The headline says it all, so if you want to skip to the books, please do. Goodness knows how we make it through this, but we have to believe at some point that schools will reopen and your hoped-for grammar school will admit the next intake. It could be sooner than we think or later than we think, but it will happen.
Whatever you are doing to stay safe and occupied, we must keep our children learning.
The good habits you and schools have established to help your children learn are crucial at this moment. Learning provides much more than a distraction from worry – it paves the way for tomorrow’s generation of heroes and humans who will shape and build and grow the best future possible. It sets your child on their best path.
11 plus exams will at some point be a normal reality again. Please – little by little – stay learning with precision and purpose. We need our children to be progressing and prepared, not in a spirit of competition or worry, but in a happy spirit of continuing the love of learning and the happiness and stimulation that come from achievement and focus. It is good that our highest goals as humans remain at the core of what we do. It is not easy, but it is good.
Please have a look at the books. I believe so strongly they can help you and your child continue learning together.
I’m sorry I am not in a position to offer them for free. With social distancing in place, all my tuition students can, of course, no longer come, so my own income and ability to keep my family food coming is under pressure. I hope that 50% off everything can help everyone survive and thrive. Please share the coupon with anyone you feel might benefit – there are no restrictions. The creative writing guides are also very suitable for upper KS2 and KS3 children. Included in the purchase is an opportunity to send a piece of your child’s written work for free, so that I can read and suggest some next steps for your child to take. This is specific to your child, not generic.
Simply add your books to the cart and write ‘stay at home’ in the voucher code box. Your 50% discount will be applied immediately.
Stay learning, stay safe, love your children, be patient, be caring, be funny, strive to be happy. In dark times, we must be the extra light.
Thank you for caring for and teaching your children. I hope that as you stay at home, your 50% off voucher code helps you and your child on their path to eventual eleven plus success.
Children, keep creating, keep learning and keep laughing. Every smile, every word, every number, every picture is worth it.
Okay, decision time. This level of superinfluence happens either before, or in the early stages of, helping your child be superhero prepared and happy.
Your child can’t do this because they don’t know the choices. They can’t see over the fence of the next hour without your help. That’s how children are; totally immersed in the moment. You are the strategic thinker, it’s your plan. Create the learning moments and your child will live them.
Here’s what you need to think about.
Deciding what and how starts with deciding where.
Why? Three reasons.
1. Each school tests slightly differently: don’t waste a minute on something your child isn’t going to be tested on.
By example, the three schools we chose for our son at the time tested English, Maths and verbal reasoning, but not non-verbal reasoning, so we ditched non-vr completely and devoted all study time on the first three areas. This freed up a lot of time, as we had been trying to learn everything. For our final school choice, only English and Maths were tested; knowing this allowed us an even sharper focus.
2. You need to know the catchment areas for schools you are interested in and how they work. Often, grammar schools have no geographical bias – getting in is based on ability in the test and that’s it. Nevertheless, some grammars may favour local children, at least for a percentage of admissions.
For example, if all children applying passed with the same high mark, the first 50-80 children (out of an average intake of 150) might be chosen from the nearby area, with the rest going to outliers. This may or may not influence your decision, but you need to know.
3.Travel time. How long will your child spend travelling to and from school? I drew the line at an hour, but there are children at my son’s school for whom two hours each way is the norm. It’s up to you and your child. Also, how will they get there? Is there public transport from where you live?
Finding out where the schools are is easy.
Visit www.ngsa.org.uk the home of the National Grammar Schools Association and do a geographical search across England or Northern Ireland. There are no grammar schools in Scotland or Wales. A google search will also throw up results quickly.
Ask at your child’s school and speak to other parents in the playground. (As complete newbies to both the area and secondary education, we found out about the local school – Wilson’s – from a neighbour who lived half way down our street and who we’d only ever had a couple of chats with. How thankful are we for that conversation and that lady’s generous information and encouragement to apply?) Parents and families may have inside and up-to-date information – an elder child who goes to a nearby grammar, for example. Your local education authority (LEA) will also advise you of any grammar schools in the area.
When you find a school that interests you, here are five questions you absolutely need the answers to, either from their website or from a
telephone call to the ADMISSIONS department. Ideally, do both – check a website
first, then follow up with a phone call to get things totally clear.
