For parents who are keen on grammar school as their preferred option for the education of their child at age 11, it can be a dilemma knowing if tutoring them for the 11 plus entry tests is the right option to go down. It also poses questions such as how children can be assisted with preparation through study at home, if tutoring is not a realistic or preferred option and when to start this process of preparation, to ensure that the child is enthused and engaged with the process, not bored and un-motivated when the test day arrives.
Here are a few pieces of advice for parents regarding if, how and when to prepare for the 11 plus.
What format do the Buckinghamshire 11+ tests take?
Your child will take two verbal reasoning tests each of 50 minutes, with each one containing 80 questions. Each question carries 1 mark.
The tests are in multiple choice format containing 21 question types which are all covered at least once across the two papers. The children need to mark one or two answers from a choice of five or six options, depending on the question type. The answer sheets bear a resemblance to lottery number forms and are completed by striking through the appropriate answer box with a pencil.
The child’s highest score in the two tests is called the verbal reasoning test score (VRTS) and children must sit both tests for the score to be valid. The verbal reasoning questions do not relate to national curriculum subject study, rather they are focussed on testing the child’s ability to think through and solve problems through using words, letters and sometimes numbers. The tests also aim to challenge the child’s ability to work fast and accurately under time pressure. Use of rough paper is not permitted while taking the tests.
The bench mark score which children need to achieve is 121 or more in at least one test. If they have attained this score or higher, they have qualified for a grammar school place. About 30% of children usually get a VRTS score of 121 or higher. If your child scores 121 or higher, this does not however guarantee a place at a grammar school. Your child’s school allocation will also depend on the order of preferences when you applied for a secondary school and the schools’ own admission rules.
What will the primary or independent prep school do to prepare my child for the 11 plus?
Bucks County Council provides a familiarization pack for the tests which contains a work book with examples of all types of question and three practice tests of 80 questions. Primary schools will start their limited familiarization lessons with children in the summer term of year 5 and the children will sit the three practice familiarization tests when they return to school in the September of year 6.
The 11 plus test is designed to test a child’s ‘untapped’ potential and it is therefore frowned upon for Buckinghamshire primary schools to do any preparation work with children, in addition to the familiarization above. With the explosion of tutoring companies and resources aimed at practice and learning techniques for parents to give their child a helping hand to ‘pass’ the test, it is difficult to say that those children who now ‘pass’ the test are necessarily those with the ‘natural’ academic ability and potential.
Every parent should ask themselves, before going down the route of tutoring for the 11 plus, is grammar school the right option for my child? If they just scrape in because they have been tutored and done practice tests since they were age 9, are they really going to thrive in a grammar school environment, where they may very well become a little fish in a very big pond and could well be in sets 5 or 6 for a range of subjects? Ask yourself what this might do to their confidence and hence academic progress?
If your child is in a school outside Buckinghamshire, the familiarization pack will be mailed to you at home after registration to sit the tests. Independent Schools will follow their own programme of preparation and practice for the tests, so it is best to ask your individual school.
When should I start to assist my child to prepare for the 11 plus and how can I do this?
The types of questions in the Buckinghamshire 11+ test fall into three broad categories:
Those that require vocabulary skills.
Those that require mental maths skills.
Those that require the ability to identify, copy and complete patterns and codes.
The vocabulary skills and mental maths skills need to be built up over a period of time and are not just a matter of practising technique, but the third category of questions, which relates to patterns and codes, can be taught and practised nearer to the time of the test.
Years 3 and 4
A wide vocabulary and accurate spelling are essential for Verbal Reasoning papers. There is no need to let your child know at this stage that the 11 plus lies ahead, but you can do a great deal to assist them in preparing at this stage, without their knowing this is what you are doing. Always keep it fun!
Reading widely is essential for the development of vocabulary, so make sure that your child spends time each week with their head in a book. Make sure they read a diverse range of books of different types including non-fiction as these will use different vocabulary. It is sometimes best to set a regular time for this within their routine, so it does not get forgotten, for example for 30 minutes before lights out at bedtime. Discuss what they are reading with them, ask them about the story and listen to them read. Comprehension of words is equally important so ask them questions about what they are reading and check that they have understood the words. Make sure they know to stop and ask you about the meaning if they come across a word that they do not understand.
Practice the spelling of words. There are many ways to make this fun by bringing spelling games into your family routine. There are frequently trick questions on Verbal Reasoning papers where a child can be fooled by a variation in the spelling of two words that sound the same. One notorious example from a well-known practice paper is “Wales” and “whales”. Any child who is not aware of the accurate spelling of both words, and is also not secure in knowing that proper nouns (such as the names of countries) are always capitalised can fall foul of such tricks.
You could try the spellathon website. In aid of Mencap, this site has lots of fun activities to practice spelling culminating in the global spelling championships in March 2012. http://www.spellathon.net
Practice times tables up to 12 to get your child used to numbers, basic operations with numbers and their relationships to one another. Setting a few time-based challenges at this stage can be fun and will help them to get used to not having all the time in the world to complete homework tasks.
This is when you should start to think about a plan of activity to build towards the 11 plus test at the start of year 6. If you plan to work with your child at home, try to remember the following:
Start to do some work at home using 11 plus resources. Sit with them at first, to show that you are interested in what they are doing and they have your support and attention.
Praise them for effort as well as for attaining good marks. It is very important to maintain their confidence and interest in the activity.
Make sure that you ‘mark’ or test what they have done, to make sure you are not reinforcing incorrect work or missing a lack of understanding of certain types of question.
Keep an eye on timing as it is no good them getting all of the questions correct if it takes 2 hours to complete what they will have to do in 50 mins in the real test.
Spend some time on examination techniques such as passing on questions that they find too challenging, to allow time to get to the end of the test without missing out on questions they can answer. They can always go back if they have time.
Try to listen to your child read for at least 20 minutes a day. Choose books in addition to what they are reading at school and perhaps devote a bit more time to this at the weekends. Don’t let them skim read, make sure they are not avoiding words they do not understand and encourage them to ask you the meaning whenever this occurs.
What are the objectives of 11 plus preparation activity?
To familiarise your child with the 21 types of question likely to occur in the tests.
To teach your child the techniques necessary to identify and to answer the questions, type by type.
To maximise your child’s test speed and marks by way of timed practice exercises.
To motivate and encourage your child by recording scores achieved, so they can see the progress they are making and hence develop confidence.
Taking all of this into account parents should be able to put together a schedule of planned activity which focuses on:
Practice identifying question types
Guiding your child through the techniques
Setting and marking timed practice exercises
Getting your child used to working in an examination environment, under test conditions and delivering correct answers under time pressures
Completing a personal record table of scores.
Rewarding progress and success. Keep it fun!