A conversation with a close friend, who is worrying about their daughter’s 11 plus in these difficult times, has prompted this post.
In truth, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen. We can predict, though, that something will happen. Either the tests will be rearranged, postponed, or a new system will be temporarily introduced. The first two of these are most likely; the third is not impossible to imagine. Schools could re-open earlier or later than we could predict, with the likelihood of some form of social distancing in place. It is, quite honestly, a horrible situation for our children, and for us, their carers and educators, who want to to do the best for them.
Simply, it is a reminder that we cannot control all events. We never have been able to. The current situation just makes this very, very obvious. Perhaps less obvious is the idea that this is okay, that not controlling all events does not mean we cannot control any events.
It is not, I think, about doing the right or wrong thing. No one knows enough. Instead of right or wrong, far better to think in terms of helpful or unhelpful. What is a helpful thing to do now? How can we help our children? This question opens up a world of opportunity and the realisation that there is so, so much we can do.
For me as a dad and as a teacher, two of the most helpful things we can do are:
Continue to allow them to study for the 11 plus. Continue to support them, continue to find resources and use them, over time, to make deliberate improvements in skills and knowledge, one by one, folding in new skills on top of practising old skills and knowledge.
Remember, this is helpful or unhelpful – not right or wrong. Although there are only around 4-5 months remaining before the typical 11plus entrance test season starts, your child possibly has a lot longer than that in terms of extra time through being at home and being able to spend more time focused on 11 plus learning. In effect, the extra time to spend on targeted learning each day means it is more as if they still had 6-8 months to prepare, simply because this time wouldn’t exist under normal conditions.
I’ve written before how holidays, particularly the summer holidays, are true gifts of learning for the time they create to learn undisturbed. I don’t mean your children should study 6-8 hours a day and do nothing else – that would be unhelpful! However, three hours a day, plus reading, leaves so much time for childhood, while also offering unrivalled moments of learning among the people they love most – you!
This is certainly no holiday. But if we are thinking helpful or unhelpful, then it is definitely a learning moment to seize.
2. If we must worry, and worry, it seems, we often must, then we can try and find a really helpful way of worrying, a way that actually leads to less worry and more learning. There is a way, it is very simple, and if you haven’t tried this already, I invite you 100% to try this. It is going to help a lot.
The ‘write way to worry’ means simply this: the right way to worry is to write.
Write down what YOU worry about, both in your own education, and in helping your child to get as ready as they can be for the entrance test.
Do you have gaps in your own learning? Are you worried about verbal reasoning or non verbal reasoning, possibly because, like me, until you start out on the grammar school journey, you’ve never heard of them? Do you worry about the effect of ‘pressure’ on your child? Are you unsure of what is in your chosen school’s particular test? Are you comparing your child to others?
Maybe you fear your maths isn’t good enough, or maybe it’s just one area – division, or percentages, for example.
Is English your second language? Do you get spellings wrong? Would you worry about writing a letter?
Getting your worries – all of them – down in writing (and don’t judge yourself on HOW you are writing down your worries!) might take you half an hour, an hour at the most (trust me, you’ll run out!)
it will save you and your child weeks of time on your 11+ journey.
Please – do this. Remember, this is about helpful or unhelpful. Grab a piece of paper and get going. Think-writing is amazing at bringing thoughts up you didn’t even know you had, including worries you might be pretending are not there but are nevertheless holding you back from helping your child right now. Enjoy a good worry-write. My worries about my education/What I think I don’t know/What are my gaps?/What do I think I can’t help my child with?/What are my barriers to helping my child?
How do you feel? Worse, or relieved?
However you feel, shake your own hand for what you’ve just done.
Because now you know that what you are worried about is what YOU are worried about.
Your child is not worried about the same things, and you don’t have to pass on your worries to them. None of them. At all.
Admit it, not knowing some things? It’s pretty normal. It applies to every human being on Earth, right?