1. When and how do I apply to
2. What’s in the entrance exam? What subjects
will my child be tested on?
3. HOW do you test each subject? Is the test
A full sentence/calculation answer sheet, with working out shown for maths question?
A combination of both? If so, which parts use which format?
4. Does your school offer a sit-down ‘mock’ or practice test’? Do you provide sample questions or a sample paper?
5. When are the dates of any
open days so we can visit your school?
It might help to zoom in a little on each of these points. Remember, your child cannot do any of this without you. Nor is it your primary school’s role. You alone are the power here.
Usually, you apply in the Spring term when your child is in Y5, around Easter time, April. The cut-off date may be early July, or sometimes as late as September of Y6 if the testing takes place later in the year. There are, however, some tests which take place closer to July, and which may have earlier cut-off dates. PLEASE DO THIS STEP ASAP!
Make sure you know this date well in
In fact, if you are in a position to, stop reading this and find the date and as much of the information as you can now. It’s that important. Don’t miss it.
You must fill in a separate form for each school.
Depending on the school, you apply online, but may be able to apply by post. If you apply online, you need to upload a photograph of your child, but the process is easy, with full instructions given.
Later, in October of Y6, after you have applied separately to the school, and in some cases, after your child has sat the test for a grammar school, you fill the local authority shared Common Entry Form. On this form, you list all your school choices in order of preference. This form goes to the local authority, not the schools. Your child’s primary school will give out, and may help in submitting, this form. Do ask them.
If you have visited possible
schools earlier in the year, choosing the order of preference may be easier. Note,
I say easier, not easy.
A lot of thought and worry goes into choosing which school to put first, second, etc. Some people argue that if there is more than one grammar in the borough, it is risky to put 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice as grammars, simply because the pass rate for first choices is high enough to make it very hard to get a grammar as a second or third choice. Some parents put a grammar 1st, then choose the best secondary comprehensive they find. I can’t advise you on this, it’s your decision.
Personally, as my son had passed two tests before we filled the form, we risked it all and put the three grammars as our first three choices. I know we were not alone in doing this, and we also heard from one grammar school Head that several children had come to his school as a second choice.
Remember, each school does not know how you have listed your preferences. If your child passes with a high enough mark to be offered a place, they will be offered a place. The offer is submitted to the local authority, not you, and it is the council who look at 1st choice 2nd choice, etc.
If your child has sat an entrance test in September, and you know the result, this can help either way.
your child hasn’t passed the entrance test, DO NOT continue to put that school
down on as a preferred school – it will not be considered, and you waste a
chance to put a good second choice as a new first choice. I
know this is an obvious point, but each year people make this mistake.
It’s also worth repeating, so you are very clear on this, that you cannot list grammar schools, or many other state schools, on the CEF unless you have first filled out the individual school form and applied for the test earlier in the year.
Don’t miss the opportunity – fill in the school’s separate form. Even if you change your mind later, it’s better to have the option to put a school down on the CEF. It happens every year that parents leave this too late: you are not going to be one of them.
After you have submitted the individual school
application, the school will confirm receipt, then write to you with the date
and time your child will sit the test. Tests happen from as early as September
in your child’s Y6 year (just a few weeks after they start Y6), to as late as
January. You are given a morning or afternoon time – they choose, not you.
When you are given the date,
congratulations! You’ve handled the paperwork that makes it possible; the
opportunity to get into the school is now a reality.
I’m splitting this post into two, maybe three parts, as there is so much information to share with you. We’ll continue to zoom in on the above points tomorrow, starting with answering the question: what’s in the test? What will your child be tested on?
Where are you launching them towards? What skills are you going to give them to make sure they don’t just survive life’s journey, but create life’s journey. Be guided by this statement:
Parents who put education first tend to develop
children who come first in education.
It’s not rocket science. Speak French, they learn French.
Speak telly every night, they learn telly every night.
Speak excuses, they
learn excuses. Speak belief and achievement, they learn belief and achievement.
What you want to get across to your child is the message
that what matters is
me and learning.”
Because it is what matters.
I’m not saying the other stuff of life is rubbish or less important. I know I’m risking you saying, ‘Hang on, I want my child to play football, or chat with friends, or swim, I want my child to enjoy his computer games, to enjoy his childhood.’
