with present & past academic performance, pastoral support, behaviour, etc.
Ask to visit the school or make arrangements to attend the Open Day – this is a great way to get a feel for the ‘atmosphere’ and how approachable the staff seem.

Involve your Child

Discuss the options with your child, arrange to visit the schools with them or look at their websites together. Remember that your child may express preferences based on the social side of things such as how many of their friends are applying, however, if you disagree with them, try to ‘sell’ the school you prefer on the basis of the quality of facilities, extra-curricular activities or school trips, etc. Don’t take too much notice of ‘playground gossip’, rather do your own research and make the best choice for your own child

Hiring the Right 11+ Tutor

The right tutor can make the difference between pass or fail! Start looking for the right tutor as early as possible! Look online or ask friends/family for recommendations. Expect to pay about £20 for a small group session or £35-40 for a one-to-one session.

Avoid large agencies such as Kip McGraph, Explore Learning or Kumon – often these are run by staff who are not qualified teachers so your child’s future will not be in the best hands. Also, they tend to be far less personal than smaller tuition services and they are much more expensive!

Most 11+ exams are taken in the autumn term of Year 6, therefore you should hire your tutor at the beginning of Year 5 at the latest. 2 hours per week is a sensible amount of time spent with your tutor per week; anything more could be excessive whereas anything less might not be enough time to cover all the skills your child needs to succeed in the exams.

Ensure the tutor has plenty of up to date experience preparing children for the 11+ tests and that they are familiar with the format of the exam for the grammar school/s you are considering. Look at their website or social media pages to ensure they are a genuine business and to read reviews. Ask to see the tutor’s academic qualifications and a current DBS (Disclosure and Barring – previously CRB check). If the tutor can’t provide these, don’t hire them!

11+ Preparation

You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘Fail to prepare – prepare to fail!’ That’s especially relevant when it comes to the 11+ exams. With competition for places at the best grammar schools being so fierce, it’s not a good idea to throw your child at the exam without any preparation. So the best advice we can give here is to practice, practice, practice! 

This is especially important for aspects of the exam children are less familiar with such as verbal and non-verbal reasoning. At A Star Tuition Group, we introduce children to all the question types they will be tested on in the exams, however, it’s also vital they continue to practice these regularly at home.

Set an agreed amount of time each week to revise and practice. This should be a time when the house is quieter so your child can focus on their work. Ensure you celebrate your child’s efforts with lots of praise rather than focusing only on their mistakes. By praising effort, you’ll help your child develop a growth mindset when it comes to learning. This will mean they can feel confident even when they make some mistakes – they see their errors as opportunities to improve rather than indications of weakness. Such a positive approach fosters resilience and determination to not give up!

Fun and Games

We know that children learn best when they’re engaged and having fun! At A Star Tuition Group, we ensure your child’s exam preparation classes are fun while ensuring all the key topics are covered. At home, try to make sure your revision and practice is as informal as possible and fun too! This will keep your child engaged and motivated.

Reading Comprehension

A great way to encourage your child to read and to develop comprehension skills is to read the same books. This way reading becomes more like a book club so you can discuss the book together in an informal way to practice comprehension. You could ask their opinion about characters, the writer’s use of language, predict what might happen next and the meaning of particular words.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning

Encourage your child to play a range of word and puzzle games to develop their vocabulary, understanding of language and related words, spelling and ability to see patterns. These could include: Hangman, crosswords, word searches, Scrabble – in fact, any word games they enjoy!

Maths and English

Play games and sing songs to practice times tables and the inverse operations. There are many online games and apps that are useful for practising spelling, grammar and times tables. Search for these with your child and find the games they enjoy the most.

During the Holidays

At the end of year 5, a dilemma for parents is whether to let their child have a complete rest before starting year 6 (which is an intense year anyway due to SATs) or should they encourage their child to keep revising as much as possible in preparation for 11 + exams in Autumn? At A Star Tuition Group we support our 11+ exam candidates throughout the summer holidays. At Summer School, we provide just the right amount of study to ensure your child’s knowledge/skills are maintained while at the same time, enabling children to have some well deserved time off!

Before the Exam

Be calm and above all keep it positive! Your child will pick up on your emotions so even if you are anxious, try not to show them! Say positive things such as, “This is exciting, you’ll finally get a chance to look around the school” or “Now you’ll get the chance to show off everything you’ve been learning!” This will help reduce any stress your child is feeling.

Also, ensure your child gets plenty of rest on the run-up to exam day and make sure they eat well on the morning of the exam; eating right will provide the energy they need to do their very best.

After the Exam

Praise, praise, praise! Celebrate your child’s effort regardless of the outcome. Do something nice together to help them forget the stress of the exam and take their minds off anything they think went wrong. When the results come out, it might not be what you were hoping for, but try to remain positive safe in the knowledge you made contingency plans at the outset so you’re sure what the next steps are for your child. Knowing this in advance will help alleviate their (and your own) disappointment and make your child feel secure and positive about their second choice of secondary school.

Tip: Do not down tools after the entrance exam is over. Your child has made enormous progress during the last 12 months, so it’s a waste to allow them to regress! Allow time for a brief rest, then continue along their educational journey.

At A-Star Tuition Group, we provide Year 6 Super Group sessions to enable able pupils who prepared for 11+ to build on their knowledge / skills in readiness for SATs and transition to secondary education.