The Vaks parents guide to 11 Plus

Taking your child through the 11 plus process involves major parental involvement. Your child’s preparation in English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning is vital and so having a good knowledge of what it entails and supporting your child is crucial for any parent.

Vaks would like to help parents understand all that surrounds 11 plus from a parent’s perspective. It is unbelievably competitive and more children than ever now sit 11 plus entrance exams for Grammar schools and private schools, both bursaries and full-fees. The overwhelming pressure can sometimes cause a collective hysteria; parents refuse to share details of their knowledge of interviews, past papers or local tutors they are using. However fundamentally, preparation is vital in the 11 plus saga.

Vaks has 15 years of expert knowledge and experience in successfully navigating children through the journey.

You will never meet a child who has successfully passed through the 11 plus without a significant amount of work and dedication. State primary schools and in our experience, even Prep schools just don’t cover enough in their syllabus and so extra support from tutors like us is essential for an assured pass. It’s very hard to teach a child beyond their abilities but if your child has the potential, the 11 plus Vaks teaching programme will develop their ability and maximise the possibility of securing a place at a top grammar or private school. Vaks has 100% success rate for children who have followed our four-term programme. There are so many useful resources available to parents but they can be overwhelming for parents who do not know how to teach the essential skills that this age group requires. Vaks provides an understanding of how much practice each child needs, the common weaknesses, motivation for boys compared to girls, how to prepare the family and interview practise. In our experience, psychological preparation is equally important as academic. The 11 plus is simply a life challenge that with our help can be completed successfully!

Is 11 plus tuition really necessary?

The favoured tutors such as Explore Learning, Bright Young Things and Bonas McFarlane may be most popular but they fail to provide the personal touch we can. The 11 plus demands much more than the ability to set practice papers and mark them; it needs to understand your child’s weaknesses and provide a personal programme catered around your child and their individual and changing needs, which is exactly what Vaks offers. Many tutors set exams papers much too early; before a child can do a comprehension for example, they have to understand how to read a passage.

The fundamental facts every parent must be equipped with before embarking on hiring a tutor are:
• Is it one to one or group-based?
• How much extra homework will there be?
• Which schools they have been successful in achieving places
• Testimonials or contact details of recent families they’ve supported
• Which bursaries or schools are they in communication with?
• The approach to tuition

How to assess your child’s ability for the 11 plus exams

It has become a forgone conclusion to start the 11 plus preparation in year 4, which in our opinion is certainly not too early. However, this must be approached in a gentle and nurturing manner to ensure that there is a gradual build up in skills before year 5. Vaks also recommends children reading the correct literature as early as year 4 so that they have built the necessary vocabulary and language skills before the more formal English and Verbal Reasoning teaching takes place.

Likewise, with Maths, the level at which schools operate in year 4 is certainly not running parallel with the content of maths papers for the exam itself. All of this takes time to ensure that children build up to the level of maths before year 5.

Careful marking and observing their homework as well as an expert understanding of their working level is vital for the push in the final three terms prior to the exam. For English, ensuring your child is reaching well into Level 4 in Reading and Writing and extending their vocabulary will put your child in a good stead for Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning and Creative Writing papers.

Starting Sudoku, playing chess and learning a musical instrument are all great ways of increasing brain activity as well as doing something enjoyable. In terms of Maths, it is important your child has really grasped the basics such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Ensure their multiplication up to the 12 times table is perfect, and at the end of each term, read their workbook to see what they have been covering. There are numerous ways in which parents can help. For example, playing mental maths games regularly such as Squeebles and DoodleMaths or using measures in the kitchen will support your child greatly.

We advise that, by the end of the summer term of Year 4, attention is really needed; research has shown there is a real fall in ability because of the lack of learning for over a month during this summer holiday. In our experience, parents do not realise that starting year 5 after a long summer without repetitive consolidation can really set a child back.

Year 5 and 6 is when focus is needed and by this stage, you need to be clear on the schools you are targeting. The earlier you know this, the more specific preparation can happen and at this stage every mark counts. Build up your child’s confidence first before firing exam papers at them. At Vaks, we begin preparation of papers at the end of the spring term when children have built the skill set and confidence required. The autumn term of year 6 is when it steps up a gear and mock exams as well as paper practise could be introduced over the Christmas holidays.

How do Vaks help pupils prepare for the 11 plus English exams?

