Your 11+ Dream is Real

I know how impossible it can feel and have learned how possible it is.

I’ve lived on both sides.

When we were sent the email from our local borough of Merton confirming our son had won his place, we exploded.  We cried, hugged, laughed, then headed straight out for his celebration meal. My wife and I knew it was both a generation-changing moment for him and an incredible reward for the two years extra work he had put in.

But… the first step to your dream is to stop seeing it as a dream.

 Instead, see it as a real outcome. Something that can actually happen if you find out what steps you have to take – and then take those steps. 

Know what you have to do and do it till it’s done.

Yes, it’s two years of preparation for something that’s over in a couple of hours and has no guarantee. Regardless, you just have to commit to the path and give it everything.

You have to be your own guarantee!

One aim of this blog is to serve as a path to keep you motivated up to – and beyond – your child’s last sentence on their last test paper.

I wrote my first book as our son was finishing Y7, his first year, of grammar school. It was a year he absolutely loved – loved the thinking, loved the lessons that were never disrupted, loved the challenges teachers set to help him reach his best, loved the sport. The results from his first year exams were amazing: equivalent 7s and 8s in Y7.

It works.

I write books and this blog because my wife and I did so much stuff to help our son that worked that I didn’t want it to go to waste. I wanted to pass that stuff on,  to help other children, other parents. I’m also hoping that having gone through the 11+ journey at the same time as being a primary teacher, I can help put this stuff into teachable, do-able, simple steps.

Why steps? I like steps for two reasons.

1. Your child already uses steps in the classroom. Every planned lesson at primary school has a learning outcome – we want the children to be able to do, know or understand something (sometimes defined as KSU, knowledge, skills, understanding) in the school curriculum).

To help get to that outcome, teachers often map out a set of steps for children to  follow. Your child might know these as:

Success criteria

Steps to success

or another similar name.

You don’t try and do everything at once, but you do attempt all the steps.

Steps can help us stay on track, get back on track, and keep us motivated to see a job through; if we find ourselves going wrong or getting lost, a quick look back can show us where in the process we went wrong, or reveal a step we missed.

Without this step-by-step path, there’s a risk we decide something is just too hard and give up.

2. Perhaps the greatest power of doing things in steps is just that – you actually do it.You put a little information to work straight away and get moving toward that end goal.

The thinking is not, ‘How am I going to do all of this?’ but, ‘I’m now going to do just this.’  

My English Masterclass Bundle follows this approach. Over 4 books, I show you the must-have ingredients of stand-out 11 plus writing one by one. As your child learns one feature, she or he can fold this into their writing. Moving onto another feature, your child then adds this to the next piece of writing, as well as the previous feature. Step by step, over time, your child builds skills to build incredible writing every time.

Also included in the English Masterclass Bundle are models of successful writing, which, as far as I know, are unique to 11plushappy! No one else is showing your child what successful writing looks like, so reading these books is going to put your child ahead. In school, children always learn by modelling. As do most of us in most areas of life: pictures of cake recipes with full instructions, lego and ikea instructions, cpr training using dummies, the millions of youtube videos dedicated to teaching guitar, dancing, computer building and any number of subjects.

Modelling is a vital step; show your child what success looks like.

Along with these models, I’ve written full explanations of why and how the writing works. I get close up to every technique and the job it is doing. All in a way that you and your child can understand and put to use.

Of course, the test is not just writing. In fact, Stage 1 exams are most likely to be multiple choice tests, which your child is rarely taught to do in primary school. As part of the Bundle, Grammar School Success in Multiple Choice English is filled with 59 important traps and tricks your child has to be aware of.

I get quite cross that a lot of children are asked to do more and more practice papers without learning how to actually sit and succeed in these tests. Yes, they come with answers to check, but that is not teaching. Your child needs to know what kinds of questions are asked, what tricks are played in these questions (and they are tricks designed to catch children out), and the steps they can take to understand and answer questions correctly.

Another way of looking at this is to realise that you and your child need to know WHY they got any questions wrong. What fooled them? What did they fail to read and why? What trick did they fail to recognise? Armed with such a skillset, they are much more likely to score higher and higher in any test.

I’m not speaking negatively about all the fantastic 11plus resources out there. I’ve used and continue to use them all! Indeed, it was helping my children sit so many tests that allowed me to see the patterns and traps so clearly.

It’s just you need a way to help your child see through the tricks in multiple choice tests.

Are there tricks in Maths multiple choice as well? Definitely. I’m working on this right now. It will be included free as an extra in the bundle as soon as it is finished. If you buy the bundle before then, don’t worry – I’ll send you the book free when it’s done.

In closing, your motto for the new year can and must be –

“If someone can do it, my child and I can do it.”

It’s true. If it were impossible, the schools wouldn’t exist and no children would go to them!

Have an amazing year of learning. If you haven’t already, sign up for the Weekly Smile using the yellow form on the 11plushappy! website.

Here’s to an incredible year of deliberate, relevant, happy learning as you approach 11 plus success.

