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 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.

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

Five reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus entrance tests

Dear parent/carer,

A plea from a tutor’s heart. The message is simple – if you can, start teaching and preparing your child for the 11plus in Year 4. Whether that’s at home, with a tutor, or both, it is undoubtedly an easier – and possibly more successful – process than if you wait until Year 5. Please note, I am not suggesting you need a tutor in Year 4. You may, of course, decide you would like a tutor (the four corners of that learning team – child, teacher, parent/carer, tutor – can do amazing things) but as a parent or carer, there is so, so much you can do to help your child. Remember that they spend more time with you than any tutor will, so a lot of your child’s progress – and in some cases all of their progress – will come from a combination of your child’s school, you – and your child!

I know many parents will already be at the Year 5 stage. In that case, the best time to start is always now. Today. This moment. Pick up a book and get learning. I know, too, that many children can be successful with just one year. Some children are faster learners, as are some adults, and will already be ahead or secure in many concepts. If your child loves their learning and are doing fantastically at school, then this may be the case.

But…many children need longer. In any case, all children will benefit in some way from an early start. Over the next 5 days, in 5 mini-blogs, I want to spell out five powerful reasons why you are advised to get ahead and get going a couple of years before an eleven plus exam. (Actually, looking back at that sentence, perhaps there are six; getting ahead is, in itself, important.) You probably know, or suspect, most of these reasons already, but perhaps you are holding back, or are just unsure. My hope in writing is to guide you to see that taking action now in your own home with your child is the safest plan.

Reason 1: Simply put, it can be expecting too much to ask some children to learn everything in a year. While most topics are covered in primary schools, your child needs to remember and be able to apply their knowledge quickly and methodically. For that reason, you must go over these topics again in detail in Year 5. Thus, using Y4 to make sure lots of learning is covered and secured is vital.

It’s also true that many children can learn concepts not covered until Y5 or Y6 earlier if given the chance. Sometimes, the chronological nature of the curriculum is about organisation, not simply age. So, as you practise multiplication for example, why not introduce square or cube numbers, simple alegbra, two or three step word problems that need multiplication to solve?

It is also the case that your child needs a good grasp of Year 6 topics for the test, yet many of the tests come at the start of Year 6. An early start at home in Y4 can help clear a path for learning the Y6 curriculum in Year 5.

If everything is left until Year 5, there is a chance your child can simply run out of time to learn everything well in a way that will allow them to apply maths or English knowledge to new questions and comprehensions they will meet for the first time on the day of the entrance test. (If your child’s school of choice tests using verbal reasoning or non-verbal reasoning, starting early is crucial; they will not have been learning these subjects and techniques in any meaningful sense as part of the primary curriculum.)

The situation can become fretful if, as you approach the day itself, your child is grappling with new concepts. Of course, all of the time, even on the day of the test, your child can and will learn or revise something, a gap in knowledge can be filled, a pronoun or adverb can be discovered. However, what happens if there is one area of learning in which your child, rightly, needs more time with to understand fully?

(Quick question: how long does a child need to learn something?

Answer: As long as they need.)

With this extra time, she or he might be as competent as anyone in this area. If the time is limited, however, it may not be possible to short-cut. An outcome is the result of a process. Learning is often a spiral process, whereby you return to a subject periodically or from different angles, allowing the skills and information to become more embedded each time, over time.

Okay, there’s your first reason not to wait. Please come back to 11plushappy! tomorrow for reason 2 – your child can’t afford you to miss this reason.

Why not sign up to the blog to get the reasons automatically sent to your email? (Remember to check spam or the gmail promotions tab, and to whitelist the blog post.)

You can also grab a free email course on why time is so important to the 11plus – and what you and your child can do about it. If you’re reading this on the 11plushappy! website, check out the yellow box to the right of this blog post.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving your child the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is the eleven-plus. Have an amazing week of learning together. Lee

11 plus maths: Tried the quick double and half trick for long multiplication?

Here’s a tip fresh from a lesson with a student this morning. Can you see what’s going on in the example in the box?

double and half

It doesn’t replace long multiplication. However, there are times that numbers look a bit yucky, but with this simple trick, they become numbers our brains love. Above, we changed 225 and 28 into incredibly friendly times tables – either 9 x 7 or 7 x 9.

If your child is pressed for time and is confident with doubling and halving, this trick can save seconds and reduce the risk of long multiplication errors. Three things to note:

  1. When you half one number and double the other, the answer is always the same. You can see this with a simple example:  2 x 4 is the same as 1 x 8. We halved the first and doubled the second.
  2. You can’t half an odd number. (Well, you can, but this would make it way too complicated, which means this trick would not be wroth bothering with for that question.)  So if you have two odd numbers to multiply, go for long multiplication. If you have two even numbers, or an even and an odd, then it might work. In our box above, we stopped when we reached the odd number 7.
  3. There is a lot of value – in terms of gaining speed and developing the mental maths muscle – in practising doubling and halving lots of different numbers. You can easily ask your child a question or two in daily conversation.

I hope you and your child find value in the above tip. For lots more happy ways to help your child be ready for the big day, keep following and stay 11plushappy!

You might also wish to make this brand-new 11plus book series a part of your learning strategy.