Reason 5 of “5 reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus entrance tests”

Hello again. (Welcome, if this is your first time visiting). Leading on from Reason 4, today we come to the second big benefit, superboost 2, of starting with easier, younger material. (If you missed the last post, Reason 4, I’d encourage you to click back and read that first.)

Do you remember in Reason 3 we discussed the need to learn specific test and preparation strategies? (Click here if you missed Reason 3.) The second benefit is that

your child is going to have a much stronger chance of learning these strategies while practising on easier, age related material.

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You could set aside a handful of practice tests just to learn these reusable skills. For example, many multiple choice tricks and techniques can be mastered early on. Consider how the answer options in multiple choice English tests are often cleverly similar, designed to look correct and trick rushing skim-readers. Using this to your advantage, if the questions and answers are fairly straightforward at first – which they will be in a test for ages 7-8 in comparison to a test for ages 10-11 – you can better teach the hacks that will help your child find the right answer, without your child becoming confused by the question itself. Indeed, tests for younger children tend towards simple, information-finding questions, whereas higher level tests will introduce more complex questions that ask why something happens, or ask your child to infer, to work out an answer that isn’t in the text using clues from other information that is there.

Let’s look closely at a trick and a hack in action!

A question asks for the year in which an event in the passage took place.

Use this opportunity to point out that when questions ask for a date, the test may actually try to play 4 tricks, discussed below. The fourth trick is more complex, but if your child has learned to look for the first three tricks, they can use the hacks for these to help solve the fourth one.

  1. It is likely that if there is a question on dates, more than one date appears in the text. A child can see the first date they come to in the text and use that.
  2. Answer options might use all the dates in the text. A child may see a date, recognise it from the text, then think – Ah yes, I saw that, it must be that one. The temptation to use what you see in the text quickly can be very strong. It just seems to make sense – if it’s there, it must be right. Not so fast…
  3. Incorrect dates may be similar, sometimes switching digits. E.g. 1789 becomes 1798 or 1879. When under time pressure, our minds are fantastic at finding small pieces of evidence and immediately turning it into the answer we need.
  4. The date may not even be mentioned in the text! What? Yes, really. What are you supposed to do if this is the case?

To hack date questions and supercharge your child’s test skill-set, you can teach them the following, extremely practical hacks. (WARNING: Before we start, here’s a thought point. What if you leave it late to show your child these skills? There appears to be quite a lot, especially when you consider we are only discussing dates, so it makes sense to begin early and learn the skills slowly and surely. There are dozens of other strategies that you can teach your child, so get them started soon!)

  1. Underline or dot the date on the question paper, so you know what you are being asked.
  2. Read the question closely (You can find lots of targeted, effective, child-friendly ways to properly question the question in the Grammar School Success in Multiple Choice English ebook, available individually and as part of the English Masterclass Discount Bundle), so you know what finished looks like. What are you actually supposed to do in the question? Misreading questions is one of the biggest causes of children losing marks.
  3. Check each date with the information around it in the text to see if this is the one being pointed to by the keywords in the question.
  4. Check the digits and the order of the digits to make sure you have the right choice in the answers.
  5. If the date is not in the text, do the next two hacks:

a) First, top and tail. Look above the text for an intro or title, then look below the text for extra info. Sometimes info you need is located here, either in context (it will tell you it was during WW2, for example) or openly written, e.g. the author and date of publication come as a footnote at the end of the passage.

b) Look for info in the text that helps you work out the date. Suppose you are asked in which year a character was born. It doesn’t tell you her birth year or birthday, but there might be pointers to the event, or other numbers which refer to it. It could say something like:

“Four years ago, on her fifth birthday, Jaya had been given an ancient piece of paper with a code on it. She stared, transfixed, at today’s newspaper – The Daily Spark, Monday 5th October, 2023 – and the headline on the front page: it was the same code.”

What information will help us answer the question? In the example above, the date is 2023. 4 years ago, Jay was 5, so we can take away 4 and 5 from 2023 to infer he was born in 2014, 9 years ago. Your child then checks the answer options for this figure. (Also teach your child to be check that answer options are not playing tricks even with this inferring information. For example, a wrong answer might be the date if you take away 4 years instead of 9.)

You can improve your child’s ability to solve date questions by having you both create questions designed to be tricky, hiding the date deep inside the writing, as we did above. You can have a lot of fun creating lots of layers and rules to uncover the answer.

Now, does this feel like a lot for your child to learn? The brilliant news is if you start early, you have the time to teach them one at a time. You also – and this is my favourite reason for starting early – allow all these hacks, all these techniques, to become just habits, automatic tests your child will apply to certain questions – as we said in our last post, like brushing teeth and looking for traffic before crossing the road.

The gold is that, as questions increase in ‘difficulty’, you remind your children that the tricks and hacks stay the same and can be used on all levels of question! This should create a virtuous circle, whereby the time taken to learn the tricks and hacks using easy material helps your child read and answer more and more complex questions correctly and quicker, as she or he approaches the creative challenge of aiming for 100% in later practice tests and on the day itself. The strategies they used to solve simpler tasks can be used on harder tasks! Thus, with the hacks learned and embedded, you can spend a large part of Year 5 refining knowledge, language technique, spelling, practising cloze, learning new vocabulary and grammar, reading lots, as well as creating incredible, stand-out writing.

That’s all for today. Please come back for Reason 6 on Saturday, or sign up to the blog to make sure other posts come straight to you. (We all need fewer clicks in our lives!) You’ll know from reading the start of the series that I quickly realised while writing early posts that there were more than 5 reasons not to wait. Hence, there’ll be 6, possibly 7 reasons in this mini-series.

I truly hope today’s reason makes it clear that starting early is without doubt the best possible 11+ action plan. Thank you for reading and for nurturing your child’s 11+ opportunity. Start learning, stay learning, stay happy.

Best, Lee