Superinfluence Part 2: Deciding what and how starts with where

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 your school?

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 format

  • A full sentence/calculation answer sheet, with working out shown for maths question?
  • Multiple choice?
  • 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 advance.

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.

If 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?

Have a happy day of learning, Lee

P.S. Do you know the 21 must-haves of creative writing your child needs to show in every piece of creative writing? Are you prepared for the multiple choice tricks all English tests play to try and catch your child out as schools reduce the number of applicants down to the most alert and prepared? Click here to get started or find out more now. (Do it before you run out of time to prepare.)

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

Straight in today; your time is short and after 3 days of our mini-series blog/mini-blog series, I know you’re ready for the reason.

Reason 4 has two sides to it, both of which offer true superboosts to your child’s learning and enjoyment of 11plus prep.

Reason 4: Start early – Y4, Y3, Y2 – and your child will begin with easier, age related material. (Bond, for example, has books for 5-6, 7-8, etc.) Easier material at the start allows two magical things to happen:

  1. 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:

  • boost motivation,
  • 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?

Start learning, stay learning, stay happy. 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

Reason 2 of “5 Reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus exams”

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.

Here’s a link to a simplypsychology article on Kolb’s Learning styles, giving a brief overview of this ‘concrete’ learning style, alongside other learning styles, in case you’d like to have some context. As an illustration, my daughter and I, towards the end of Year 4, opened a Problem Shop in the kitchen. She was the owner, ‘the boss’, and I would post written maths problems in an envelope through her shop door. She would then call me up on a pretend phone (sometimes a real one) and try and explain how she would solve it for me. I would sometimes ask if I could come to the shop so she could show me on paper, which she always agreed to because she was in role as a polite shop owner! This matched her love of drama and was an excellent way to have several, very short ‘lessons’ at spare points in the day. When similar problems were met in practice papers, I would remind her of the similarity to a problem her Problem Shop had solved for me.

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.

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. Stay learning, stay happy, Lee

Know when to take a break – when 11 plus learning gets too much…

I know – we have to keep up daily learning with our children, especially over the summer holidays, if we are to reach our goal of running out of things our child doesn’t know by the time the exam comes round. In fact, you may never actually need the kind of break I’m talking about.

Have you ever found yourself in a head to head argument with your child over doing their learning? You set them a task and they dig their heels in, or cry, or have a tantrum. Ordinarily, they are fine at studying – they go along with the recommended hours, they have bought in to the whole project of giving it everything – but today, in that moment, rebellion breaks out. Does this sound familiar? If it does, there are two tips that may be worth trying. I didn’t know about these before teaching my daughter; I had to learn them to keep us both sane in those…moments!

Teaching the child that you care for is, at times, a very intense experience for both grown-up and child. You have so much invested in their success, you love them so much, it can be hard to know when to step back.

Okay, I admit, I’m talking about how it was for me and I’m imagining it might be the same for you, at least occasionally. Due to that intensity, to the commitment to the goal of giving everything to the process, I found it hard to deviate from the timetable I created. This was noble, brave and mostly effective. However, it was also at times born out of fear and panic that if I let the moment slip, the time would never come back (true), meaning I might not be able to teach her everything she needed to know. Regardless, there are moments when you have to take control of the situation and think long term, not get caught up in the panic of the moment. So here are two strategies I’d absolutely recommend you try to keep your happiness, sanity, relationship and progress intact and healthy.

1. Acknowledge from time to time that it’s true, it is hard/annoying/tiring/ boring/ taking a lot of time – use your child’s language, the word they have used to describe the situation. Then, use AND to bring them back to continuing with it, rather than using ‘but’ or something stronger like ‘it doesn’t matter’ or ‘I don’t care’.

Examples:

  • “Yes, it is taking a lot of time AND as soon as we’re finished and sure we’ve learned how to calculate the area and perimeter of a circle, we’re going for a swim.”
  • “It’s true, it can be tiring to focus on a whole test AND it’s true that it’s also really helping us reach the top mark, isn’t it?”

The ‘and‘ can diffuse small grumbles and truly help your child understand the purpose of a session. You can even teach them to use it themselves, so they learn that even when we do feel a bit grumbly, we can still be brilliant learners and give ourselves the best chance. They might develop a phrase to keep themselves going: “I’m tired and I’m continuing, I’m tired and I’m still focusing,” or something similar. You can have fun with it: “Yes, I’m snappy, and I’m 11plushappy!”

There may be times when ‘and‘ isn’t enough. If a tantrum is breaking out, or you feel you are about to yell at them how important this all is, etc., then try tip 2:

2. STOP. Smile, put down the pencil and completely change the subject or do something else for 5 minutes, perhaps for as long as half an hour. It’s important (and difficult!) to be relaxed about this.

Control the moment and you can take away the fuel of the anger/upset. (The fuel may be panic, fear, frustration, or just simple reluctance.) Go play football for a moment, do some exercise, challenge them to a handstand competition or draw a picture together. Grab a drink and biscuit or fruit, go for a walk. You can make this explicit sometimes, letting your child know you’ve recognised you are heading the wrong way:

“Oh, look, this is funny, we’ve both got cross faces, let’s have a silly face competition for a minute.”

“Ahh, I’ve just remembered, we need a five-minute silly noise break, look at us – we’ve forgot how much we love each other.”

Or you can just action the break.

“Let’s have ten minutes to draw.”

“Time out – see you in ten minutes.”

Recognising how you are both feeling – this is about you as well – can be so helpful in getting the learning back on track. When angry or rebelling or upset, it’s unlikely that teaching and learning will be the best anyway. The brain is not as good at taking information in when upset as it is when smiling and relaxed. A short break in an intense moment can give you the space to breathe out and relax, resetting the mind, which could mean that when you come back, you could both end up doing far more than you intended. This last point is worth remembering. If you stop for ten minutes, it doesn’t mean you lose those ten minutes. You can subtly add them on to the session when you come back.

Step 2 is not for using all the time; you won’t need it all the time. Mostly, step 1 can help you keep on track. But nevertheless, there are key moments when you can learn to see you are both getting wound up. During every second of an argument, no learning is happening anyway! So knowing when to walk away for 5 minutes, change the subject or activity for a few minutes (“Oh, I’ve just remembered, you need tickling.”), to allow you a route out of the argument, is a really helpful tool when you remember that you are involved in a learning marathon.

Hopefully, you won’t need these tips much, but if you recognise any part of our discussion above as being true to your own situation, then I hope and and stop provide you with two more ways to continue helping your child reach for the stars and be the superhero that the 11+ student really is.

Found this helpful? Please share and visit https://11plushappy.com/ for more ways to help your child. You can sign up to receive new posts, grab a free course on micro-managing time during learning and the 11 plus exam itself, or take advantage of a better-than-half-price summer learning ebook bundle deal.

Thank you for nurturing your child’s 11 plus opportunity. Have an amazing, fun day of learning together.

Best, Lee