Best, Lee

Are you half-term happy? Holidays are fantastic 11plus learning gifts!

A huge motivational entrance test hello and a very short burst of happiness to remind you the half-term is gifting you time to plan and weave in happy hours of intentional eleven-plus learning.

Your child can make huge progress during these long days, as well as having a fun break. Please find two to three hours a day to go over difficult subjects, to rehearse different writing essays, or to focus in on a handful of test strategies and techniques to blast your child’s score and progress. You can do it, your child can do it – you have to do it. As someone who teaches during the holiday – and as a parent who took both his children through the 11plus journey – I vow with everything I can that holidays are superboosts of learning. Whatever you are doing, do lots of it this week!

Looking for help? Consider the 11 Plus English Masterclass Bundle as part of your toolbox. Targeted, specialised help is yours for less than half-price. You’ll find everything I’ve learned as a father, tutor, teacher and writer to help your child thrive.

If you haven’t yet, remember to sign up for your free course on why time is such a superhero of the 11plus. Just look at the box to the right of this post (assuming you’re reading this online). I’d love you to sign up to the blog to make sure you catch all other posts. (There have been some important ones recently, so make sure to visit and read over previous posts.)

Stay half-term happy! My best, Lee

Reason 3 of “5 reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus entrance tests”

Today’s reason is a big one, often overlooked, even denied. Remember that if you missed the first two reasons, you can catch up on

Reason 1 here,

and

Reason 2 here

Reason 3, then, is that starting early, at least in Year 4, gives your child one of the biggest advantages when it comes to scoring highest in tests: time to seek out, find and show your child specific test strategies. In short, you can go a long way to teach them how to sit the test.

Verbal and non-verbal reasoning tend to have repeated styles of questions, many of which your child will not have been taught at primary school. Neither subject is part of the primary curriculum. Nevertheless, if you watch videos or look at practice books in both subjects, you will see that patterns and sequences often follow similar steps that your child can and will get better at if they are shown the pattern or code structure, then practise this on a range of material that gradually increases in difficulty. For example, there are only so many ways a picture can change: size, colour, shading, spots or stripes, direction of arrows, overlapping or separate shapes, moving around corners, and so on.

It’s a very similar story in multiple choice English. It is not taught in any depth at primary school, yet often forms the first, sometimes the only, part of the English entrance exam. Over the years, my students and I have discovered more than fifty ways tests try and trick children. Although I didn’t set out to, I ended up needing to write a valuable book about Multiple Choice English tricks, together with hacks to help children beat them. I found I needed a way to log them to help explain and illustrate to children what to look out for and what they could do about it.

What strategies and practical tips am I talking about? There are far too many to cover in even multiple posts. I’ve ended up writing four books just about the English part of the test. Here, though, are two factors to engage with.

  1. A huge multiple choice English trick is your child is being tested THREE times, not once. Children can be fooled into thinking it is easier than a written test; they won’t have to write lots of complicated answers with evidence, and the answers are already there! They only have to find them. Easy? Not so. It is a reading test, not a writing test, and your child has to know three ways to read the test. First, they have to know how to read the comprehension properly and swiftly; secondly, they have to learn to read the questions properly and fully – and to watch out for the dozens of tricks that may be hidden inside them; lastly, they have to read the answers very carefully, as incorrect options are designed to look right and catch children out. Again, there are dozens of ways they attempt to do this.
  2. Time. I wrote at length about how to get the most out of time in my first book. I’ve recently serialised the chapter on time into a free e course, which you can sign up to in the yellow box to the right of this blog post or blog page, assuming you’re reading this online. There are seven major ways to play with and manage time. Knowing these is essential when you remember your child has around 40 minutes in each subject to show 6 years of primary education, one of which they won’t even have completed!

Of course, starting early ensures that you can be thorough and gradual in the learning and practice of these strategies. You may worry that there are too many and that they will only confuse your child further. If you try and teach them a few weeks before the test, you may be right. Strategies are best thought of as habits, learned over a period of time, which become natural and almost immediate. For example, while teaching and looking for the different tricks hidden inside questions, practice papers will be slower to complete. This is fine when using practice tests as a teaching tool, not as an end in themselves, which is an effective way to squeeze more value from practice tests. We know that it is not practice that makes perfect, but deliberate, targeted practice that allows lasting breakthroughs to be made. With time to spend learning strategies, your child can adopt them as automatic thinking patterns, like putting on a seat belt before a journey, brushing teeth at night, or stopping and looking for traffic before crossing a road.

Remember as well that while every question may contain a trick, or at least have a strategy to answer it effectively, not every question contains every trick! If your child has learned the range of strategies and ways to approach questions, (and actually, there are not that many – most children can name the children in their year group, or a couple of football teams, which is about the same number), they are best placed to recognise question and answer traps and be able to work around them.

I hope today’s reason helps you to feel good about starting the learning journey as soon as you can. You are not putting pressure on your child; the longer you can spend, the more relaxed, thorough, and most of all, happy you should both be.

