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Preparing for the 11+ (Maths)

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The 11+ exam (for entrance into private schools or grammar schools in year 7) is not to be undertaken lightly. The exam is taken in the Autumn Term of year 6. The extent of the preparation needed for the exam depends very much on what school you are applying for and there can be a massive variation. Likewise the type of exams can vary hugely – some have multiple choice in only English and Maths, some have online tests, some have two stages, some have written answers, some include reasoning etc. It is really important that you find out the exact specification of the entrance exams for the schools you are applying for so that you can be well prepared.

There are a lot of things to consider and you need to decide as a family whether it is right for you. It is a huge undertaking, and will require a group effort. There will inevitably be tutoring involved (sadly everyone does it, which means everyone needs to do it), and substantial amounts of work required outside of school.

By the time the tests come around, your child should be:

  • a minimum of one year ahead of the national curriculum and ideally further;
  • have sharp mental arithmetic, and be confident at dechipering word/reasoning problems;
  • not be phased by questions they haven’t seen the like of before;
  • be able to think laterally;
  • be able to work fast;
  • have done a lot of practice papers (see The best papers to prepare for the 11+ exams) and be scoring minimum of 80% on them (if they are aiming for the top tier independent schools or highly competitive grammar schools).

If you’ve decided the journey is right for you, then how/when do you prepare? Again, that does somewhat depend on your child. However, here is a rough guide –

  • Aim to start preparing at some point in year 4. This doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a tutor at this point – although most people do. But it does mean starting to do work at home on a very regular basis, and get the staged practice tests.
  • Check out which schools you are applying for, and carefully check the website for exactly what to expect in their exams. Most of them have sample papers too so that you can see what you need to be aiming for.
  • Start with the Bonds books – and work your way through. I would aim to be doing 30 minutes 5 days a week in year 4, up to 45 minutes – 1 hour a day in year 5. Ideally you should have completed the age 11-12 Bonds books by the time of the assessment.
  • Work your way through the Exam Paper Plus practice papers This website also details exactly what to practice for each school you are going for. Getting around 80% in these papers consistently should stand you in good stead for success (see The best papers to prepare for the 11+ exams).
  • You could consider mock exams, or revision courses in the Easter or Summers of Years 4 and 5 – such as those run by Exam Paper Plus or Yellowbird Education
  • Depending on your child’s relative strengths and weaknesses, consider a tutor. Most schools say it’s unnecessary, and yet it’s nigh on impossible to get in without some tuition at some point in your journey (although that can be done at home by parents).
  • Consider having a back-up school. However intelligent or well-prepared your child is, anything could happen. They may get distracted by an interesting poster, not feel well or just not be on their best form. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

This process can be stressful, but it can also be enjoyable. Find ways to reward your child, make sure they have breaks and don’t get burnt out. And watch out for signs of stress – maybe a sign that this process isn’t right for your child. Keep reminding yourself – and your child – of the end goal and why you’re doing this, and the benefits of the education they will get. Make sure it doesn’t take over your life – however, in reality it will be a focal point for your family for at least most of year 5, so it’s a hard one to balance. But also, and this is really important, make it clear that your child is not a failure if they don’t succeed, and that this is not the be all and end all. It’s a really hard thing to accept at 10/11 that you haven’t got into a school after working really hard, and it’s important that you work out how to plan for that eventuality so that your child can get through it well.

Good luck!

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