Be your child’s own 11+ tutor: parents’ tips

Parent and child homework
Could your child pass the 11+ without a tutor? We asked parents for their top preparation tips and advice on DIY 11+ tutoring.
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If you live in one of the UK’s grammar school areas, the pressure to get your child through the 11+ exam can be intense. And often, that means paying out for a whole year of expensive tutoring.

But with more and more grammar schools using supposedly ‘tutor-proof’ tests, a number of parents are opting out of tutoring and instead helping their children prepare for the exam themselves.

We asked experienced parents of children who've taken the 11+ to share their top tips for helping them through the test.

‘Do a little every day’

‘Get your child involved in looking around the schools. They’ll be much more motivated to work hard if they know what they’re aiming for.

‘For most state 11+ exams, you can probably tutor your child yourself if you have a decent standard of maths and English.

Start easy, a bit below your child’s current ability. If you begin with the most basic books and papers, you’ll be able to see what needs work.

‘I’d recommend doing a little work – just 10 to 15 minutes – every day, from the start of Year 5, rather than larger blocks less frequently. It’s one of those things that get easier if you do it every day, like music practice.

‘And don’t forget that some schools have alternative routes to gaining a place, like music, sports or technology tests. It’s worthwhile having a crack at these, too.’
Jackie, mum to Eleanor, 15, Chloe, 13, and Leah, 11.

‘Concentrate on the basics’

‘Some things are best learned as early as possible, so while your child is young, get their times tables into their system.

‘Vocabulary built through reading will always give them an advantage, so encourage reading widely and reading aloud.

If possible, set your child up with a learning buddy: two brains are better than one, and they help each other out by chipping in when they get stuck. It’s good for them both.’
Jojo, mum to Vansh, 10.

‘Use times tables as a basis for maths problems’

‘It’s vital that children have a really good grasp of their times tables, so focus on using these as a basis for their maths problems.

‘Make sure they have an awareness of time: set them up with a timer so they get used to working through papers in the allotted time, rather than focusing on getting every question right, no matter how long it takes.

‘Get together with a few other parents to recreate an exam scenario, with the children sitting at individual desks and working in silence. Let them work through a paper in exam conditions.

‘It’s also worth finding out if there are any 11+ support groups. Here in Northern Ireland, various community groups run summer schemes for transfer test preparation, which are often heavily subsidised or even free.’
Joanne, mum to twins Poppy and Tansy, 11.

‘Find out what the exam focuses on’

‘Find out what exactly the 11+ involves in your area. Here, the exam for the girls’ and mixed grammar schools is heavily weighted towards comprehension, vocabulary and problem-solving, so reading, reading and more reading is key.

‘The boys’ grammar, however, is more maths oriented.

'It’s vital that you give your child a good grounding in all the basics, but also that you know what the exam is focusing on and concentrate on those areas.

‘I also think it’s well worth spending money on a professionally run mock test, where the people running the exam are strangers and there are hundreds of children taking the paper at the same time.

‘This stopped my children being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of 11+ day.’
Nicola, mum to Jack, 14, and Olivia, 12.

‘We focused on the need for decisiveness’

‘My daughter didn’t have any formal tutoring; she just had plenty of practice in how to take the test.

‘She did lots of mock papers with answer sheets to get her used to the way the papers are marked.

‘We especially had to teach her about the need for decisiveness: she liked to spend time making sure she had got the answer right, so we focused on helping her learn to trust her first instinct and then move onto the next question.

‘We also found non-verbal reasoning games and apps to play, as this wasn’t something she’d covered at school. It helped to make her preparation fun and keep it low-key.’
Kerry, mum to Elizabeth, 11.

‘Worksheets are all you need’

‘We had one main rule for the 11+, and that was “absolutely no tutoring.” We felt that if our daughter needed to be tutored to pass the test, she shouldn’t be doing it.

TheSchoolRun’s 11+ Learning Journey and worksheets were great for helping her prepare. Those, along with some 10-minute test books and some variety packs of question sheets, were all we needed to get her ready for the test.’
Beccy, mum to Rosie, 10.

'Bribery has its place'

'We started off very low pressure, doing lots of short practices, a few questions at a time. It was no big deal if they got answers wrong; we went through them together, discussing how they'd worked them out.

'There are lots apps for 11+ practice which are brililant for this no-pressure stage, as they almost count as fun.

'Then, in the couple of weeks before the exam they did whole practice papers in timed conditions. This involved lots of reassurance, encouragement and reminders that they were going to be fine whatever the outcome of the test.

'Bribery - an extra hour on Minecraft for each hour they spent on 11+ prep - also worked wonders!'
Ellie, mum to George, 14, and Joe, 11.

‘Brush up on Year 6 algebra’

The 11+ usually covers material that children don’t learn until they’re in Year 6, so have a look at the maths curriculum for that year: particularly algebra and pie charts.

‘It’s also worth contacting private schools to see if they do any lessons that your child could join in with.

‘My top tip is always practise, practise, practise.’
Claire, mum to George, 11, and Stan, nine.

‘We used a variety of materials to cover all bases’

‘I started preparing my son at the beginning of Year 5. In the winter term, we did about half an hour a week, then increased to half an hour twice a week in the spring term.

‘We then did half an hour every two to three days during the summer.

Because no one really knows what the exam will bring, and knowing how the examining bodies like to mix things up to make the test “tutor-proof,” we used a variety of practice materials to cover all bases: worksheets from TheSchoolRun, CGP 10-minute tests, practice papers and the odd crossword and puzzle book.

‘But the most important thing I taught my child was that this isn’t his one and only opportunity in life.

‘We hope he passes, but if he flunks it, that’s OK, too: he’ll do well wherever he ends up.’
Stephanie, mum to Alden, 10.