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How to ace the 11+

Thinking of putting your child in for the 11+? Having a verbal/non-verbal panic? I hear you sister! Here's what to do.

The 11+ creates a special kind of panic among parents. Having put all my three through the torture, I can only say that for me it felt a bit like an egg and spoon race where their precious future was the egg, they were the spoon and I was the idiot trying to help get them over the finish line. I know I needed a lot of hand-holding through the process, never mind them, so I thought I’d get the wonderfully wise and pragmatic Claire Audritt from Coach House Tutors near Stroud to share her 15 years’ wisdom on tutoring children (and reassuring parents) through the gateway exam to the grammars.


Ideally, preparation needs to start when your child is in Year 3*. Make sure you’re pushing their reading skills beyond Charlie & Lola and Horrid Henry with properly difficult books – think classics such as Swallows And Amazons, Lord Of The Rings and Alice In Wonderland. As soon as they’re a free reader at school, they’ll probably opt to read funny/easy books, so you need to encourage them to go to the next level and expand their vocabulary. They should be reading for 20 minutes a day. If you’ve got a reluctant reader on your hands, read to them for 20 minutes. Ideally, you should do both. If they’re allergic to fiction, find non-fiction books on subjects they’re interested in – football, horse riding, dinosaurs, whatever. Ply them with jigsaws, puzzle books and crosswords and bring basic maths into their day-to-day life – measuring ingredients when you’re baking, adding up how much the shop is going to cost, working out train times, even scoring for darts. And ensure they can tell the time on an analogue clock.

*When Claire told me this, I felt slightly queasy with guilt even though my lot have already sat and passed the 11+! So don’t worry if you’ve got a Year 5 and you haven’t been doing all of this (I didn’t), we’re talking in an ideal world here and it’s never too late to start!


The majority of people find a tutor to help prepare their child for the exam. If you decide this is for you, it’s important to do your research. Personal recommendations are good, especially if you can get a past pupil’s opinion. But, of course, meet the tutor yourself and make sure your child responds well to them. The tutor needs to be fun and friendly and a motivating influence. And the atmosphere should always be safe, relaxed and supportive. All this work is a big ask of young children and they need to enjoy their lessons and look forward to going each week, so find somewhere with a homely and happy vibe.


If you decide against a tutor, you must commit to putting aside regular time to preparing for the test. If your child is still a few years off the 11+, I’d recommend half an hour a week when they’re seven, an hour when they’re aged eight to nine and two to three hours a week in the year leading up to the test. In the early years focus on general English, maths and non-verbal reasoning. Build it into the family routine (see tip 1 re: puzzles, word games, following instructions, etc). As you get nearer the test, you’ll be wanting past papers – do them all, don’t rely on one test centre’s. With this new Gloucestershire test (which was introduced in 2014), there are new styles of questions thrown in every year, the vocabulary level is extraordinary and the maths is Year 7, even Year 8 level, so make sure you’re covering all the bases.


Whether you have a tutor or not, get the whole family involved. Is Grandad or Grandma a whizz at Sudoku or crosswords? Enlist their help! And anyone else who can inject some fun into learning, perhaps an older brother or sister. There are plenty of tools out there which can help too. You can download classic books for free on Kindle and you can press a word and get the definition. You can also get electronic bookmarks, which a child will be more inclined to use than a dictionary. Tablets have some very educational games that will teach a child without them even realising it. Timez Attack, for example, makes a player use their times tables to navigate their way through a maze and get past monsters. Cleverly, it also remembers what they get wrong, so re tests these. Any word games are also good, such as Word Trek and Word Cookie.


The exam is long – two papers sat consecutively, each around 45-50mins. So you need to ensure your child has the ability to sit at a desk and focus for close to two hours. Encourage them to be independent about doing their homework and as you get closer to the test, start doing practice papers, one at a sitting to start with and then building up to two papers, one after the other, just like the real thing.


In the year before they sit the exam (Year 5), cut down on extracurricular activities. So take a break from Scouts or Brownies, dance classes, rugby, football. And don’t let them go on too many sleepovers. You need to ensure your child isn’t overtired. With all the extra work they’ll be doing, they will need downtime to relax and play. And if they’re well rested, they’ll be less like to become stressed.


You’ll obviously go to Open Days, but you can also visit the schools’ fêtes, sports matches, plays. It will give you and your child a more rounded feel for the school. It will also help motivate your child. If he or she feels excited about going there, they’ll understand why they’re doing the test and want to do well.


Having said that, ensure you visit non-selective schools too. Be enthusiastic about the alternatives. Ensure they know they’re not expected to pass the test, just do their best. The main objective of preparing for the test is to help them gain confidence, which will stand them in good stead whatever the outcome. There are thousands of children taking the exam and it’s no reflection on them if they don’t get in.

Coach House Tutors offers safe, private, one-to-one tuition for the 11+ grammar school entrance tests and Common Entrance; they also run intensive summer 11+ courses and run regular mock exams too.

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