Not knowing we don’t know, refusing to accept we don’t know, or pretending we do know, can be a bit more risky to your child’s success: because of superinfluence, there’s a risk they will absorb your worries, or learn to believe it doesn’t matter if you don’t know some things.
In superinfluence, we’re only passing on the helpful stuff that actually supports their 11+ success. Well, now you know your worries, you can leave them behind or keep them with you.
So not passing on your worries, that’s one great result of writing them down and exploring them. Two more things to think about.
A second benefit of getting your worries down is you’ll probably realise that a lot of the time, that’s all they are – worries.
One of my worries at the time my daughter was preparing was non-verbal reasoning. I had an almost superstitious doubt (in that I had no evidence to support the worry, it was just fear) about my ability to see patterns and work with pictures. Rather than help my daughter, I worried I would actually make things worse for her. It stopped me covering the topic. I was a primary teacher, yet nowhere in the curriculum at the time was anything about non-verbal reasoning.
Of course, it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I hadn’t done it, so had never learned how to.
Going through various books and website resources,step by step, at a pace right for both of us, my daughter and I learned the various types of shapes and sequences. Over time, our score in tests reached the level they needed to be. That would not have happened without time, and time would not have happened if I hadn’t admitted my worry months before.
The point is this: knowing you don’t know something is a strength because you can now find about it and learn it to a level that will help support your child. This is the third benefit of worrying in this helpful way. We can look at each worry objectively and take steps to deal with each and any step that moves our child’s learning forward. Isn’t that amazing?
It might help to bear in mind, too, that whatever you do not know, you are not expected to know anything a curious, interested 11 year old is not capable of learning.
That’s a helpful perspective to keep in mind.
This doesn’t mean that you wait until everything you worried about is dealt with, that you must be ready before you start helping your child – this will lose you time. You are never ready, you become ready by doing. There are actions that you can do to help right now. Pick one and do it. My science teacher, when I was at school (Hello, Mr Jackson) taught me one of the most helpful quotes I’ve ever heard: “Don’t worry, work.”
Perhaps the most common worry is the ‘What if..?’ kind. What if they don’t get in? What if I miss something? What if they find it too hard? What if I ruin it for them? What if I show myself up and can’t understand the learning myself?
Nothing is guaranteed in life, but the possibility of things not working out is never an excuse for not striving for those things anyway. Better results often come when you believe in something as if it is already a fact, and then work backwards to map out the plan to get to that reality.
I began my son’s 11+ journey with the end in mind – I already saw him getting in to his grammar school, and then worked backwards to find all the ways needed to get him to that truth. Did I have proof that it would happen? Not a chance!
I didn’t know all the ways – I knew close to nothing. Instead, I believed that there were ways, and if there were ways, then I could find out what they were, learn them and follow them.
I invite you to do the same.
One helpful tip to stay one step ahead of your child’s learning is to read through the lesson or part of a book or resource you’re going to use by yourself before reading through it with your child. In Bond, How to do 11+ Maths, for example, read the chapter on ratio before you teach them it.
A week, an hour, even ten minutes is sometimes enough to grasp the general learning you’re about to cover. By the second or third time, as you read it with your child it will probably make sense. Even if you don’t understand a concept completely, you can lead the situation confidently and honestly by saying,
‘Well, it looks tricky, but so did the other things and we worked on them, and we can do them now.’
Another tip is to do some of the work they do with them. If you are asking your child to practise writing an extended metaphor paragraph, then have a go at writing one as well. If you are showing them long division, have them give you questions to solve, or do the same questions your child is doing, modelling a couple, then hiding your answers and turning it into a game.
Thank you for teaching and nurturing your child, you are making a difference to the world.
If you are looking for help in multiple choice English or creative writing, I invite you to a 50% discount on the 11 Plus English Masterclass 4-book Ebundle, with immediate downloads available to save even more time. Enter ‘stay at home’ in the cart. The discount is good for any book, any purchase, until our precious children return to school.
