Be your child's own 11+ tutor: your step-by-step guide

Be your child's own 11+ tutor
Could you be your child's 11+ tutor? If DIY tutoring might work for your family, Mark Chatterton, author of The 11+ A Practical Guide For Parents, offers a step-by-step guide to help you get organised and offer your child effective 11+ preparation.

11+ preparation: when should you start?

When should you start thinking about the 11+? In my experience many parents panic and start the 11+ bandwagon rolling far too early. I have come across tales of parents having their children tutored for the 11+ when they are still in KS1, which is ridiculous.

I would say the ideal time for you as a parent to start thinking about the 11+ is in Year 4. If you're planning to employ an 11+ tutor, this will allow some time to find out more about local tutors and get some recommendations; good tutors tend to have waiting lists so you might want to get your child's name down with a particular person.

If you decide to tutor your child yourself, find out more about the 11+ in Year 4 so you'll be ready to start regular practice at the beginning of Year 5. 

Getting ready to start 11+ preparation with your child 

Don't be tempted to walk into a bookshop and buy every 11+ practice paper you see (an overwhelming and expensive experience!).

First, find out as much as you can about the grammar school(s) that you would like your child to apply to. Look at the school’s website and see what the admissions procedure is for children entering at Year 7. For example, if you live outside the school’s catchment area, is the pass mark higher for those who live outside it than for those who live locally? Check to see when the exam date is for the coming school year; most schools tend to hold their entrance exams in September, but some hold them in October.

In Year 5 you will be required to fill in a form to apply to sit the 11+ at particular schools. What is the date the application form has to be handed in? This will usually be in the summer months prior to the exam date and could be as early as May for some schools. Remember, this is a separate application form to the secondary school application form that you have to fill in for the local authority in October. 

Get some clarity about what subjects are set for the 11+ in your local area (usually a combination of four subjects: English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-verbal Reasoning).

Is the 11+ exam is set by the specific grammar school or developed by GL Assessment or CEM? The style of the test will dictate which type of 11+ practice paper you might use in your preparation. As well as this, you should find out if the way the child answers the questions is by the multiple choice method or traditional standard method of writing down the answers – look at sample papaers on each of the schools' or the local authority's websites to find out.

Most important of all, be clear in your mind that a grammar school is going to be the best type of secondary school for your child.

Is your child self-motivated and keen to succeed at school? Do they enjoy reading without being pressurised by you to do so? Even if your child doesn't enjoy maths, but is good at English, would they be able to work hard to catch up in the subject they are weakest at? What does your child’s primary school teacher think? Have their school reports suggested that they would be suited to a more academic school? It is a given that you should broach the subject with your son or daughter. Would they like to attend a grammar school? Attend open evenings for prospective Year 7 pupils with your child, even if you are a year ahead of entry. It will give you both a feel for different schools; this might motivate your child to work hard if they want to apply to attend a particular school. 

11+ resources: what's available for parents?

Before you buy mountains of 11+ practice papers, it is worth bearing in mind that you can find a selection free 11+ practice papers, as well as other 11+ preparation materials, on the internet. This will give you a good idea of what your child will have to face in the 11+ exam.

Before you ask your child to sit down with you and answer some questons, attempt the questions yourself. It doesn’t matter if you get some wrong; the important point is that you as a parent will understand what is involved and get an idea of how you'll have to prepare – together – for the exam.

There are at least thirty (if not more) 11+ publishers operating at the present time, each offering their own take on the 11+. If you do decide to go to your local bookshop or high street bookseller, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the shop assistant. They should have a good idea of what the best-sellers are and which might be suitable for a particular grammar school.

Getting into a routine: how much 11+ practice should you do each week?

11+ preparation is a marathon, not a sprint, and you'll need to commit to weekly practice sessions for about a year (it's not for the faint-hearted!). Using TheSchoolRun's 11+ Learning Journey or a similar structured programme can help you schedule your time. Remember:

  • When doing a lesson at home, it is important for you and your child to agree on a time that suits you both. Some parents prefer to do the lesson one day after school, when there isn’t anything else on. Others prefer to schedule sessions during the weekend when there is more time and your child might be fresher.
  • Easier said than done, but the lesson time is for learning and not for being silly or arguing, as can sometimes occur. If your child is not particularly inclined to learning at home, agree an effort-based rewrd for them to look forward to every few weeks, such as a family trip to the cinema or the swimming pool.
  • It's tempting, but don't bribe your child with some fantastic present/reward if they pass the 11+. You are asking your child to commit to doing some extra work at home and so it is fair that they get some sort of reward in exchange for putting the effort in each week, but it shouldn't be dependent on one outcome only. Whether they pass or not, they will have worked hard and should look back on the experience as a positive one.
  • Don't start completing 11+ worksheets or practice tests until the first term of Year 5, as children can become overwhelmed with the tests and can easily “peak” too early. The important thing is to make sure their knowledge of English, maths and reasoning is such that they can cope with the questions set and that they are getting used to working quickly but carefully, under timed conditions. 

How much should you achieve every week?

Work backwards from the date of the 11+ exam and work out what you'd like your child to have achieved by the time the exam takes place, and in each month from when you start your 11+ prep. You might like to focus on English and verbal reasoning one week and maths and non-verbal reasoning the next, or alternatively do a little of each subject in every session.

At first emphasis should be placed on getting a good understanding of the questions involved and learning how to answer them effectively.

As time goes on, concentrate more on speed and exam technique, teaching your child not to be afraid to answer every question, but to miss out ones they ones they are struggling with and then come back to them at the end of the exam if there is time.

Using 11+ past papers and mock papers effectively

Using practice papers at home helps your child in two ways.

Firstly, they help your child to become familiar with the various questions types set in the 11+ exam.

Secondly, practice papers help them get used to working to a time limit and help them to learn to pace themselves.

The results of the first few 11+ practice papers they attempt should help you as a parent see what weaknesses your child has with certain types of questions; you can then make sure they practise those question types until they feel more confident with them.

To help with timing, make copies of the practice papers before your child uses them for the first time and have them sit the papers again at a later date to track their progress. Have they acheived a higher score or completed the papers faster after regular practice sessions?

Mock 11+ exams: a good investment?

Mock exams can work both ways. They are great for helping to calm a child’s nerves as the 11+ exam approaches, helping children get used to the pressure of taking an exam in a strange place with lots of unfamilar faces.

On the other hand, if your child's mock result is lower than they expected, it can put them off taking the exam and make them even more nervous and that defeats the object of the exercise. Before you book, think carefully about how your child might react and whether it's the best strategy for your child.

Mark Chatterton is the author of The 11+ A Practical Guide For Parents and webmaster of the 11 Plus Website.