Simply Learning Tuition founder and managing director Nathaniel McCullagh, who has over 20 years’ experience of education throughout the UK, shares some ideas which will make a real difference to pupils’ success in the upcoming January exams.
With core maths and English skills hopefully secure by now (seek urgent additional input if not or an assessment if you aren’t sure) your child’s 11+ preparation should focus on applying their knowledge to unfamiliar scenarios, with a range of new and challenging questions.
Think carefully about which of the verbal or non verbal reasoning papers the incumbent schools will use. These take a lot of teaching time to perfect, and take time away from valuable English and maths work. They are unlikely to make or break an offer, so you should prepare just enough to make sure your child is confident.
Most families who tutor start a year before the exam and take two hours of tuition each week. This close to January, time is short but I would still suggest spending no more than four hours a week on 11+ preparations. If you are getting extra help, make sure the tutor has a proven track record and knows what they are doing. You can also use your child’s regular teachers as tutors but this has pros and cons. But bear in mind that their focus is on curriculum English and maths, while 11+ papers require a different approach. If your child doesn’t understand a particular part of the 11+ material in class, perhaps it is because they need to learn in a different way, or from a different teacher.
I would recommend 50 percent of the preparation work to be focused on content and exam skills, the remainder on timed practice (not a whole paper, just sections, allowing plenty of time to go over the work). It is all about building confidence so you must be able to explain things that your child finds difficult. If you are marking papers yourself, please make sure you understand how the mark schemes work – answer papers for comprehension papers are quite vague and interpretation can be subjective. For maths, you need to be able to check that your child has understood the process and not just guessed the right answer (there are marks for workings). Speed and accuracy are also vital here and at this stage in the preparation ‘clumsy mistakes’ should be more or less eliminated. Your child should only drop marks on the genuinely tough questions.
Believe it or not, it is likely that the next few weeks will be much more stressful for you than your son or daughter. Over-preparation and hot housing will ultimately backfire. The warm glow of success when you think your child is at the best school will fade if it doesn’t turn out to be the best school for them. Remember you can always change school. The single most important thing for a parent is to remain calm. If this means taking yourself off to a yoga class or spa before or after a study session, so that you can be more Zen, this will have a knock-on positive effect on your child.
Having covered all the main benchmarks and content of the 11+ you now need to drill down to find out exactly what is required by your top choice schools. Ask on the visit and if you miss the visit then call them to find out. For example, St Paul’s Girls’ School will need focused preparation for the comprehension paper. Because they are looking for the brightest and most capable, they are looking for girls to “react perceptively to a range of stimuli”. The school explains that many girls enjoy this ‘unusual paper’, which is true, but it does no harm for your child to have a good awareness of what to expect.
Plan ahead for the big day. Make sure you know well beforehand where the test will take place (important for the North London Consortium schools). Work out what your child will eat on the day – if they usually need a snack a couple of hours after breakfast, make sure they get one. Does your child know how many papers they will sit and how long each will be? Have they practised working to these exact time constraints?
Finally, please remember that although the 11+ is important and potentially life changing, it is simply the assessment that schools have settled on to give the best picture of a child. It is neither perfect, nor particularly fair. Many children who are not academic high fliers at the age of 10 go on to do extremely academic things, and enjoy massively successful lives. Ultimately the goal is to help pave the way for them to have happy, productive and successful lives and careers.
Nathaniel is the founder and managing director of Simply Learning Tuition, a leading independent education company providing introductions to private tutors who deliver effective one-to-one academic tuition. It also offers specialist advice throughout a child’s academic journey, from school selection through to university applications and mentoring.