No matter how long you’ve had your head in books, on blogs, scrolling through Facebook groups, it seems like there is always another piece of 11 Plus information that you’re just coming across. Sometimes, when you finally find something out, you wonder how you could have gotten this far in your journey without knowing that piece of information.
Not to worry – we have compiled a list of some of the most essential, yet hidden, pieces of information about the 11 Plus that you really must know.
6 Things Every 11 Plus Parent Should Know
- Not every child that passes the 11 Plus will be offered a place
- Children have a better chance of getting into a private school than a grammar school
- Most primary schools do not prepare children for the 11 Plus
- Multiple choice is often harder than long-form questions
- Many comprehensive schools use 11 Plus style exams to determine admission
- 11 Plus books from different publishers don’t contain the same question types
There is a lot of information available online telling parents just how competitive 11 Plus exams are. Often, our clients come to us after reading the results of the latest set of exams and realising that pass marks are sometimes in excess of 85%. Often these parents will say to us that their number 1 aim is that their child passes the test. They are willing to commit as much as possible to give their child the support they need to perform to the best of their ability.
Can you imagine the shock these parents get when we inform then that passing is unfortunately not enough? Only around 65% of students who pass the grammar school entrance test will actually be offered a place at a grammar school. This is because there aren’t enough spaces.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t target grammar schools for your child, but it does mean that you should perhaps approach your child’s exam preparation in a particular way.
Seeing the 11 Plus as more than passing an exam
- Emphasise to children that the journey is more important than the exam
- Exam preparation helps to cultivate a sustainable culture of learning that will boost overall attainment
- Ensure you use a structured approach to preparations that incorporate robust feedback loops helping students to build confidence
In deciding to take your child on the 11 Plus journey, it is important to consider the long-term and overall benefits that the process will give your child. It is about developing an excellency mindset in your child by having an excellency approach to your 11 Plus preparations.
Having an excellency approach to your 11 Plus preparations means that, in addition to developing in your child a commitment to academic attainment, you will nurture:
- A genuine love of learning
- Attention to detail
- Superior handwriting
- Organisation and time management skills
At the root of this is ensuring that you prioritise knowledge acquisition without compromising your commitment to standards. This may require you to slow down at times to ensure that your child is able to follow and consolidate their knowledge.
A focus on the quality of the journey will not only increase the chances of success, it will give young people skills that will hold them in good stead throughout their academic careers.
Independent schools are often considered to be the most competitive schools to get into but the numbers tell a different story.
The average independent school may get 200 applicants for roughly 100 spaces, which could mean success rates as high as 50%. Compare this to grammar school admissions – in 2019, 16,600 students sat the Kent Test for just 5,300 places, that is a success rate of just 30%. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, independent school pass marks are often lower than grammar school pass marks. To be in with a chance of admission into a grammar school, a young person needs to score in excess of 80%. For independent schools, this might drop as low as 70%.
If you have the means, you should apply to both independent and grammar schools
Secondly, independent schools have to balance income with admissions criteria. They need to have a certain number of full fee-paying students in order to be able to survive. As we know, financial means does not equate to academic excellence. Therefore, independent schools sometimes have to compromise admissions standards to meet their fees target. They will use interviews and sports and music scholarships to help them with their decision-making.
This means that simultaneous grammar and independent school applications are advisable. Questions around this point are some of the most frequently asked to us here at Dartford Excelsior. We often advise people to pursue simultaneous applications.
Why you should apply to both private and grammar schools
If your ultimate target is a grammar school, even if your child is unsuccessful at year 7 admissions, they could attend an independent secondary school and switch to a grammar school for sixth form
Even if you don’t have the financial means to pay for an independent school, if your child passes the exam and they are impressed with them at interview they may be able to “find” funding to subsidise school fees
If your ultimate aim is an independent school, the grammar exam includes verbal and non-verbal reasoning which some independent schools don’t test for, but which develop essential cognitive skills, making grammar school exam preparation a great way to upskill your child
The important thing is that, when designing your 11 Plus strategy, you shouldn’t discount independent schools as too competitive; in many instances they may be easier for your child to get into, making them definitely worth a try.
The government’s position, which is supported by the majority of state schools and their teachers, is that children should not be explicitly prepared for the 11 Plus.
To understand this position, we have to go back and understand the fundamental premise of grammar schools.
Grammar schools were the result of the government’s recognition that young people in private education have many advantages over their academically equivalent state school colleagues. The complex educational needs of some children in state schools means that more academically able students are not given the attention and resources they need to reach their full potentials.
In stepped the grammar school. These are schools meant to cater for the top 5% of students. Thus, grammar schools are intended for young people who are already outperforming their peers.
