I think the format of the October 2009 exam is about as tutor-proof as it can get.
We used a tutor for our daughter, and I have the feeling that the vast majority of the tutoring time was spent on 'technique'. However, the format of the actual exam meant that there were many questions that required a different tecnique to the ones our daughter had been tutored in. Luckily, she didn't panic on the day. But it's very dangerous to assume that you'll cover all bases simply by employing a tutor (even if it's one that has a good reputation and has been recommended) because if your child is on 'auto-pilot' on the day then he or she may be fazed by unfamiliar questions.
In retrospect, would we still have hired a tutor? The answer is yes, but mainly because of the motivational and confidence factors that the tutor brought rather than the tutoring itself. But that's a personal thing based on my daughter's character.
If you believe that preparation is key (and I myself would definitely fall in to that camp!) and (no disrespect to anybody reading this) you, i.e. the parents, are reasonably academic then I would say that tutoring your child yourself should be sufficient so long as you can also keep your child interested, motivated and not make them see you as 'nasty people making him/her work'.
My top tips, for what they're worth are:
1. Start tutoring with one year to go. It soon goes quickly.
2. Keep it steady throughout the year, and relatively light for the first few months. You don't want burn out or to create rebellion.
3. For verbal and non-verbal reasoning variety is the key. Get them used to having to use as many techniques as possible but to also expect the unexpected in the actual exams. Use as many different publishers as possible (Bond, Letts etc etc).
4. Definitely, definitely improve your child's vocabulary. To be honest, this was my biggest concern because, bless her, she's never really been in to Harry Potter or any books in general, thruth be told. And if a child doesn't know a word that is part of the question or the answer itself then no amount of technique is going to make up for it.
5. Maths - this is probably the one area where technique is not the answer, but sheer ability is. There's no way getting around it, try to improve your child's maths as much as possible. If you're considering a tutor and your own maths isn't up to it then it may be worth hiring a tutor and asking him/her to concentrate on that area whilst you look after more of the verbal & non-verbal reasoning.
6. If the exam format is the same as this years, then make sure your child understands that they will not be able to answer all the questions. To give you an idea, the maximum mark achievable this year was 504 but the passmark for Warwickshire East was only 302. The key bit of advice is: DON'T LET YOURSELF GET STUCK ON A QUESTION. IF YOU CAN'T ANSWER IT QUICKLY THEN MOVE ON TO THE NEXT QUESTION - THERE ARE PLENTY MORE WHERE YOU CAN PICK UP MARKS!
7. Verbal Reasoning - please note that the definition of this appears to include comprehension (eventhough the answers are multiple choice) and not just traditional verbal reasoning questions.
8. If there are only 15 seconds left at the end of a section then simply mark all remaining answers 'A', or 'B' or whatever - statistically, you should get 25% of these correct and you don't lose marks for getting it wrong.
9. Don't bother asking whether they think they passed or not or ask them to recite details of questions they found easy or hard etc. They won't have a clue and you'll just get worked up and they'll end up crying. Trust me!
Hope that was of use to the parents of those kids taking it for 2011 entry. Best of luck.