Nearly all entrance exams require your child to sit an English paper split into two parts; Comprehension and Composition. There is not nearly enough specific teaching geared towards these exams in schools and a child’s comprehensive skills will not be up to standard even if they are particularly good at English. Encouraging reading is definitely worthwhile as it broadens a child’s vocabulary and compliments Creative Writing. Comprehension demands a child knows where the marks are and how to gain them. Children must understand reading a Comprehension is very different to normal reading. The examiner is looking for the child’s understanding of the passage’s and its plot as this is imperative to the chance of success. Thinking about the feelings and intent of characters and articulating this is something children aren’t always ready to do before 11 plus. Grasping the feelings of characters, the mood of the passage, language devices and the author’s intent is a must. Unlike a book where sometimes concentration can be briefly lost, it’s vital you are focused on a Comprehensive text from start to end. This will ensure you have the necessary understanding of: the main characters, the location, setting and time, the obstacles and challenges there may be and if it’s written in first or third person. The passage will contain all the answers and evidence needed; it is simply a case of finding it.

At Vaks, we begin exam paper practise in the Easter Holiday of Year 5, but rather than focusing on quantity, it is more about the quality of what is written and analysing your child’s response to improve their ability. Once they have a solid grip on how to read a comprehension, then they can begin practising speed and timing whilst receiving feedback from one a Vaks specialist English tutor.

We use our own particular technique for Comprehensions when reading under pressure. A structured method is really important. We recommend:
• Begin by quickly scanning the text and underlining key words, characters and any information about context.
• Turn to the question pages and scan to see exactly what they are asking for.
• Go back to the text and read over to gain a greater insight.
• Begin answering questions and if you have any spare time at the time, read over your longest answers to correct spelling and punctuation mistakes.

Vaks believe some of the best rules to follow when answering questions include:
• Devote most time to the highest mark answers
• Use as much evidence from the text as possible to back up your answers especially when it is a compare/contrast question
• Ensure you read the question properly and do not subconsciously answer a different question
• Attempt all questions
• Make sure you do not miss sections as sometimes there may be more than one
• Make sure you have an excellent knowledge of language techniques such as alliteration, metaphors, short sentences, rhythmic words, strong comparisons and adjectives as they are always relevant

The majority of 11 plus independent schools usually have a creative writing section where questions can take different types of forms; either continue this passage, a choice of different titles to allow some freedom, write a story inspired by a certain image as well as a non-fiction option. It is important your child understands which types of questions give you the best advantage; the ‘continue the passage’ below questions should be grabbed with both hands as they have already supplied your child with a passage full of characters and a plot. Creating a story from an image is also a good one as it at least provides immediate inspiration.

How do Vaks help pupils prepare for the 11 plus Maths exams?

The Maths exam is the paper along with the Non-Verbal paper, which is looked at more closely. As the exams are based on the national curriculum, schools highlight it is around KS2 level 6 which your child must be attaining for this exam. Maths is very much about confidence and it is after January in Year 5, that the hard work really needs to be put in to ensure your child is a confident mathematician. Before completing the bond books, it is important to identify your child’s gaps and improving the foundations. If their KS2 foundations are solid, it will be much easier when facing tricky questions. Maths questions in 11 plus papers have multi-layers and require the same methodology as many GCSE questions. However, KS2 teaching does not allow for this. Vaks Maths tutors will therefore spend more time building numeracy skills above anything else. This is because many schools will eliminate large numbers of children based on their mathematical ability and their Non-Verbal Reasoning technique. We’ve found websites like KS2 Bitesize and Mathletics are great for providing revision for a range of topics. Key areas should be learned to a high level including time, measurement, factors, square numbers, area and volume, ratio, symmetry, probability, basic algebra and BODMAS.

How do Vaks help pupils prepare for Verbal & Non-verbal Reasoning 11 plus exams?

The Verbal reasoning exam can often differ depending on the school; it can be a multiple choice or standard layout where options are given and the answer is needed. This exam like most, usually lasts between 45 minutes to an hour but timing isn’t necessary early on; getting used to the nature of the exam is more useful. Reading is a great way of preparing for this exam, newspapers and magazines expand their vocabulary and crosswords/word searches improve spelling. The types of questions usually include pairing words, combining two words to make one new, finding words hidden in a sentence etc. Further guidance can be found in the Bond How to do Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning guide books. Our parents have found these very helpful, informative and easy to follow.