Schools and teachers therefore feel that targeted preparation skews the results of the tests away from the “naturally” gifted to favour those with the means to pay for extra support. As a result, many teachers dedicated to the state school system are against targeted 11 Plus preparation and many state schools do not expressly prepare students for the exams.
There are a number of issues with this reasoning, however. Firstly, 11 Plus exams test students on topics that are, at times, outside the national curriculum for a child at the beginning of year 6. In fact, we have seen some 11 Plus questions that are set at Key Stage 3 level! Where would a young person have learned such topics if they were not receiving accelerated learning support at home?
Verbal and non-verbal reasoning skills are independent skills in themselves that require teaching and practice
Secondly, two of the core 11 Plus competencies – verbal and non-verbal reasoning – are not on the national curriculum at all! This creates a situation where many young people perform poorly simply because they are being sent into exams to answer questions in a skillset they have never encountered. Even 30 minutes of explanation and practice could wildly improve performance.
There is an inherent unfairness in the idea that students need not prepare for 11 Plus exams. This approach fails to recognise that verbal and non-verbal reasoning are specific academic skills in themselves that people are able to train for and master – there is nothing “natural” about these skills. They do not test a child’s mastery of the national curriculum – they are independent skills in themselves that require training and practice.
If the exams (i) included only content from the national curriculum; and (ii) covered only topics that students would have learn by the beginning of year 6, then this would restore fairness into the system and lend support to the argument that advance preparation is not necessary.
It is important to ask your child’s teacher as early as possible what provision, if any, the school will make for 11 Plus preparations. Be prepared to support your child at home in any areas that the school will not cover.
Many parents, on seeing their children struggling with long-form practice questions, will switch to exam papers that have multiple choice questions instead. What many parents find is that, far from being easier, multiple choice questions throw up their own set of challenges.
In many ways, long-form questions are easier to navigate for students starting out on their 11 Plus journeys. This is because multiple choice options are often written to test that the student understands the nuances between our uses of specific words.
Have a look at this example question:
In the story, how does Udeme feel about what has happened?
To answer this question, students must be able to understand the difference between anger and frustration which, though they can exist at the same time, are not actually the same emotion. This requires students to have strong vocabulary skills and the ability to discern the meaning of words from their contexts.
A long-form version of this question could be:
How does Udeme feel?
To which a student could respond:
Udeme is very angry and frustrated about what has happened as we are told that he ‘ran out of the room when she walked in’.
Let’s say in the multiple-choice version, the answer was a) Angry. A child selecting b) Frustrated would have been wrong and would lose the mark.
However, in the long form version, though the student has used the word “frustrated”, they will not lose a mark because they have gotten the general sense of the answer correct.
This is not to say that long-form questions do not have their own challenges – as you can see, there is often a need to use quotes from the text which is something students must be taught how to do.
The main point is – it is in your child’s educational interest that they master long-form responses first, as this is the skill that they will use most in life. In addition, the practice of expressing one’s thoughts in this way will enhance vocabulary skills. Thus, when they start working on multiple choice questions, they will have more experience using a variety of words in full sentences, which is after all how new words should be encountered and learned.
Therefore, even though many grammar school exams use multiple choice questions, it is very important for your child’s overall academic achievement that they start, and maintain, practice in formulating long-form answers in both English and maths.
A number of parents are surprised to learn that, in the age of private academy trusts, many state schools are imposing some selection criteria, most often a quota system where they take a certain proportion of students ranked as high, average and low ability. Many will use 11 plus style exams to make this determination.
Even those schools that do not have selection restrictions will often use 11 Plus style exams to “set” students for year 7, as many schools divide students up into different ability groups for English, maths and science.
It is therefore important to help your child get familiar with the types of questions that will appear on these test papers. In this instance it is not about coaching your child to pass the test, it is more about giving your child the support they need to feel under control and able to perform at their best during the exam.
Which 11 Plus books parents should buy is one of the questions we are asked the most by parents. 11 Plus resources can quickly consume a lot of money. It is important that you understand what is available, what you need and what your child will best respond to.
Not only are books sometimes made for different exam boards, each publisher has their own way of posing and setting out questions. This doesn’t mean that you should buy every book from every publisher, it means that:
- you have to be strategic about which books you buy, and when you buy them, as some books work better at different stages of the 11 Plus journey
- only buy books when a child is ready to use them. Don’t hoard books as your child’s needs may change and you may change your target schools
- take your child’s preferences into account. Different publishers have different pedagogical focuses. It is important that, if your child is a visual learner, you pick resources that prioritise that. Or, if your child learns best from application questions, you pick resources that incorporate these.
Written resources are the bedrock of any 11 Plus strategy. Whether you buy traditional books or download resources, make sure you think about where in your overall strategy each resource fits.