Well, my son, and the other children we know who make it to grammar school, still played football, still swam – they simply did it as part of the learning schedule.
There is time for it all. But at the same time, there is only
one time for a best shot at that grammar school.
Your child will enjoy his childhood if you love them, if he or she has a great relationship with you, if they know you care, if you guide them, if you believe in them, if you develop them. Develop them and you set your child up to enjoy childhood days and teenage days and adulthood days and old age.
Be careful of a strange fear in modern culture of ‘putting pressure’ on kids. It’s a feature of language and thought today that some grown-ups sprinkle their sentences with the word ‘stress’ like some people sprinkle salt on their food.
My instinct, from observations on children at school and in tuition, is it isn’t helpful and it isn’t true.
Sprinkling salt or stress isn’t good for you!
Technology-creep, obesity, selfishness, poverty of language, a material-craving, but work-avoiding celebrity obsessed generation – that’s pressure. Not getting a good job when you become an adult and are trying to make a home – that’s pressure. Getting up to your neck in debt because you can’t earn enough to pay the bills – that’s pressure.
Not thinking you are worth, or able, to go for your dream
with everything you have – that’s pressure.
The truth is children love challenge. Leave them alone and they’ll argue to be the best at ANYTHING – my spaghetti is longer than yours, I can throw further than you, I’ve got to level 7 on this game, my team is better than yours, on and on it goes. Listen to children talk and very quickly you’ll discover a natural desire to be and do and have the best.
All you are doing is funnelling that natural, fun urge for
challenge through the positive filter of superinfluence, and directing it towards
learning and developing their mind and character in ways that will help them be
ready to sit the test, as well as learning academic and personal skills they will
use for the rest of their days.
Reassuringly, the 11+ process is about challenge, not competition. Being the best you can be is very different from being better than anyone else. How can they be compared with another child? Your child is unique – it is impossible. So let them know there is no need to worry or compare themselves to other children. By all means, however, let them compare themselves with themselves! What do they know this week that they didn’t know last week?
Parenting is your
job, and superinfluence is your power.
Don’t leave parenting up to advertisers, phones, game developers, telly; don’t let it be influenced by your exhaustion at the end of the day. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
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.
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:
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.
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.
A huge motivational entrance test hello and a very short burst of happiness to remind you that holidays are the best learning present you can ask for – a gift of time to plan and weave in a few 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 an hour or two a day to go over difficult subjects, to rehearse different genres of writing essays, or to focus in on a handful of test strategies and techniques to blast your child’s scores 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 11 Plus journey – I vow with everything I can that holidays are superboosts of learning. Whatever you are doing, do lots of it this holiday!
If you’re looking for 11 Plus specific English help, there’s a final chance to own and benefit from the creative writing and multiple choice 11 Plus English Masterclass Bundle for less than half-price. You’ll find everything I’ve learned as a teacher, tutor, writer and father to help your child achieve their highest, happiest mark.
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.)
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.)
your child is going to have a much stronger chance of learning these strategies while practising on easier, age related material.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!)
Underline or dot the date on the question paper, so you know what you are being asked.
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.
Check the digits and the order of the digits to make sure you have the right choice in the answers.
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.
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.
You give your child important early wins in their work, exposing them to the happy feelings of getting questions right, which can be enormously motivational. Securing early wins at a time when your main aim is building regular learning habits and a real enthusiasm and love for learning is turning the sails in your child’s favour.
Few children – or grown ups – like to get things wrong, especially in front of the person who cares for us. At least, not at the start. Working on harder material straight away – which is a real risk if starting from scratch in Y5 – can make some children worry. Even worse, if they consistently get a lot of things wrong in early sessions, the habit that can be created is a reluctance to work, a tendency to avoid the regular hours of home learning that make the difference.
However, if you are simply trying to introduce or supplement the knowledge they are learning at school through extra home learning, using materials for a younger age group, it is more likely that initial scores will be higher.
In effect, their first impression of extra learning is success.
Another recommended way you can play this as their teacher is to start with easier material regardless of their age. Again, what you want them to experience is the thrill of getting things right. It can lift self-esteem and build resilience for later, harder material. You want your child to think: Well, I got it right before, so I can get it right again (you can say this to them to encourage); you don’t want them to think, Well, I got it wrong before, so I can get it wrong again.
