For some secondary schools in the UK, children are required to sit the 11+ exam. This is usually the case for grammar schools and some independent schools.

This exam is aimed at high-achieving students of all backgrounds, both in the state and independent sectors, who want a slightly different and more challenging secondary education.

The 11+ can be a huge deal, and an enormous milestone in a ten-year-old’s education. There can be a lot of pressure during the preparation stages and study process, with lots of tests and tutors to add to the stress!

But the exams don’t have to be all stress and anxiety – giving yourself the right amount of time and making sure your child feels prepared, confident and supported is the key to a smooth-sailing journey.

Get home tuition from a private tutor for the 11+ exam.
Get ready for the 11+ with a private tutor. (Photo via Visualhunt)

The 11+ exams take place in January in the run up to the new school year, but how long should pupils be preparing in advance for these exams, and how intense should this preparation be?

There are lots of things to consider as a parent when getting ready for your child’s 11+ exams, so here’s a list of a few frequently asked questions regarding where and how to start preparing!

What do the 11+ Exams Consist of?

The 11+ exam is composed of different papers, including numeracy, literacy, and verbal and non-verbal reasoning. As you can see, there’s quite a lot for a child to prepare for at such a young age, so starting preparation early and at a gentle pace is the best way to approach these exams.

 Verbal and non-verbal reasoning might be an unfamiliar area for some parents, and it can be hard to know exactly how to prepare for this section of the 11+. It is quite often considered that this section is tough to prepare or tutor for as it relies a lot on natural ability.

This is therefore one of the harder areas to practise for, but it is really important to practise questions like this to get an idea of how to answer them suitably.

Verbal reasoning is essentially how the child thinks about, understands and explains words, numbers and language. Some of the things they must be able to do is:

  • Closest meanings
  • Same and opposite meanings
  • Compound words
  • Complete the sum
  • Hidden words
  • Insert a letter
  • Make a word
  • Letters for numbers
  • Missing word

That’s to name a few, but there are plenty more questions like this where your child will be asked to think about the letters and numbers presented to them.

Non-verbal reasoning is a section with more sequence- and code-based questioning. The types of questions that will come up will include:

  • Analogies
  • Code breakers
  • Complete the series
  • Odd one out
  • Shapes and letters
  • Matrices
  • Similar shapes

There are lots of online tutoring sources available to help you practice with verbal and non-verbal reasoning, such as Education Quizzes. These questions, as we’ve said, are hard to prepare for as they can’t be predicted, but practicing the basic style will familiarise your child with a rough idea of what to expect.

In order to prepare for the literacy and numeracy exams, you should ensure that all the basic knowledge for their age group is up to scratch and – most importantly – can be applied to different problems or questions.

It is of the utmost importance that pupils know their times tables by this stage. This is basic knowledge that will help across the 11+ exams, and that they would need throughout their secondary education. 

When Should I Start Preparing for the 11+?

If you know from very early on that you would like your child to sit the 11+, then there is no reason why you can’t informally start preparing from an early age.

That’s not to say you should be hiring a private tutor years in advance, but just by paying extra attention to your child’s education and academic needs you can get them on the right track so that they will be at a good level to take the exams by the time they reach ten years old.

The question of when to start properly preparing depends on the individual. If the pupil’s current attainment level is high, then you can afford to start a bit later, and likewise, if their levels aren’t that high, then you should start a bit earlier to get ready in time.

 If your child has some significant problem areas, these will need extra time and consideration in the run up to the 11+, and most parents consider hiring private tutors UK to combat these weak spots, and equally to cultivate strengths, for the exam.

Get help from a tutor for the 11+ exam.
Home tuition holds the key to exam success. (Photo via Visualhunt)

With regular tuition sessions, your child will be able to prepare at a gentle, comfortable pace for their exams. To rush this process would only cause unnecessary stress and panic.

We would recommend a weekly tutoring session for several months in the run up to the exams so that your child can really learn and understand the content of the exam, and have the time to get their head around what is required of them.

Most children will benefit from several months of gentle preparation, including personal tuition, in order to get ready for the 11+. On average, between six and nine months are spent preparing for these exams, depending on how much help and tuition is required.

It is generally advised to spend no more than twelve months preparing your child for the 11+ exams. This process can be pretty stressful for ten-year-old children, and applying too much pressure for too long a period of time can be more damaging than beneficial. 

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How Can I Best Prepare for the Exams?

The 11+ exams can be quite a challenge for the average ten-year-old, and can really stretch them emotionally as well as academically. It’s therefore really important that they are eased into exam preparation at a pace that suits them and their current attainment level.

It’s crucial to make sure that your child is up to speed with the main mathematical concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They need to be able to apply this knowledge to given problems under pressure, so it’s important that they really understand what they are learning.

There are many ways to prepare your child for the 11+ that don’t cost much at all. Simple games, quizzes and other fun learning techniques can be done at home and can really make a difference in how quickly your child learns and applies knowledge to general problems.

One of the most important areas to pay attention to when preparing is verbal dexterity, which is a part of the literacy paper. This involves comprehension and composition, which is an area that some students can lose the most marks.

A great way to work on verbal dexterity is to read together at bedtime, and then talk about the book afterwards. This will help your child with their reading skills, and also get them to really think about what their reading and form opinions and ideas, which will help with the comprehension side of the test.

One of the best ways to get ready for the 11+ is by organising some mock exams. This way, your child can really get an idea of what to expect, how to apply their knowledge, and where they might be struggling a bit.

Your tutor should be able to get hold of some mock papers for your child to try, and make sure these are carried out under exam conditions! No distractions, no electronics and under strict timed conditions is the best way to properly practise.

Make sure you go through the results of the mock exam thoroughly so that you can identify any problems and celebrate anything that your child did really well. Speak with your private tutor and discuss your child’s performance to make sure your child is on track and not struggling too much.

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Get help from a private tutor for the 11+ exam.
Preparing for the 11 plus can be stressful. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Preparing for the 11+ can be an anxious and high-pressure process for any child, and it’s important to keep an air of calm and positivity at this time. If you as the parent are feeling stressed and anxious, make sure that you don’t project this onto your child.

Taking regular study breaks and having some fun with your child will ease the tension and any frustration that might be building up in the run-up to exams. Staying calm and relaxed during this period is the best way to cope with it, and it will put your child in the best state of mind to take the exams with ease and confidence.

If, after all the preparation and after having sat the exams, your child doesn’t pass the 11+, you are able to appeal if you wish. If the performance in the exam was not your child’s usual standard, and you can give a reason as to why this happened, you could have a solid case for an appeal.

It's always a good idea to have a back-up plan, and not to put all your hopes on a pass. However, with the right mindset, positivity and a great personal tutor, you've got a fighting chance!

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