The Non-Verbal reasoning is regarded as the test, which indicates your child’s natural ability and potential most clearly. It is often used by Educational Psychologists to ascertain a child’s IQ and working memory. Vaks Founder, Martina Barrett believes that it is very difficult to teach this. ‘Children with strong maths ability will invariably find Non-Verbal much easier.’ Similarly to VR tests, the exam will usually include multiple choices. The main topics, which occur in most NVR tests, includes identifying shapes, understanding patterns, 3d shapes, rotation of shapes and codes. There are several books out there, which can help your child including the bond books, GL Assessment etc.

Should Boys & Girls prepare differently?

We’ve found boys and girls do differ in their approach and how they instinctively tackle 11 plus. Although each child is different and these are generalisations, in our experience at Vaks, gender does have an impact.

Boys seem to work better little and often doing exercises such as 10 minute tests in the Bond books or a quarter a of past paper in 10 minutes each day. This is also true for girls however they can focus for longer in general so at weekends, a longer task or whole practise paper could be useful. For both boys and girls, ensure they continue to do things they like and do not swap their favourite sport practise for 11 plus practise. Boys thrive on a challenge and responsibility so getting them to mark their own work can be great for emphasising their strengths and weaknesses directly. We have found girls can be mature enough to understand the areas they must focus on and have control of how they designate their time. However, it is vital the girls continue to have positive reinforcement as they lack confidence and can become very anxious. Boys usually are much less verbal about their anxiety so be vigilant of their body language and manner as this can be an indication of anxiety or in rare cases, other exam-related mental health concerns.

How can parents motivate their children for 11 plus exams?

With serious preparation needing to start by January of Year 5, you and your child must be motivated and confident throughout the period. A good approach to take is to focus on the rewarding of effort your child has put in rather than the result. Whether the desired school is achieved, or an alternative is found, the journey there is worthwhile and rewarding. Your child’s learning ability will excel and inevitably they will have surpassed the standardised level for year 7 merely by completely the 11 plus process. Our mantra at Vaks is that ‘all preparation is key to the child’s overall success and confidence in entering year 7’. No time spent during 11 plus is wasted. Every hour of tuition and homework will pay dividends.

Going to visit potential schools can be a great way of inspiring your child, however we would suggest you visit a variety including grammar, state and private as fixating on one particular school is unhealthy. We believe small amounts regularly are much better than long intense study periods as this can lead to de-motivation. Vaks believes it must be fun and worthwhile otherwise any child, regardless of their ability will lose motivation and momentum. Praise, little and often is invaluable as confidence is key for any child going through 11 plus.

It’s important for your child to understand mistakes are perfectly acceptable; development involves making mistakes and learning from these. They are working at a level beyond many of their peers and above the majority of children their age in the country so reinforcing they cannot always get the answers immediately is important.

How can parents help their children practice 11 plus interviews?

After the excitement and relief of your child passing the exam stage, there is just one final hurdle they must tackle; the interview. Most interviews last about 15 minutes and although each school is slightly different, the general conversation will include questions such as what your child’s favourite sport or hobby, their favourite book, film, subject or if they play a musical instrument. Each school’s approach is different; some use images as a starting point, ask general knowledge questions or a quick mental maths question. However, these aren’t to catch your child out but to assess how your child copes under pressure in social situations.

We believe a great way of preparing is to improve their knowledge of the world; for instance, watching Newsround every evening. Visiting open days and knowing what you liked as well as further research of the school are also useful for preparation. If at the end of the interview, your child is asked if they have any questions, mature questions could be what sports are on offer or can I learn a musical instrument etc.

What Busaries & Scholarships are availlable?

Most schools award a scholarship for academic achievement however there is also the possibility of being awarded one due to a particular talent in sport, art, drama or music. Before gaining one, you may be asked to sit an exam or submit recent work. A bursary is slightly different in that it is based on need; you must submit a years worth of family accounts and fill in a detailed questionnaire on your financial state. Although it can seem very personal and invasive, it can make a real difference. Your child will still need to go through the process of taking the exams and interviews but afterwards they will decide if you qualify for any bursary support; whether this is a small amount or 100% in some rare occasions.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about how parents can help their children prepare for 11 plus exams, then please feel free to contact Vaks at any time.