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

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