Having helped families prepare for the 11+ for over 12 years, I have seen a huge variety in approaches. However, whichever you decide upon, there is no escaping the fact that it is a hugely stressful time for everyone involved and the very first point I will always discuss is that you need to watch your child like a hawk. Frustration, tears, and exhaustion now seem to be par for the course, but it is important to make sure no long-term anxiety sets in. No school is worth that, and while it doesn’t feel like it, there are enough private school places in London to fulfil the demand. Your child will always get in somewhere. Furthermore, there is always movement in schools and if you haven’t got one of your preferred choices at the 11+, you can look at occasional places and moving them again at sixth form. In addition to this, some schools have entry points in other years.
So how and when should you start preparing? There is no exact formula for this, and it will depend on motivation, aspirations, current attainment and of course funds. Additional support and online resources can get extremely expensive, and you may want to work with your child yourself to keep the costs down. Most schools advise against additional prep and in an ideal world everyone would follow this advice to create a level playing field. However, the reality is if every other child in the year is receiving one to one support, they are going to be at an advantage and performing strongly in class. This has the dual benefit of potentially springboarding them into a higher set and impacting the all-important Head’s report. If they have been acing tests for the last 18 months, how can it not.
In general, most of my clients begin in Year 5 (although some do start in Year 4, with some very light support). Of course, there will always be those who hire tutors as early as Reception, but Sabine and I feel that unless there is a specific reason, this is far too early and your little one’s time would be better spent in extracurricular activities. Having begun then in the preceding September to the exam, many will focus in on the weaker subject and either hire a private tutor for an hour/two hours a week or sign up their child to one of the group courses provided by companies such as The Shine Academy or Yellowbird Education. Others will coordinate support in all areas of the exams, Maths, English, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Whether you child is at a private or state school will have a significant impact on how much you need to do. Even within the private school sector the amount of prep different schools do varies hugely.
By the end of the summer term of Year 5, your child is in an excellent position if they have covered the curriculum and different concepts needed to answer the various types of 11+ questions, as they can then start practising papers. Of course, you don’t want to burn your child out by making them take multiple exams well into the night, however consistently working through past papers on a little and often basis does help familiarise them with what they will get given. Now that most of the exams involve some kind of online component with a strict time limit, familiarity is extremely helpful. You can purchase a huge variety of online tests, specific to the schools your child is trying for, on platforms such as Atom, BOFA or Pre-Test Plus. There are also many websites where you can access past school specific paper-based exams (11plusguide.com) and workbooks with sample exams published by CGP and GL Assessment.
In addition to the academic element of the assessment process, many families are now signing their children up for interview practice sessions, either independently or in small groups. You can help your child here by accessing a list of past interview questions and discussing them at the dinner table. Some families enjoy doing this so much that they continue the often-heated debates well past interview dates. The Junior Lawyers Club has also become popular, as a means of helping your child excel in the interview and small group work part of the 11+.
When I first started working in the world of the 11+, I was astonished at what a intense process it could be for the children. Over a decade later, I wish we could rewind the clock to those halcyon days! It can now be such a gruelling process for children and parents alike if you are aiming for one of the more popular schools. My one word of advice is, try not to listen to the hoopla at the school gates, trust your instinct and if your child comes through it with a smile on their face, that’s the best result you can get.