Wherever your child is in their eleven plus journey, I hope they are safe, always making progress and remain in love with learning as much as ever. Education is amazing!
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.
Interestingly, the truth is we never absolutely know, but we sort of do. The first big mistake would be to do what I deliberately did above and use the wrong article in front of ’11+ test’.
THE 11+ test does not exist. An 11+ test exists. Lots of them.
Schools, perhaps more precisely the schools in a borough, develop different formats, albeit they are testing similar knowledge. Broadly, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning is becoming less of a thing, while English and Maths are more of a thing.
Children are tested on English and maths knowledge and skills taught in primary schools, with one big exception, which is that they are tested on knowledge and skills that include and sometimes go beyond that learned in Y6, at a time and age when they have only completed Y5, or pehaps recently started Y6.
Returning to the fact that the 11plus test does not exist, but rather lots of similar, but different, tests exist, on the one hand, this is incredibly annoying and frustrating. After all, we know what the KS2 SATs look like. Indeed, children do lots of practice tests for these, so they are familiar with the format.
Similarly, in GCSE English, we know the format and the types of question that will be asked. Students can do lots of past papers to rehearse their answers, even following mark schemes that tell students the difference between low and high mark answers.
So why not the 11plus? No one really knows. Other than the fact that the number of places is small and there would not be enough capacity to take in every child who was in line to perform brilliantly at the SATs, it remains a bit of a mystery.
On the other hand, other providers, websites and publishers do provide the test models. Precise books like mine, which teach skills to help your child know how to sit the tests, can be used alongside the excellent resources and practice papers elsewhere that show your child WHAT an approximation of a paper looks and feels like. Thankfully, there is a lot of information and resources within education to help you.
It is worth asking the schools you are interested in if they do have an example paper or sample questions to look at. The response is variable – some do, many don’t.
With this in mind, it becomes really important to know the schools you are interested in. There are many excellent sites that try and gather test information for various grammar schools. Test information is sometimes vague, but as we’ve mentioned, some schools don’t publish the precise content and format of tests.
Below, then, are three sites I want to share with you to help you find that information. As well as having gathered information regarding different grammar schools, the providers produce brilliant learning resources. I use practice papers from all three sites to complement my own books and techniques, to provide a really thorough grounding and preparation in both what and how.
My own passion and belief as a teacher is not enough skills, techniques and child-friendly hacks are taught that help children know HOW to pass the tests. Practice papers are essential, they are the WHAT, but they are far from enough on their own. Every child I’ve ever taught, starting with my own children, has needed help to learn how they are being tested or tricked in each test. With multiple choice in particular, there are dozens of tricks in both English and maths. Remember that Stage 1 multiple choice tests are often there to sift out students. What’s really surprising is some schools do not even use the Stage 1 results towards a child’s final mark! Stage 1 acts as a gatekeeper to Stage 2, school specific, tests. It is this Stage 2,written test, that provides the final assessed mark in some schools.
Yesterday, I decided to split this superinfluence episode into two. It might be better if I split it into three or even four parts. Remember that all this searching for information, all this understanding of the how and the what of your child’s test, is your job, your responsibility. It is the superinfluence in the background. If you create the learning moments, your child will live them. Make sure they are the right learning moments.
Have a good look around the websites below for information relating to the school/s you’re thinking about. Obviously, if your school in question is not covered, then the school is your direct port of urgent call, as we mentioned yesterday. The first link is from exampapersplus.co.uk. Below I’ve linked to a sample page for Wilson’s school.
I’ll see you in the next post as we continue to dive deep into the superinfluence you have as a parent or carer of your child. There is so much I want to cover and help you be super prepared, for, in order that your child is super prepared and ready with a smile on their face.
I was you a few years ago. My children were your children!
If I can help make the journey successful and pass on knowledge and skills that can help, I’m doing the right thing. My children thrived in grammar school, so can yours! See you in our next post.
Start 11 plus learning, stay 11 plus learning and stay 11plushappy!
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.
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.
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
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.)