Help your child succeed in their 11 Plus exams

August 10, 2021

It’s the time of year when many children will be in the final stages of preparation for their grammar school entrance exams (commonly known as the ’11 Plus’ exams). For some children, it can be a very stressful experience. As parents, we are always mindful of our child’s mental health and seek ways to reduce the impact of stress on their daily lives. Exam preparation is one area that parental support and guidance can make a real difference.

Read on to learn more about the exam and our top tips for completing this journey with more smiles and less tears.


What is the 11 Plus?

These are exams taken in year 6 to gain a place at a secondary school that uses academic selection. The exams are designed to test a child’s innate level of intelligence, and the topics included vary depending on where you are sitting the test or which school(s) you are applying for. As well as 11 Plus maths and 11 Plus English, there are some different types of questions that your child may not have seen before. These include:  

  • Spatial reasoning – the art of being able to think about how a 3D object would look as a flat image. If you can visualise a net as a solid shape and spin it around in your mind, you’ll be good at spatial reasoning.
  • 11 Plus non-verbal reasoning – these questions involve visual mathematical problem solving including symmetry, rotation and shape work. 
  • 11 Plus verbal reasoning – this involves word and language-based problem solving which includes synonyms, letter code-breaking and hidden words.

They also test a child’s ability to work at speed and with accuracy.


Six top tips for supporting the 11 plus journey 

  • Start early

For the most stress-free approach to the 11 plus exams, start your preparation early. By early, I mean at least a year before for focused exam practise and in the years before that focusing on building your child’s knowledge of vocabulary, speed of reading and arithmetic in gentle ways. Daily reading and playing games are a great place to start. The main goal is to keep the pressure off. Being calm and relaxed about the process will help your child perform at their best and by the time the exams come around this will feel natural rather than daunting.


  • Build solid foundations

Image showing a mutlcolored pyramid with icons demonstrating Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

You may have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs already. It’s something that educators talk about a lot. The hierarchy shows us that in order to be successful and achieve our goals academically we all need some core foundations to be in place. The first is physiological needs – eating well, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, not feeling in pain. If your child is having any difficulties in these areas then finding solutions for these is the number one priority. The second foundation is a feeling of safety – a safe home and a safe school free from bullying or threat. The third is a sense of belonging and being loved by family and friends and the fourth, being recognised for their achievements. If all these foundations are in place you can be confident that your child is in the perfect position to take on a challenge like the 11 plus and achieve their full potential. 


  • Play games

Find ways of introducing material that will develop your child’s vocabulary and mathematical confidence without them realising it. Playing games such as scrabble and boggle, completing word searches and crosswords are all great ways to develop vocabulary. Subscribing to child-appropriate news such as First News or The Week Junior helps your child to develop their understanding of the world and builds confidence to talk about it – handy if there is an interview element in your exam. Watching Countdown, doing sudoku, playing Dobble and tangrams are perfect ways to support maths and spatial development.


  • Identify any barriers

When reading, playing games or looking at practise 11 plus material, notice whether there are any areas of difficulty your child is experiencing. Ask them how they feel about this. How your child answers, gives you some insight into their mindset. If they answer with a sense of defeat e.g. ‘I’m never going to get this’, ‘I just can’t do it’ – this can be an indication of a closed mindset. A closed mindset is the belief that intelligence is fixed at a certain point and some things you can just never learn. As parents, we want to nurture a growth mindset. That is the belief that everyone can learn new skills with practice and effort – nothing is impossible. ‘I don’t know this yet’, ‘If I keep practising, I know I can improve.’ These are examples of language for growth and are powerful tools to use in supporting children through the 11 plus process.


  • Praise the effort

Praise and recognition are fundamental in helping a child achieve their potential, particularly in exams. However, to be most effective, praise needs to be used intentionally. High praise for a child who got 100% in something they found easy might make a child want to play it safe and not risk making mistakes. It is only by trying something harder and making mistakes that we truly challenge ourselves and grow our minds. Look out for opportunities when you can praise the effort – when your child is showing perseverance despite the learning being tough. This is the behaviour we want to reward and will be of great benefit to the 11 plus exam process, grammar school and beyond.


  • Consider an 11 Plus tutor

Having identified your child’s needs you might consider the support of an 11+ tutor. There are many options for 11 plus tuition from mock exams, one-to-one tutors, online classes to intensive exam drills. Find one that aligns with your child’s needs and preferences. You should feel comfortable discussing any concerns and feel that you can ask any question about the exams or the techniques that your tutor uses. You should feel like a partner in the process because a tutor alone cannot provide all the support your child will need.


“Our 11 Plus tutor went above and beyond to support my daughter with her 11+ exams”, Trustpilot review of Explore Learning


The Explore Learning approach 

The journey to grammar school needn’t be daunting. Explore Learning has local and national expertise to support every step.

We nurture and champion children to thrive in their education and the world beyond. We believe that a tailored curriculum, delivered by brilliant people is the key to learning success, not just in exams but in all academic endeavours.

We begin by getting to know your child, understanding their needs and the schools that they wish to sit exams for. We plan a curriculum to meet those requirements using a combination of tools:

  • An adaptive curriculum used to teach core maths and English skills at a pace and level that is suited to your individual child.
  • Comprehensive coverage of all test topics, coaching in exam techniques, speed and accuracy with skilled tutors in small groups.
  • Unlimited practice material in verbal, non-verbal and spatial reasoning skills. Including online practice tools, tutorial videos and books.
  • Interim papers and mock exams.
  • Regular progress assessments and feedback alongside rewarding the effort children put into overcoming challenges.

To find out more about how Explore Learning might support you on your 11 plus journey book a free trial session today, check out our 11+ tuition section for more information or join our next 11 plus Q&A session on Tuesday 17th August at 6pm.

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