I would say always start them on easier material. If your child is in Y4, let them work through a Y3 age-related book or two. You don’t have to tell them it’s easier material. Let them tell you proudly that they find it easy, then simply move through the difficulty levels without labelling them as such. For non-verbal and verbal reasoning, this can be especially helpful, as much of the material will be brand new.
KEY TRUTH: When you start early, you give yourself and your child time to go through these different levels.
Okay, so we’re learning that kicking off the 11plus journey with easier, younger material helps secure early wins and allows your child’s first impression of learning to be success, which should:
supply your child with lots of good learning feelings (children are often more emotional than rational at this early stage, so switching on good emotion could support the development of rational, question-based thinking and stamina),
help build the crucial superhero habit of regular learning.
So that’s superboost 1. I said at the start there were two huge benefits to setting off on the 11plus journey by passing through easier, lower-levelled material.
Ready for superboost 2?
Come back tomorrow and we’ll go through that. I want each superboost to stand alone, framed in its own mini-blog, to give you time to think about each one, to help you grasp their power and inspire you to start teaching your amazing child now!
Thank you for reading and for nurturing your child’s learning opportunities. Visit 11plushappy.com to read the rest of the posts in the series. Why not sign up to the blog to make sure you receive the posts straight to your inbox?
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.
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.
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.
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
Yesterday, we admitted the important truth that starting to prepare in Year 5 could be simply expecting too much for some children, given the amount of material to be covered versus the amount of time available. Today’s reason, Reason 2, is actually an extra one I realised while writing the reason 2 I was going to tell you about today. I was planning to add a couple of sentences onto yesterday’s post, a sort of P.S. to Reason 1, but there was too much to say on the subject. It was too important to brush over. So, in fact, there are 6 reasons not to wait. Expect this 5-part miniblog series to now have 6 parts!
Reason 2: The age factor. How old is your child? If your child is younger in their year – sometimes they are nearly a year younger than others – that can be an influence on how much they can learn within a given time. As importantly, as a teaching consideration, are the ways they may learn best at a younger age. If you start in Year 4, you have time to develop learning games in the home that can hook their imagination, sense of fun and need to play. You can still maintain a lot of these throughout Year 5, while at the same time developing their stamina to sit longer exam papers.
Two powerful effects of play-based learning:
It’s more fun and will often lead to longer sessions, as well as helping to build your learning relationship;
It’s more likely to be practical, and for many children, this ‘concrete’ experience of doing things will help them thrive.
Children love to play, and sometimes fun, unusual approaches will stick in the memory longer or clearer than only sitting with a book. (You still need to do this, of course.) To help with measurement, estimation and approximation, we measured spaghetti sticks and then predicted how many we would need to make a path to reach the garden. It goes without saying that we had a lot of fun making the path, especially when it came to going down the stairs. We were also able to discuss how much the pasta would weigh, using the mass of one pack. (Food can be an amazing learning tool.) A similar game was to make a Book Path, laying out every book we had in the house, then learning probability from trying to work out the likelihood of landing on a fiction or non-fiction title, or a title by a favourite or least-favourite author.
It goes without saying (teach your child this sentence opener as a rhetorical phrase they can use in persuasive letters – because, of course, I am going to say it) that what made these games so enjoyable and effective was that I had started long before the test, so I knew I had time to meander and spend important time going through this process. There was less pressure than if we had started a few months before.
Age is not the defining factor, but it is most definitely a strong influence. As I wrote yesterday, part of the reason for starting earlier than Year 5 is simply because you can. So many children can learn ideas and topics not covered until Year 5 or 6 when they are in Year 4 or earlier. Perhaps a more precise way to think about it is that it is more to do with stage than age. What stage of learning is your child at? Of course, you may not know until you try them with material from later years, so go ahead and introduce these materials. For example, I use the picture-rich CGP KS2 Maths Book on children in Year 3. At this point, they have only entered KS2, but the book covers material right up to Year 6, a lot of which children can grasp, or at least begin to grasp as they move on into Year 4.
Okay, that’s the end of an extra reason not to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for eleven-plus entrance tests. Thanks for letting me add an extra reason. Please come back tomorrow for Reason 3 – the one I said at the end of Reason 1 that your child cannot afford to you to miss.
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