Preparing for the 11 Plus exams, be it grammar school selection tests like the Kent or Bexley tests, or for independent schools can be a stressful process for children and parents alike. Some parents are often (wrongly) under the impression that children work well under pressure. However, research tells us that strategies that induce stress of this kind rarely have the desired effect.
In fact, children often experience a reduction inability for their essential skills (spellings, vocabulary and mental maths) when they are put under too much pressure or stress. As a result, I have never been a fan of putting children under undue stress when it comes to preparing for any exams, especially exams that are as competitive as the 11 Plus exams. I urge all parents to resist the urge to push your child to revise at every spare moment – it doesn’t work.
Instead, develop a plan that suits them, and a space to fulfil it in. Make sure that you have everything you need to make their revision experience satisfying, enjoyable and effective overall.
Use our revision plan to make 11+ preparation stress-free and straightforward!
There are three general areas of the revision process:
- practising core skills;
- completing papers on each topic; and
- becoming familiar with the exam process through mock papers.
Incorporate each of these elements into your child’s revision every week, so that they feel comfortable with the layout and format of the exam papers and gain some ‘experience’ of taking the exams. This routine will alleviate some of the stress of the exam day itself.
The key point is to keep your child’s studies regular and realistic – this means that leaving everything to the last minute is not a constructive (or useful) way of preparing for the 11 Plus exams.
Try not to push your child to do more than they can manage – instead, ensure that they are chipping away at the revision one step at a time.
Weeks 1 – 6: Revision for the 11+
Use these first weeks in your child’s 11+ preparation to solidify your child’s understanding of their core skills. Practising papers is essential, but if their core skills are still unsteady, they will struggle more overall.
Often, children who need to revise their core skills will have inconsistent results in their papers and workbooks. It can be mindboggling and frustrating for many parents, but inconsistent scores should serve as a red flag in your child’s understanding.
Apart from inconsistent scores, a lack of understanding can also show up as your child not completing their papers within the prescribed time. Watch my video to learn some effective strategies to use if your child consistently runs out of time when doing 11 Plus papers:
11 Plus Maths Preparation
Practice a page of mental maths, three days a week. Correct all mistakes with your child as you go along so your they can see where they are going wrong, and work to fix it. You can use Geek School Tutoring’s Maths Worksheet Generator to create free worksheets on specific maths topics to help improve your child’s understanding and performance. You can increase the difficulty if you find that your child is getting 100% each time.
Practice a page of word problems, three days a week. These problems are an excellent way to understand how to transfer the key components of the question into an understandable maths formula or operation.
Discuss the answers together. Treat questions like puzzles or challenges, which automatically makes them more fun – especially for children who find papers daunting or tedious.
For both mental maths and word problems, work on practising self-correction. Please encourage your child to get into the vital habit of checking their answers, and knowing what to do when they make a mistake.
11 Plus English Preparation
Encourage your child to spend half an hour of independent reading every day; this can be any book that your child chooses – it is just to encourage reading.
It would help if you also read together from a classic book, several times a week, which will help your child practice for the more complex passages in the 11 Plus exams. Discuss the text together – talk about favourite or least favourite characters, aspects of the plot, unusual or interesting words and so on.
A key part of the 11 Plus these days is vocabulary, so it is crucial that you use a dictionary and encourage your child to check the meaning of words. You can get free children’s classics on a number of websites, such as Amazon. I have another video on this, along with how to get free library books online – watch that here: https://www.geekschool.co.uk/need-books-for-homeschooling-heres-how-and-where-to-get-free-books-for-your-child-during-the-coronavirus-lockdown/.
Write new words in a vocabulary notebook. Practice spelling these words several times a week. You can also buy our 11 Plus Vital Words Dictionary to work on a number of antonyms and synonyms and word meanings to help your child increase their vocabulary: https://www.geekschool.co.uk/product/11plus-cem-verbal-reasoning-synonyms-and-antonyms-guide/
Weeks 1 – 4: Practice Papers
Complete one paper per subject (i.e. English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning) every week. This is more than enough if you make sure that all mistakes are corrected and understood before moving on to the next one. It has been suggested that you ought to talk about the questions and answers for the same length of time that it took your child to complete it, especially if there are a lot of corrections. Children learn so much when they can see where the mistakes have been made and understand why they have been made. Without this crucial step, the same mistakes will be made, again and again, making the completion of papers a waste of time.
Use time limits set by the publisher and make sure your child works in a quiet space. You can also tell them when they are halfway through their time and remind them when they have ten and five minutes remaining – this is likely to happen during the exam, so get your child used to hearing this, so they do not get panicked in the actual exam. For many children, the 11 Plus tests are the first test they will have written, so the concept of completing a paper in timed conditions may be bizarre and daunting for them. So, working to time will help familiarise your child with the idea of taking an exam and working within time constraints.
Weeks 5 – 6: 11+ Mock Papers
Continue your revision plan from the previous weeks, but include an extra mock paper per week.
Make sure they are writing by hand – and building up the stamina to write for a long time by hand – rather than on a computer, as this will be a necessary requirement of the exam itself. Some independent schools do use a computer-based pre-selection test these days, but mainly the second stage and grammar school tests are paper-based, so working on hand is crucial.
Continue to use exam-like conditions as before. Tests should use the appropriate time limits, as well as working in silence and adhering to breaks as allowed in exam conditions. You should not give your child help during the practice papers. Get them used to taking a toilet break before the exam begins. They should not eat during the exam and should have only a bottle of water to hand if they want it.
Running out of time: Parents can combat this issue by encouraging children only to use allocated minutes for each question, often depending on the marks available. Please encourage your child to leave difficult questions for the end of the paper, to avoid them getting worked up about one problem and not having enough time for the rest of the paper. Remember that the time constraints are part of the challenge; it will be tricky for them to complete all the questions in the time – these strategies will give them the best chance.
Making small errors
The pressure of an exam can cause children to make avoidable mistakes and forget the simple details of a concept. Help avoid this by practising recalling of essential and straightforward information. Go over specific terms that they will need to know. You will be able to identify any areas of uncertainty by going over their mock papers. You can use our 11 Plus Maths Dictionary and 11 Plus Grammar Dictionary to help your child familiarise with the key terms.
Core Skills: Practicing papers alone will be useless without a concrete understanding of the core skills. Dedicate time to sharpen these every day, and use the practice papers as a secondary revision tool.
Find Knowledge Gaps: Ensure that your child is comfortable with exam technique, as well as the actual content of the paper. Do this by adhering to and practising strict time management – including developing effective time management for each answer and understanding how to what to do when they come across tricky questions, so they don’t lose marks by leaving many questions unanswered.
Effective Exam Performance: Find ways for your child to manage any stress under pressurised conditions. They should also know how to plan and organise their exam answers appropriately.
Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning: There are plenty of resources you can use to practice these topics. Invest in practice books, which will also provide tips and tricks for approaching the answers.
Work Smart: Avoid the ‘hard work’ approach if you can. Instead, implement strategic methods of revision.
What else can I do?
- Keep work consistent, rather than stressful.
- Try and keep the process as relaxed as possible – stress and pressure are counterproductive.
- Correct mistakes with kindness; be sure that your child sees them not so much as errors, but as chances to improve.
- Allow extra time to complete questions at the beginning of the revision period. Reduce this amount of time gradually.
- Prioritise familiarising your child with the exam environment.
- Keep a gentle and light-hearted approach to the 11 Plus preparation. This process can be incredibly stressful when it is poorly handled, so try and make the whole process fun and enjoyable.
- Show your child constant support throughout the process, and be there to motivate them at every moment.