Preparation in Year 5
Year 5 is clearly the most important year for preparation for the 11 Plus. In areas where the test consists of only one or two types of test – Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning for example – it may only be necessary to begin tuition in the January of Year 5. As the 11 Plus tests are taken in the autumn term in almost every area, this gives you at least eight months to prepare your child.
Where the tests consist of more papers – especially an English essay – it may be necessary to start formal tuition at the beginning of Year 5 because of the sheer volume of material and practice that is needed to cover the ground.
Unless you are employing a tutor you need to be disciplined and prepare well for tutoring your child for the Eleven Plus. On this page you will find information to help you through that, divided in to the following areas:
- Planning for tutoring
- Selecting Tutoring Materials and Creating the Foundations
- Practice Papers
- Holidays: To Work or Not To Work?
- The Run Up to the Tests
- Once It’s All Over
Planning for tutoring
- Research, research, research! Find out as much as you can about the content of the 11+ tests in your area. There is plenty of helpful information on this website to help you get started, but it is also absolutely crucial that you check the websites of both the Local Authority and the schools that you are interested in for detailed information about the tests.
- Do not rely on information from the rumour mill at the school gates. At least 50 percent of what you are told will be incorrect and, as the saying goes, you will have no idea which 50 percent. Past parents may seem knowledgeable, but the format of 11+ tests can and does change from year to year. Always check everything you hear, and if necessary call the Admissions department at the Local Authority or the school’s own Admissions Secretary to ensure that you know what the tests will consist of in the coming year.
- Once you have established the content of the tests, research carefully which practice materials are appropriate for them. You will find advice on this on our regional webpages, or on our 11+ Forum, and appropriate materials for every area can be bought from our 11 Plus Bookshop. There is further advice on selecting materials below.
- In some areas there is considerable secrecy over the content of the tests (in particular, those areas where a test called the “Durham CEM” is used – mainly Birmingham and Warwickshire), but you can still use many published materials to help your child learn relevant techniques for the content that is known to have appeared on past papers.
- Decide on how much tutoring you are going to do with your child, and when to start. Be realistic about how much time you can spare to dedicate to tutoring your child, and how much time your child can reasonably be asked to spend on preparation for the tests. Even in areas where there are several different types of test, more than two hours each week is likely to be excessive. Always remember that your child should be of grammar school standard to take these tests, and tutoring them to death simply to get through the tests will be counter-productive in the long run. If they need large amounts of tuition, should they really be going to a grammar school at all?
- Set a specific time of the week for your preparation sessions and stick to it as firmly as possible. Try to find a time when the household is generally quite peaceful and your other children are being looked after by someone else, so that you can focus wholly on your 11+ child.
- Agree with your child how much homework they will do beyond the tutoring session each week.
- If you wish to provide incentives for your child to undertake preparation for the 11+, agree those with them now. The views of past parents on our 11+ Forum on this topic vary somewhat:
- That your child’s reward should be gaining a place at a grammar school and no other reward or incentive is necessary.
- That either regular weekly rewards, or one larger reward prior to taking the tests, can be effective in motivating a child to work.
- The one thing that virtually all parents agree upon is that giving large incentives for a child to pass the tests is neither effective, because it increases the pressure and stress for them, and nor is it reasonable. In the event that your child is not successful, do you really want to have to tell them that they have not qualified, they are not going to a grammar school and they will not be receiving that shiny new toy either?
Selecting Tutoring Materials and Creating the Foundations
The first item on your shopping list should be a “How To” guide for Verbal Reasoning and/or Non-Verbal Reasoning, depending on the tests in your area. There are tried and tested methods for solving VR and NVR problems quickly and methodically, and you should follow those when tutoring your child. You or your child may both invent preferred ways of solving questions, but you should at least start with a proven technique. There are also “How To” books for improving your child’s technique for 11+ English (both comprehension and story writing) and similar books for Maths.
Next on the list should be the basic tools for the job. A dictionary and thesaurus are essential – the ones with both the dictionary and thesaurus on the same page are particularly useful. Electronic dictionaries can be bought for under £15.00 and children find them more fun to use than a book, but the paper version is still an essential tool for any parent undertaking home tutoring.
Vocabulary (needed for English & Verbal Reasoning) and Mental Maths (needed for Maths and Verbal Reasoning, also Non-Verbal Reasoning) must be practiced continuously during Year 5, and a Vocabulary Builder CD is worth considering. Cheaper, but rather harder work, is making up flashcards, although you can save some time by downloading our Important Words for Verbal Reasoning and using word processing software to print out flashcards. You can also make up maths flashcards and use those for practicing times tables, addition, subtraction and division.
The last basic tools are a clock that can be seen from where you and your child will be working so that they begin to understand that they need to check the amount of time they have left in the real tests and if the clock does not have a second hand, a countdown kitchen timer or stopwatch can be handy to time your child’s speed on sets of questions.
