11 Plus

11 Plus Preparation Tips For Parents

Published: 22nd March 2024
Updated: 28th March 2024

Discover expert tips to prepare your child for the 11 plus exam. From early preparation to practice papers, we’ve got you covered.

11 Plus Preparation Tips For Parents

This article has been written in collaboration with our partner, Atom Learning.

If you have a child at primary school, you might be starting to think about the 11 plus exam. The 11 plus is taken by children in Year 6 applying for a place at a grammar school. It’s a challenging exam – grammar schools use it to identify children working at the top of their year group – so there’s no harm in helping build your child’s confidence through practice at home.

If you’re not sure where to start with 11 plus preparation, we’re here to help. This guide is filled with tips to support you and your child tackle exam prep with ease!

Get started early

It’s important to find the balance between not putting too much pressure on your child and getting started ahead of time. Some parents like to start introducing 11 plus prep in Year 4. Subjects such as verbal and non-verbal reasoning aren’t taught at primary school. Beginning preparation in advance means your child has enough time to get confident with unfamiliar questions.

Make sure to focus on building knowledge at the beginning. It can be tempting to set lots of practice papers as your child prepares for the exam, but this isn’t an effective way to learn. Practice papers should only be used when your child is comfortable with the exam content.

Using an 11 plus preparation platform such as Atom Home is an easy and enjoyable way for your child to build their knowledge. They’ll learn through practice questions, video tutorials and interactive resources, with mini targets to keep them on track. The platform is adaptive, so your child will see content pitched at the right level of difficulty to help them stay motivated and engaged.

Prioritise reading

Children who read a variety of both fiction and non-fiction texts tend to perform well in the 11 plus. Reading a broad range of texts as part of daily life is the best way to develop key skills such as:

  • Analysis and inference (important for reading comprehension papers)
  • Language patterns (useful for verbal reasoning)
  • Imagination (great for creative writing!)

Encourage your child to choose their reading material to help them feel in control of their exam prep. It can also help to create a vocabulary log – as they read, they should add new words and meanings to their log. This will help them expand their vocabulary and improve their spelling.

Most children naturally reach for fiction books when choosing their reading material. However, non-fiction is just as important to help your child encounter new concepts and make real-world connections. Why not try some of these ideas?

  • Learn from a cookbook to teach instructional vocabulary and grammar.
  • Study a biography of someone they look up to and learn about diary-style prose.
  • Read newspapers to experience journalistic forms of writing while developing an understanding of the world. If your child needs to take an interview as part of the entrance process for their target school, this is particularly important. First News is designed for children in this age group, so it’s a perfect place to start your child’s adventure into journalism!

Track their progress

11 plus exams can cover lots of topics across the Key Stage 2 curriculum and beyond. Understanding which topics your child needs to focus on – and their performance in each – is key to organising your child’s exam prep. It can be helpful to draw up a list of the core Key Stage 2 topics and different types of reasoning questions. Programme your child’s learning to include different topics on different days to ensure full curriculum coverage by the end of Year 5.

Atom Home takes away the hard work and makes this process easy for you. When you enter your child’s target school(s) into the platform, the algorithm plots a roadmap for exam success with a clear plan for each week. The platform adapts to their performance, giving them targeted topics to focus on. You’ll see how they’re performing compared to other applicants to the same schools and which topics need more support. You can feel confident knowing that by the exam day, your child will have covered everything they need to know on Atom.

Get creative

Children often learn through work and play. Bringing learning into the real world through practical experiences is a great way to help your child deepen their knowledge. Children’s brains are primed to soak up knowledge in many different situations. You’ll find that through conversation and repeated activity, your child will pick up skills rapidly.

Why not intersperse your child’s structured learning with these everyday 11 plus tips?

  • Write maths sums on post-it notes and stick them in high-traffic areas around the house. Reward your child for each note they solve with a marble in a jar. Every time they fill a jar, they’re rewarded with a prize.
  • Encourage your child to read a First News newspaper article over breakfast. On the way to school, ask them questions about the text to improve their reading comprehension skills.
  • Play rhyme and word games while waiting in supermarket queues.
  • Buy times-tables singalong music for the car. The catchy tunes will stick in their minds!
  • Give them a ‘word of the day’ and reward them each time they use it.
  • Play board games involving letters and words, such as Bananagrams and Scrabble, to hone verbal reasoning skills.
  • Create treasure hunts where they must crack the clues using non-verbal pictures, such as shapes and diagrams.
  • Work together with Lego to practise non-verbal reasoning in action.

Utilise practice papers

When your child is comfortable with the key exam topics, it’s time to start practising exam techniques. Working with 11 plus practice papers is the best way to do this!

It’s best to schedule practice tests for the weekend when your child is feeling more refreshed. Try to simulate an exam environment too – remove distractions, read the instructions to your child as an invigilator would, and set a time limit. This will help make the real experience less daunting.

With an Atom Home subscription, your child can take 11 plus practice tests that match your target school’s exam. Atom’s online mock tests are automatically marked and give you instant data on your child’s performance. See how they manage their time, their ability in each subtopic, and their standardised age score (especially useful to compare to your target school’s expectations!). Meanwhile, Atom’s printable paper tests are a great way for your child to practise their exam technique and get used to multiple-choice answer sheets.

Give praise and encouragement

The 11 plus is the first formal exam many children ever take, and it can be a stressful time for both parents and children. It’s important to combat anxiety so it doesn’t have a negative impact on your child’s hard work.

Make sure to encourage a growth mindset. This means celebrating your child’s efforts as well as achievements. When they make a mistake or struggle to get to grips with a difficult question, help them understand that they can improve through practice. By praising them for doing their best, you’ll help them improve their resilience as they tackle new and challenging topics.

Bear in mind that your child might find it difficult to separate your desire for them to get into a grammar school from your love for them. Their fear of failure may stem from a fear of disappointing you. Rewarding effort and praising progress shows your child that you’re both on the same team.

In short…

11 plus preparation doesn’t need to be scary. Regular practice and everyday learning are key to long-term success.

It’s important to remember that as a parent, our child’s happiness is the most important factor. Studying for hours on end is not only stressful, but it can be counterintuitive. Progress is much more effective when your child learns in short, stimulating sessions.

By the end of your 11 plus preparation journey, your child should be armed with a toolbox of techniques to answer different types of questions. With practice, they’ll be able to recognise different question styles and know how to solve challenging problems. This is the best way to feel confident on exam day.

Finally, remember to lead by example. Children learn by mimicking what they see. By making the learning process engaging and exciting, you’ll see them enjoy your time together. If you’re motivated to help them overcome hurdles, they’ll feel inspired to jump them. Embrace the challenge of learning something new, and your child will follow suit — and both of you will be free from stress and worry.

To read more helpful articles like this visit the Talking Points section of our website or sign up for First News at home and at school!

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