Helping your child prepare for the 11 Plus

by Anita Naik

It is estimated that approximately 100,000 children sit the 11 Plus exam in England each year for around 15,000 places. This gives each child a 1 in 6 chance of gaining a place. If you're keen to help your child prepare for these exams, here's what you need to know.

Preparing for the 11 Plus of entrance exams isn't as straightforward as it appears. To start with the exams are extremely challenging due to the limited number of spaces. This is reflected in the pass rate, around 80%, with only those passing being offered a place. What's more, even though the exams are labelled 11 Plus, the exams are taken when your child is ten years old, the 11 refers to the age of secondary transition, not the age of your child.

All that aside, there are various ways to help your child prepare. The exams require a strong foundation and higher-level knowledge in English and Maths, as well as an understanding of non-verbal and verbal reasoning here, is what will help.

Prepare them for the style of questions

To help your child prepare, start working on all the areas needed as early into Year 5 as possible. This is helpful for both you and your child as it spaces the workload out, lowers the stress load and gets your children used to doing a little bit of work every day. The aim here is to familiarise them with the style of questions they may not have come across before.

You can find 11 Plus resources from the teachers at your child's school to the local library. Bond 11 Plus has books, assessment papers, mock tests and online practice questions for all the 11 plus subjects and is well worth looking at. For a membership fee, they also have an interactive question bank and unlimited access to thousands of 11+ practice questions.

Verbal and non-verbal reasoning

The idea that there is no point in getting a tutor as the verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning tests are tutor proof is not correct. A good tutor, teacher or parent with the right information can help a child in these areas. The key is to do a little every day. Consistency in this area is crucial, and repetition will make these exercises second nature to your child.

Reasoning isn't taught in most primary schools, so if your child is sitting the 11 Plus, this is a big area to work on. Verbal reasoning (VR) works with words, and non-verbal reasoning (NVR) works with pictures and diagrams. Both are used in the 11 Plus because they allow examiners to judge pupils' ability to recognise and manipulate objects.

Examples of NVR questions:

1. Working out what a shape would look like when folded.2. Identifying the mirror image of a shape.3. Figuring out the next shape in a sequence.

Examples of a verbal reasoning question:

1. In this question, find two words that are most opposite in meaning. Mark both words on the answer sheet.

Morning, Shop, Early, Late, Wake, Dark.

Answer: The two words, one from each group, that are most opposite in meaning are 'early' and 'late'.

Encourage general reading and discussion

A good vocabulary, debating skills and comprehension is also essential if your child is to do well in 11 Plus. The more your child reads, the better their grasp on all these things will be.

If you want to encourage them to stretch their vocabulary, turn it into a game using Scrabble and Wordle. At the same time, encourage them to watch the news, documentaries and talk abut what's happening in the world. These experiences can help expand your child's general knowledge and improve both their comprehension and overall English.

Work with a tutor

Working with a tutor who specialises in the 11 Plus and entrance exams is a personal decision. As a parent you can do it without the help of a tutor, but many parents do opt for one as tutors are often more adept at motivating younger students who have not yet had to revise and practice in-depth for exams.

Alongside this, the whole area of the 11 Plus can become very pressurised and often, a tutor can help parents and children pace themselves and feel motivated to do the exams.

As for when to get a tutor, those preparing for grammar school 11 plus entry typically look for tutors at the beginning of Year 5. Those preparing for independent school entry (winter exams) usually seek tutors from September onwards. Another popular time to seek an entrance exams tutor is January/February.

For more information, look at our blog posts on The Definitive Guide to Choosing an 11 Plus Tutor and A Parent's Guide to the 11 Plus exam.