It may fill many people’s minds with horror to see the suggestion that 11 plus preparation might commence in Year 3 or even Year 4. However “preparation” in this context does not mean formal tutoring, either at home or from a professional tutor. The 11 plus is a long way off for your child, and they don’t need to know that the tasks they are undertaking have any connection with the 11+.

The two core subjects for success in the 11 plus are English and Maths even in those areas where the 11 plus only comprises Verbal Reasoning and/or Non-Verbal Reasoning. A wide vocabulary and accurate spelling are essential for Verbal Reasoning papers, and most papers also have mathematical questions on them which require a child to be secure in the basic operations of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Non-Verbal Reasoning papers require the child to have an awareness of shapes and to use logical deduction to follow a sequence. Although the relationship with everyday maths may seem tenuous, there are several mathematical skills that are applied in NVR, such as symmetry and a knowledge of 3-D shapes.

Years 3 and 4 are the ideal time to make sure that your child has secure foundations in both subject areas. If your child is lucky enough to be attending a top-quality primary school you may need to do little more than monitor their progress to check that they are “on target” in English and Maths. If they need some extra help in any area and the school are not able or willing to provide that, there are some suggestions below as to how you can help your child build secure foundations in each area of the 11 plus.

You will find more detailed advice in our English and Maths sections, but this is a brief run-down of the type of preparation that you can usefully undertake with your child in Years 3 and 4. None of the time and effort expended on this type of practice will go to waste because it will all support your child in their curriculum studies, as well as in the 11+.

Finally, if you plan to prepare your child yourself for the 11 plus, Years 3 and 4 are the time when you should be establishing a good working relationship with your child, and we have provided some tips on developing that below.


There are plenty of ways to help your child improve their vocabulary, the most obvious of which is encouraging them to read. Any reading is better than none and some of it must be done out loud to an adult or teenager. As your child reads, teach them to alert you when they come across a new, unfamiliar word, and discuss with them what it means.

Encourage your child to read as widely as possible, not just books by a single author or of a particular type. If your child prefers non-fiction you can encourage them to read fiction by borrowing some “cartoon style” fiction books that provide bite-size, fun fiction. If your child is keen on a particular type of fiction, extend their range by finding authors who write on similar topics, because they may use a different vocabulary. There is a lengthy list of suggested reading books in our English section to allow you to broaden your child’s experience of literature.


Good spelling ability is essential for Verbal Reasoning. There are frequently trick questions on Verbal Reasoning papers where a child can be fooled by a variation in the spelling of two words that sound the same. One notorious example from a well-known practice paper is “Wales” and “whales”. Any child who is not aware of the accurate spelling of both words, and is also not secure in knowing that proper nouns (such as the names of countries) are always capitalised can fall foul of such tricks.

There are many free resources on the internet to help your child improve their spelling, and links to some of them are shown in our English section. It is very important to use only UK-based websites for spelling practice, because international sites frequently contain Americanised spellings, such as “color” instead of “colour”, or the use of “-ize” instead of “-ise” at the ends of words. There is one exception to that rule in our recommended links, the site “Free Rice” and you can read the appropriate adjustments that need to be made for using it alongside the link to the site.

Good narrative writing

If the 11+ in your area includes an English essay, this is a good time to encourage your child to begin improving their narrative when writing essays. Simple techniques such as “Don’t Use Said” make for fun practice at this age, and will always be of value in future, whether it is at school or for the 11 Plus.

Grammar and punctuation

The emphasis on good grammar and punctuation in writing seems to have returned to primary education in recent years. However there are still many grammatical errors in very common usage, and this is a good age at which to bring them to your child’s attention. Some examples are:

  1. The use of the word of in place of the verb have: “He could of gone swimming, but he didn’t.”
  2. The seemingly constant application of the word like: “It was like as if the lights had gone out.”; “She was like really frightened.”
  3. Confusion in the use of past participles of verbs: “He had knowed”, or “he had knew”.

In punctuation, the most important areas of focus are the correct use of commas, apostrophes and speech marks. Ensuring that your child has a good command of the basics in grammar and punctuation will, again, be of considerable value in future, regardless of the 11 Plus.

Maths – Basic operations

There are two key foundations to a child’s development in maths during Years 3 and 4 – number bonds and times tables.

A child’s grasp of basic number bonds up to 10 should be completely secure by the beginning of Year 3, enabling them to recognise in a moment that 3 + 7 = 10, or 9 – 4 = 5.

Times tables are the key to developing number bonds further during Years 3 and 4. If a child can manipulate times tables up to 12 securely by the end of Year 4, they will be able to embark upon the Year 5 curriculum and preparation for the 11 Plus with confidence.

There are a number of excellent websites in our 11+ Maths section that will help your child to develop their mental maths ability.

Developing a good working relationship with your child

For many parents embarking on home tutoring their biggest worry is whether their child will cooperate with a parent as effectively as they might with a tutor or third party. It seems to be a particular problem with boys, but girls are by no means excluded from this problem either!

There is a certain amount of groundwork that you can do to try to avoid problems later on in the 11+ preparation process:

  1. Show your child that you value their school work, that you have a real interest in their progress.
  2. Make it clear that you place real value on application to work, rather than just good marks.
  3. Take an interest in your child’s homework whenever you have time.
  4. Check their schoolbooks whenever the opportunity arises and talk to them about what they enjoy doing and feel they are good at.
  5. Praise them for effort, not just achievement!
  6. Begin to spend a little time with them working on downloaded materials and sitting with them while they use online resources.
  7. Try to find up to 20 minutes every day to hear your child read. This may already be a compulsory part of their homework, but try to find a little extra time – perhaps at the weekend – to read non-school books with your child that they really enjoy.
  8. Teach your child to ask you the meaning of every single new word that they come across. Children become very adept at “skim reading”, whereby they get the general meaning of a paragraph and can conveniently “hop over” unfamiliar words.
  9. Gradually build up the amount of time that you spend with your child doing more specific educational work, such as vocabulary and maths flash cards, so they become acclimatised to working with you.
  10. Praise, praise and praise again!
  11. Avoid telling your child how clever they are. Recent research shows that children who are told that they are clever under-perform those who are told that they have worked hard, because children who are repeatedly told that they are “clever” begin to believe that they do not have to try.

If you can demonstrate to your child that you take a real interest in their education and that you are always positive about their work you should have less trouble when the harder work starts in Year 5.