11-Plus Preparation: Is One Year Enough Time?

Learning Tips

We often hear from parents who have a year – or less – until their child sits entrance exams for senior school, and who are in a pickle about 11 plus preparation.

The prospect of the 11+ can feel conflicting and overwhelming: on one hand, parents feel that their child should be making the most of their childhood whilst they are still so young; on the other, they know that their child will have to compete against hundreds of others to gain a place at a popular London day school, and, as such, will need to be well prepared and focused if they are to succeed.

The good news is that a year of 11 plus preparation is probably optimum, so if you are reading this with 12 months to go, you’re in a great position – starting any sooner may be difficult for your child (and potentially unsustainable). An additional bonus is that the extra work you do over the next year will have significant benefits for your child’s schoolwork in general: winner!

Keep reading for our top tips for parents:

Tip Number One: Do Your Homework (Chosen School)

In order to plan your 11 plus preparation schedule effectively, you need to be an expert on your child’s intended school. You’ll want to find out everything you can about:

  • The school’s selection criteria. What score will your child need to achieve?
  • The school’s tests. How many 11 plus subjects are tested, and are any of these areas that your child struggles with? Make sure that you have up-to-date information as exams really can change from year to year. For example, in 2015, Wimbledon High School completely changed their exam (with little warning): doing away with written maths and English papers, and adding in a creative problem-solving task.
  • The school’s popularity. Is your child’s chosen school over-subscribed? How many from your child’s primary school go there, on average, each year?
  • Don’t forget to put all key dates in your diary, too!

Tip Number Two: Do Your Homework (Current School)

Like with tip number one, preparation is key when planning your 11 plus campaign. As well as finding out everything you can about your chosen secondary school, you’ll also want to create a clear picture of how your child is doing right now in key areas of literacy and numeracy. Consider the speed and accuracy of their mental maths, as well as their mathematical problem-solving and reading levels. Speak with their teachers, too, and try and find out where they sit relative to their peers and in relation to 11+ standards.

The key here is not to get too results-oriented: it’s natural for your child to be stronger in some areas than others. Rather than focusing on an end goal of 100% perfect for everything (which is not only unrealistic but feels overwhelming), instead focus on finding out where improvements can be made, and then take these one step at a time.

Tip Number Three: Build Core Skills

For the first six months of 11 plus preparation, concentrate on filling in any gaps in knowledge and practising core literacy and numeracy. It may sound obvious, but your child should know their times tables inside out and a have a good spelling level.

Try and make things fun and interesting: whilst it can be helpful to sit down and go through things in a structured manner on a regular basis, there are opportunities in everyday life to improve core skills, too. Going on a long journey? Play rapid word games in the car or Scrabble on the train. Going shopping? Ask your child to add up the numbers on licence plates in the car park or total up the items in your shopping basket.

Reading is extremely important, too, but it doesn’t need to be limited to books. Everywhere you go, try and find something new for your child to read – from a family-friendly magazine at the dentist’s to an interesting website whilst you’re travelling on the tube. Ask your child to read aloud to you regularly and make sure that you’re exploring any ideas or words that they don’t understand.

Tip Number Four: Practice, Practice, Practice

Non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness and verbal reasoning are vital to 11+ success, but they aren’t taught as part of the National Curriculum. It’s therefore really important that you practice regularly at home – but little and often is the key here. Focus on building your child’s confidence by engaging in a regular routine of 11 plus preparation that is broken down into easy-to manage chunks and filled with varied activities.

Again, these activities can fit seamlessly into everyday life. For verbal agility, tell or read your child a story and then discuss afterwards – ask them to describe what happened and what they took away from it (their reaction, how it made them feel, etc.). Play words games where you try and find links – suggest a word and ask your child to think of a synonym and antonym, or pick a few words and ask your child to try and find the connections between them.

Non-verbal reasoning tests problem-solving around shapes, pictures and diagrams, rather than words. Games can be extremely useful: from jigsaws to origami to ‘spot’ the difference, such activities can increase your child’s ability to work with shapes and problem solve, whilst improving their visual understanding.

We also highly recommend the Bond 11+ books, which are packed full of guidance and ideas regarding improvements to verbal/non-verbal reasoning.

As well as introducing stimulating activities into your time table, carve out space for more structured exam preparation – this will help your child feel both confident and familiar with the style of questions being asked, as well as the conditions under which they will be tested. Introduce past papers and practice working to time in a ‘mock exam’ set-up.

And finally…

Mental preparation for the 11+ encompasses a wide variety of areas; and whilst we’ve covered some of the key skills in this blog, we haven’t explored one important topic: mental health and wellbeing. Your child may respond well to all the academic training and core-skills development that we’ve mentioned, but if they are filled with anxiety on the day of the exam (or in the preceding weeks/months), they won’t feel able to tackle the test with confidence. It’s therefore important to create a reassuring, calming atmosphere for your child in the run-up to exams, and develop coping mechanisms for any nerves. We will cover this in detail in another Mentor blog, so do keep checking back for more guidance and advice.

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