Next on the shopping list are some workbooks or CDs that allow repeated practice of the same question types (as opposed to practice papers that cover a mixture of questions). You are aiming to ensure that your child has solid foundations on each type of question before you start giving them practice papers and working on their speed. These are some suggestions for each 11+ topic, but there is a very wide range of materials in our bookshop that are equally as good:
- Verbal Reasoning:IPS 11 plus Verbal Reasoning – Additional Practice Questions
- Non-Verbal Reasoning: Tuition Workbooks 1 & 2, Eleven Plus Exams Non-Verbal Reasoning CD, Volume 1
- English (comprehension):Bond Comprehension third papers, either 9 – 10 years or 10 – 11 years
- English (story-writing): Tutor Master Helps You Write Stories, Book One ; depending on your child’s strengths and weaknesses, there are books by Susan Daughtrey that focus specifically on punctuation, grammar or spelling
- Maths: Bond Get Ready for Secondary School Mathematics; Maths on Target Year 5 or Year 6
Try to use both CDs and workbooks to add variety and keep your child’s interest alive.
These are the staple materials that you will need for the first 2 – 3 months while you put the building blocks in place. Once you have done that, it is time to move on to practice papers.
Your ultimate objective may be 80 Verbal Reasoning questions answered in 50 minutes, but it is not going to happen immediately. Obviously the material will still be somewhat alien to your child, but more importantly, very few 9 or 10 year old children have ever had to concentrate continuously for a period of 50 minutes. They have to learn the focus and application that is required, and also develop a sense of how long 50 minutes actually is and therefore how fast they really need to work. (And that gazing out of the window is not an option!)
For every 11+ topic there are short practice papers that are specifically designed to ease your child into this process, or you can use full length practice papers but divide them into several parts to create shorter practice sessions at the beginning. Do make sure that you reserve the GL Assessment (formerly NFER) papers for last because they are generally the most similar to the real tests, and you will need those for practice in the last few weeks.
Initially you can start by allowing your child to work on practice papers at their own pace, and you can simply let them finish, but time how long it takes them to do 10 or 20 questions. By around May you should be aiming to develop real speed and you should be timing the practice papers more ruthlessly.
Holidays: “To Work or Not To Work?”
Most parents hold the view that children should enjoy their holidays and the break from the educational grind. The exception to that is, rather sadly, the summer holiday when the 11+ tests are just around the corner. The 11+ tests in the majority of areas take place in the early autumn and a six week break is likely to leave your child’s head “nice and empty” (as Professor Dumbledore put it to the pupils of Hogwarts). Although it seems heartless, most tutors agree that continuing to do some work on 11+ practice during the holidays is essential when the test is looming.
There is no need to set extreme amounts of work – a practice paper a day is simply unnecessary (see the remarks about excessive tutoring above), and one or two a week should be ample.
You can also change the pace of the tutoring, for example by asking your child to make up stories out loud, rather than writing them down. It still keeps them thinking, but takes the grind out of regular practice. For Maths, make the exercise part of everyday life by asking your child questions: “If this box of ice lollies costs £1.00 and there are 5 lollies in it, how much is each lolly?”
Practice using CDs is also going to seem light relief to your child at this stage, and you can allow them to pick and choose the topics they cover as a (relative) treat.
The Run Up to the Tests
As the tests approach you must obviously get back to regular practice and rigid timekeeping, but there are two things to look out for:
- A dip in your child’s performance
- “Burn out”
Many children suddenly have a “dip” in their scores just before the tests, which can be very disheartening for them and their parents, but there are tried and tested ways of dealing with it. The first is to give the child a paper that is significantly easier than the standard of the real tests, and hopefully that will deliver a good score. It if does not, you have to resort to the second, rather sneakier method, which is simply to be "economical with the truth”! If your child has been scoring 90 percent regularly during the summer and suddenly their scores have dropped to 75 percent, and the easier paper produces the same result, tell them that they have scored 85 percent anyway. Go through the questions with them that you feel were mistakes caused by gaps in their knowledge, but leave out the ones that you know were simply errors or slips caused by tension. Although tension and nerves will be a factor on the day of the real test, your child will also be driven by adrenalin, and that heightens concentration. The silly mistakes tend to disappear on the day.
“Burn-out” is a lot more worrying, and can be a real threat to your child performing at their best on the day. The child may simply refuse to do any more practice tests, they may become very upset at any talk of the 11+ or they may constantly talk about how they are going to fail.
If the amount of preparation you have done has been kept within reasonable bounds you will hopefully not see your child get into this state, but if they do you must take prompt action.
Firstly, it is likely to be counter-productive to force more practice on them and you may need to accept that the tutoring and practice is now over.
If your child’s confidence is the problem, make strenuous efforts to praise them in other areas, such as their schoolwork, or being helpful at home.
If they seem to have developed a real fear of failure, reassure them that you will still love them whatever happens in the 11+ and reassure them constantly about the alternative school they will attend if they do not qualify.
If you sense that your child’s attitude is stabilising, try some gentle practice of the type suggested for the summer holiday. Having had a break, they might even be willing to do a few practice papers just before the test. If not, don’t despair. If you have taught them the techniques that they need and already spent most of a year preparing for the test, they may yet give you a very pleasant surprise, despite the last minute “wobble”.
Once It’s All Over
Praise your child to the hilt! Tell them how proud you are of all their hard work, and once again reassure them that you love them unreservedly regardless of the result. Deliver on any incentives that you agreed at the start and even if you didn’t promise an incentive, treat them to something anyway even if all you can afford is a packet of sweets or a bar of chocolate. If you can manage something a little more special, do so. They have worked hard and they have endured being taught by their mum or dad for nearly a year. They deserve something for that at the very least. (And so do you!)