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Planning for the 11+

Deciding whether to enter your child for the 11+ is a big decision and coupled with deciding on the best course of support.

As a tuition agency with many years experience with 11+ we see a number of parents each year contact us because they have made a last minute decision to register for the 11+ and want to give their child the opportunity to practice test skills. Unfortunately, we commonly see that there are gaps in their education and understanding that make it difficult to fully prepare for such a comprehensive assessment. In this article we look at why so many children struggle and what we perceive to be the recommended approach.

Why is the 11+ so hard?

The 11+ has always been intended to allow the "top percentile" (those identified by grading to be in the top percentages) to be identified in order to establish the level of academic rigour required by different selective schools. Children are tested across a range of topics, skills and under strict time conditions. It is quite possible for a child to be bright and struggle with the 11+ because of the specific nature of the question styles, difference in syllabus to the national curriculum and level of language used.

My child gets good school reports, isn't that enough?

If your child is achieving the curriculum standard at school that is not sufficient to be able to pass the 11+. The national standard is a target set to enable large classes of mixed abilities to progress with the majority being able to meet expectations. This means that when applied to a test of individual aptitude, the national standard falls far short of what is expected of the "top percentiles". In addition to the actual difference in expectations, the national curriculum is designed to develop skills in layers, each level carefully planned to support the next. There is no "next level" with the 11+ and the tests are not designed with supportive and gradual development in mind but to really push children to apply their reasoning skills and be differentiated on this basis. As such there are many topics, language forms and vocabulary that are beyond the level a standardised school education would have exposed children to.

Isn't tutoring cheating?

The 11+ is not intended to require a tutor; however the reality is that, due to the extreme divergence of 11+ topics and primary school curriculum, many bright children are adversely affected if they do not receive additional support beyond working on the sample papers the exam board provides. You would likely expect that our stance is pro-tutoring but this goes beyond running a business. The reason we became tutors is because there is a need! Students are genuinely struggling and parents have a hard time helping them on their own. Whilst it is possible for parents to use the workbooks and papers to help their children, we regularly see parents that run into confusion about which method to teach, how to explain things and dealing with emotional outbursts from their child. Children are very sensitive to their parents' moods and frustration and this can cause practice time to become a real ordeal in many households. The reality is that many people taking and passing the 11+ do so with the assistance of a tutor and that it is more likely to be a disadvantage not to have some level of outside support.

When should I begin preparing my child for 11+

After several years of seeing children with different skill sets and levels of aptitude prepare for the 11+ we have formed the following generalisations. There are children that need more or less support depending on their level of confidence, enjoyment of learning and opportunities for exposure to more advanced language and mathematics. The ideal situation is to begin gently introducing 11+ workbooks into your child's home-learning sessions in year three. They should be actively encouraged to read classic children's literature and learning can be incorporated in fun ways, such as family board games. Year three is often the time children begin learning more of their times tables this is an area that should be actively supported and developed as it will help them greatly in their speed and confidence in mathematics. More deliberate and regular exposure to 11+ practice should take place throughout year four and five with the use of practice papers and mock assessment over the summer before the 11+ exams. Children that have this experience are usually more confident, feel prepared and are able to show their true potential. At the very least, a one year 11+ programme will usually allow enough time to address any major holes in their education and to provide a fair understanding of the wide range of question types that may come up across the relevant topics.

How do I prevent the 11+ becoming stressful for my child?

We believe it is important to ensure your child knows that the 11+ is simply a process to determine which children are suited to different types of secondary school and is not a test of intelligence. Intelligence manifests in different areas and whilst the skills in the 11+ are clearly a type of intelligence they have no reflection of emotional intelligence, common sense, rationalisation and physical aptitude. Ensure your child is made aware of the many ways they excel and that it is the effort and practice at exam skills that are to be rewarded. Once the 11+ takes place ensure a suitable reward is provided to celebrate the work they put in. Focus should be on how they applied their self in preparation for the 11+ rather than on the final result.

Going into the 11+ with eyes wide open is the best way to ensure your child gets the most from the experience. We understand how challenging it can be and the desire to give your child the best opportunities whilst maintaining a healthy, happy childhood. More importantly than when you begin 11+ tuition, if at all, is that you receive support from a capable, experiences and sympathetic tutor that will take the time to answer any questions and focus on your child and your family's specific needs.


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