SLT was featured in The Telegraph in December 2016 , offering advice on the 11+. For children preparing to sit the 11+ either this year or next, the article contains a few simple steps that can be taken to help ensure success.
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The 11+ exam, which governs admission to various types of secondary school, has been one of the key points in a young person’s life for some 40 years. It comprises papers on literacy, numeracy, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Whether you are frantically preparing for January 2017, or starting a more leisurely journey towards exams in 2018, we hope that you find the following advice helpful.
1. When to start preparation for the 11+?
It all depends on the individual child; your son or daughter may only need a few hours of exam practice, or, if there are deeper learning gaps, they might need several months of regular weekly tuition. The good news is that any support focused on the 11+ will pay dividends in general schoolwork. We find that about 12 months of gentle preparation is the average – so starting just after the Christmas of the year before the 11+ exam. If you have less time, you can still have impact in just a few hours – provided the correct methodology is followed.
2. How to prepare for 11+ English
The 11+ English paper can be challenging for most adults, let alone 10-year-olds. It involves composition and comprehension that requires them to be confident about ‘writing from the heart’. In my experience this is where many children – particularly boys – lose marks. The effective and constructive communication of emotions are not usually a strong point at that stage, which is why many boys’ schools work on a 13+ entry system, which boys sit when they are more developed. An excellent way to improve verbal dexterity is to tell, or read, your child a story and then talk about it afterwards. Get them to describe to you what happened and explain how it made them feel. As well as helping them to unlock their emotions, effective story-telling brings a satisfying increase in marks.
From our experience as tutors, girls tend to have better accuracy, creativity and consistency with punctuation that allows them to achieve better grades on composition papers.
3. How to prepare for 11+ Maths
You need to make sure that your child understands the core concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – and can apply this knowledge under pressure, particularly in problem solving type questions. Go over times tables regularly using games, cards and posters.
4. Preparing for Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning Papers
Some people believe these test innate ability and therefore cannot be coached. But I believe it is vital to provide opportunities for practice – easily done as there are plenty of books on sale. There is no magic to it, but if the child has not seen this type of question before the exam they will likely be completely thrown.
5. Keep your cool
With so much riding on the outcome, most parents are quite nervous (as are school heads!). But it’s vital that you don’t convey this to your child. Aim to be relaxed and detached. Don’t push, just give gentle encouragement and explain that exams are not the be all and end all. Help your child to de-stress by making sure they take regular breaks, tired children easily get frustrated and are unlikely to be able to concentrate. Remember that factors such as parents’ relationship difficulties, financial stress, bullying and illness can all affect a child’s performance in their exam. Try to protect them from the real world as much as you can.
6. Limit the use of technology during breaks
If there is an iPad in the room while your child is trying to work it can prove an easy distraction between lessons. It is not good to switch from making ‘brain and pen’ connections to computer games because both activities stimulate different parts of the brain. Your child will need to perfect the management of calm retrieval of data. They also need time to absorb information – some downtime to process the work they have completed and to let the information sink in. This is best done if breaks involve a walk or some other exercise.
7. Organise mock exams
Anything you can do to help your child reduce the natural anxiety they may feel around the 11+ will be a good thing. One of the best things to do is a mock exam. Tutors can organise these for you and they can be fun! Alternatively you could organise your own by hiring a hall, or going to a house that is unfamiliar to your child, with a group of other children (even better if those children are unknown to each other) and taking a mock test. Keep things formal, give timings and ensure everyone works in silence. Put the pressure on to work fast, and throw in a couple of unexpected questions. The aim is to help children prepare for what happens when things look unusual, and when problems arise. Then go through the papers afterwards to identify strengths and weaknesses. Bear in mind that mark schemes can be hard to understand and may need expert interpretation. Sometimes a composition piece might look good and be spelled and punctuated correctly, but has nevertheless failed to answer the question properly.
8. And if your child doesn’t pass the 11+?
If your child doesn’t do as well as you expected, don’t take it lying down – appeal! Grammar schools have an established process for this. For independents, the decision is entirely discretionary. Generally speaking you are more likely to succeed if you have the support of your child’s head teacher to confirm that the poor performance on the exam day was unexpected. But stay calm; our advice is to accept the result and praise your child for all their hard work. There are plenty of other schools that will be a good fit for your child and with a bit of help you can make a plan to get them back on the road to academic success and emotional well being.
There is more helpful information in this 11+ Video, but if you would like to talk to us about any part of the 11+, please feel free to get in touch.