Yes, the first step, always, is to know lots of things. Here is where you can point out and encourage your child to listen well, work actively and positively in class, to be fascinated generally by how amazing learning and information is. This is surely the main aim – to love learning. To love finding out. To love turning not knowing into knowing.

Nevertheless, the second step is to know how to show what you know, how to work through a paper properly, in time, how to read questions properly, how to avoid wrong answers in multiple choice, how to sit the various tests your child will be sitting.

Thank you for reading this far, and for nurturing your child and giving them the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the 11+ represents.

Click here for more information about the Multiple Choice English book. You can look inside the amazon version to see just how many areas are covered. For your information, it’s available in three formats: on kindle, as a standalone printable ebook on this site, and as part of the 11 Plus English Masterclass Bundle, which carries a better-than-half-price discount on all four titles.

In writing this post, as I did a day back, I realised a seventh reason for not waiting, which needs its own mini-blog rather than a couple of lines at the end of today’s blog. So in the spirit of expansion, this 5 reasons mini-blog series will now last for 7 days. I really hope each reason helps you feel confident about beginning your child’s future today. Please come back tomorrow for Reason 4. Start learning, stay learning, stay happy. Lee

I just remembered – the 11plus is fun!

The best of mornings to 11 plus children and parents everywhere. A very quick post, before my student arrives, to share a lesson from a lesson. Yesterday, a student was experiencing and working through her first cloze exercise. I was in full serious teacher mode (spoiler: not the best mode!) as we explored how to examine the words outside the gap as much as the words given to fill in the gap. Three plus one brief tips to rehearse with your child, though this is not the point of this post, as you’ll see in a moment:

  1. If it’s a passage or paragraph containing several blank spaces to fill in, read the whole piece first, or at least the first few sentences. This allows your brain to work out what kinds of words would suit the blank (verbs, adjectives, etc.) as well as helping you understand the meaning, mood and tense of the whole piece. Avoid rushing into answer the first question.
  2. Make sure the word you choose fits both parts of the sentence – the part before the gap AND the part after the gap. Many words fit one half of the sentence, which could be enough to trick you into choosing a wrong word.
  3. The search for small words is a big thing. Look at small words before and after the gap, as well as any small words that are part of the answer options. For example, if there is “a” before the gap, then the word you are looking for will at least start with a consonant, whereas if “an” appears, the next word must be a vowel. Small words can also help you match tense and quantity among other things. For example:

Most moons have/has/will has/having been spinning for hundreds of thousands of years.

Before the gap, we see a plural ‘moons’. We must match this with the ‘have’ form of the verb, which rules out ‘has’. The word ‘been’ after the gap tells us it is some form of past tense, thus will has’ is ruled out (‘will has’ is just a wrong joining.) While ‘having been’ makes sense, vital punctuation is missing which prevents it from being the correct choice. We would probably need an embedded clause with two commas –

Most moons, having been spinning for hundreds of thousands of years,

plus a second second part of the sentence –

Most moons, having been spinning the same way for hundreds of thousands of years, can be thought of as old fashioned, stubborn rocks set in their ways.

(If you’re a scientist who knows moons never spin the same way, please let me know.)

Therefore, ‘have’ is the right answer, as it provides a completed, grammatically correct sentence that makes sense.

Tip 4, then, is pay attention to punctuation. This will guide you as to whether you should be creating a longer complex sentence, or a smaller, simpler one.

Anyway, to the point of this post. After finishing a piece of work, full teacher mode often sees me ask two follow-on questions:

What was tricky about this?

What helped you?

It’s really good practice to spend a minute or so at the end of any session to review what has been learned. (I call this a Magic Minute After Brain Boost, in the chapter Grab a Mab in my book, Success in Multiple Choice English – 59 Easy Ways to Score High in your 11plus Exam). A Mab helps convert the topic into memory, while also allowing the brain to relate to what has been taught, as it reminds the learner that it is how they interact with the information that makes the difference. Good learning is an active and mutual process.

My Y4 student’s brilliant reply instantly taught me a new question! Her answer to what helped her was that it was fun to learn new information about St Paul’s Cathedral (the topic of the cloze passage).

Fun.

Of course. She wanted to keep reading because she was enjoying learning about the cathedral’s history. So, the third question I am going to ask from now on, and which I hope you will ask your child from now on, is

What was fun about this?

With my own kids, I did this all the time. I loved learning, my son loved learning – always. We had fun. Our attitude was that it should probably be impossible not to pass the 11plus, if only because we spent so many fun hours learning and being fascinated by information, skills and making improvements to our writing, our timing, our scores.

The 11plus is fun! Please, please enjoy it. Enjoy the extra time you are both sharing, the path you are on. Asking what was fun or enjoyable about a learning session immediately focuses the brain on actually finding something that was fun. Children love fun. If learning is fun, they will stay at it longer, and may absorb deeper learning.

Keep it consistent, keep discovering things your child doesn’t know, keep learning to fill those gaps one at a time…and keep it fun.

Have an amazing 11 plus day. Click here for targeted English resources on Multiple choice and both fiction and non-fiction creative writing ‘must-have’ skills.

Lee