11 Plus Exam Preparation – By Failing to Prepare, You Are Preparing to Fail

One often comes across the view that a child should not do much preparation for the 11 plus exam. Either the child has got it, or it hasn’t, either the child is grammar school material or it isn’t. I don’t agree with this view, I don’t believe that a child’s ability is innate, I believe in improvement through practice, that practice makes perfect, that, as Benjamin Franklin said, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Professor Brendan Bunting, an educational psychologist at Ulster University, found that pupils coached for nine months prior to the 11 plus improved their scores by 40 per cent. Hard work, good tuition and practice really do work.

Depending on where you are in the country determines which of the verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, maths and English exams will be examined. Verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning are not topics that are studied in primary school and are also not studied in grammar school. The fact that a child may not perform too well in these tests is not an indicator that they are not grammar school material and that they will struggle with the study of French, German, history, geography or maths at grammar school. They are just tests that help to gain entry to grammar schools, and they need to be practised, since they will not be something that the child has received much exposure to. Similarly the fact that a child is currently weak at maths does not mean that they will not be able to cope with history, English and chemistry at grammar school. As with everything else in life, maths knowledge is not static and can be improved by good quality tuition and hard work.

Competition for places at grammar school is fierce. For some schools there is a ratio of ten applicants to every place. Other children will have been well prepared. To give your child a good chance, it is important to do the same. The best way to prepare is to practise questions that are similar to those likely to appear in the exam. Sample practice papers are a valuable resource. Try to get as many practice papers as you can, provided they are of a similar level to the real thing. Try to find practice papers that provide detailed explanations for the answers rather than just providing the numerical answer itself. This provides the additional element of tuition and enables you and your child to work through a problem and understand how to arrive at the solution. Interactive computerised tests are also valuable as many children prefer working with computers rather than with paper and pencil.

Nothing can guarantee a place at one of our top grammar schools, but as Benjamin Franklin said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.