Your child is nearing the end of primary school – and, as a result, you’re thinking about what sort of secondary school you want to be sending them to. The eleven plus, the school entrance exam that determines whether your child can attend a grammar school, is something that, at this point, you’ll really need to consider.
Because, depending on where you live in the UK – whether Buckinghamshire, say, or Northern Ireland – your ability to get your child into some of the best grammar schools and independent schools in the country will depend on the result of this school entrance exam. It’s a bit unfair when they are hardly even ten years old. However, that is the way that it is.
You’ll probably know by now that these entrance exams consist of four parts: verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning, plus maths and English. If you don’t, you can check out our article, What is the Eleven+ Exam?
Here, we are going to be talking about the two latter papers – English and Maths – and how you and your child can prepare for them. If your child is a good pupil, they’ll be absolutely fine. So, don’t you be worrying.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know. You can find out more in our introduction to the 11+.
What is the 11 Plus?
The eleven plus is the exam which determines admissions for grammar school or independent schools across the country. You sit it generally in one of the final two years of primary school, as it matters for your secondary education.
11+ exams differ from region to region across the UK, with different counties and boroughs using different exam boards and didn’t assessment methods. Test papers can be different even within a specific region, changing between school and school. If you are unsure about what test your child will need to sit for a specific school’s admission process, get in touch with the school directly.
Whilst the exams will differ, the general principles are the same. The idea is that it tests how academically able your child is, with four different exams which test four different aspects of their skills – non-verbal and verbal reasoning tests, as well as Maths and English.
The Four Exams
These first two test abilities of logical reasoning and numerical reasoning and are usually designed to be quite difficult to prepare for. They are intended to be sat afresh without heaps and heaps of private tutoring that could give an unfair advantage. The result is something similar to an IQ test.
If you want to learn more about the verbal and non-verbal reasoning 11+, check out our article, following the link through to an article on exactly that.
Meanwhile, the English and Maths papers test what your children will have learned at primary school. These are different sort of tests to what they might have sat before, however.
For example, they are not based on any curricular content. Rather, they are based on an assessment of skills. That means revision is good, sure. However, at least for the English paper, knowing a given text back to front is not going to help so much.
The 11+ English and Maths Papers
Let’s take a look at what we mean by that in greater detail. The English and Maths papers for the eleven plus are, predictably, very different – testing different skills in the way that the different disciplines should.
Your child will need to show a certain aptitude in both papers to ensure their chances of success. Acing the English, but producing middling results in Maths, will not be a recipe for achievement. So, balance your test prep across the two different subjects.
Let us reiterate, however. Different exam boards – and different selective schools – have different exams. So, before you go preparing for something specific, ensure that you are dealing with the right paper. The only way to know this is to ask the school to which your child will be applying.
Here, the guidance for the eleven plus exams is general – meaning it is not aimed at how to prepare for a specific exam. However, we hope you find it useful nonetheless!
The Eleven Plus English Paper
The 11+ English paper generally tests your skills in reading comprehension and your knowledge of grammatical rules. These are tested using questions based on a given text or extract from a longer text.
The important thing here is that your child probably won’t be given a text that they know. Or, if they do know it, that will be entirely coincidental and not entirely relevant to the examination. The point in the paper is that they can demonstrate that they know how to read not just for information, but for an appreciation of style too.
Usually, the examination takes between fifty minutes and an hour – again, depending on your school or exam board.
What all exam boards will have in common, however, is things that they will test you on. In English, we are talking reading comprehension; knowledge of sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar; accuracy of spelling; the breadth of your vocabulary; and your appreciation of different styles of writing.
If that sounds a lot for a primary school child, don’t worry. They’ll be much better at it than you think.
How to Prepare?
So, how do you do exam prep for a test like this? Doing well at primary school will be the best preparation: being interested, being engaged, and performing well already will all be a huge benefit when you are getting on with your test preparation.
However, on top of this, there are four things that your child can do to ensure that they are as prepared as they can be.
Firstly, they should read widely and deeply. The eleven plus English exam tests, in one sense, just your ability to read. For all English exam papers, reading will be the best preparation that they can do.
This means reading everything from newspapers to novels, poetry to plays. Whatever it is that they do read, there’s no problem – as long as they read.
Practise Your Spelling
In all exams, for those that are not multiple choice, you will have to write answers to questions – answers of different lengths. Spelling is crucial in this: it is an English exam – and radical misspellings will hurt your marks.
Get your child to practise the spellings of words that people often mistake: we’re talking practice/practise. for example, or effect/affect. These will prevent easy marks being lost.
Revise Your Knowledge of Sentence Structure, Grammar, and Punctuation
Knowing sentence structure, punctuation and grammar is not very interesting for children. Or indeed for anyone. However, knowledge of these three important technical elements of the English language will help in the 11+.
Does your child know the difference between a colon and a semi-colon? Do they know the difference between a compound and a complex sentence?
These are the sort of things that eleven+ candidates will need to know.
Do the Practice Papers
Finally, practice tests and practice questions are your friends. Have your child practice all that you can get your hands on – from the publishers CGP to the specific papers set by schools.
The 11+ Maths Exam
Again, the eleven plus maths exams may differ significantly, but they will test very similar skills – namely those that would be expected of a maths student at age eleven.
The tests will examine you on all aspects of maths and numeracy: from addition and multiplication to geometry, fractions, and measurements. These tests are usually based on your school curriculum – so knowing that well is the best preparation for your 11+ maths exam.
How to Prepare?
As we said, the best preparation for the eleven+ maths exam is to ensure that your knowledge of the primary school curriculum – key stage 1 and key stage 2 – is up to scratch. There is no more in maths, really, that you can be asked on.
So, ensure that you know your division and subtraction and that you can tell your fractions from your percentages.
When your child has got the knowledge down, have them sitting down to the odd practice test or two. Whilst the knowledge on which they will be tested will be the same, the format of the exam might differ.
Knowing this will be crucial to success in the real thing.