Secrets of the 11+

Top Tips for the 11+ and other entrance tests

Today, I am sharing my secrets of the 11+. I have been through it not once but twice with my children. These are stressful times for all so read on for some gems of wisdom.

A little mental exercise for you first: cast your mind back to the time when you took your driving test. For most people, this rite of passage doesn’t pass without feelings of anxiety in the months and weeks beforehand. Will you accidentally slam your foot down on the accelerator rather than brake during the emergency stop? How will you fare when reversing around the corner? I had one friend who accidentally put her hand on the examiner’s knee confusing it for the gearstick. I took my test twice before passing it the third time. And what a relief it was. Sometimes, they say that failure is not an option, but for me in my driving test, it was… and twice!


For your child, if you rev things up too much, the 11+ can seem just as pressured. You only have to read the posts on Mumsnet under “11+” to see that you are not alone in your anxiety. If your child is facing any exam, try to help them through it without too much angst. It is after all only an exam. Of course you want them to do their best. But you also want them to be happy don’t you? Dear parent, with my gems of wisdom, you should be able to manage the process and glide smoothly into Year 7 intact.

The gems of wisdom I share with you here can be applied to any exam or test to help your child.

 Secrets of the 11+ (and other exams and tests) Part I 

  1. PLANNING: I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The secret is in the PLANNING. Plan the time between now and the exam carefully. You should map out the time between today and the date of your child’s exams. Imagine attempting the long jump without a run up; gearing up for any exam is the same.
  1. PREPARATION: Preparation, like planning, is important. Draw up a list of topics with your child to revise and a revision schedule. Establish a routine. Gather the books, notes and revision materials you are going to use. Ask your teachers for help with resources. Find past papers, buy workbooks and check your child’s exercise books. Find out what the exam hall will be like. Will it be a test on paper or on a computer? And practice doing a similar test in timed conditions. Benjamin Franklin, who didn’t do the 11+ incidentally said, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” Don’t fail to PREPARE. 
  1. A QUIET PLACE TO WORK: Find somewhere quiet in your house where your child can work away from television, toys and distracting pets. The kitchen might not be ideal if you are cooking up a storm (idiom and pun there - see page 44 of Revision Fun for Clever Kids), or if you are on your phone chatting to your mother. None of these distractions are helpful. You should also make sure you are on hand and ready to help if needed.
  1. HEALTHY MEALS AND SLEEP: By eating the right foods, you can energise your system and stay alert and focussed. It is also important for you and your children to get enough sleep. Everyone is different but experts recommend 9-11 hours of sleep for junior school children, although some can manage on 7 hours and others need nearly 12.  Virginia Woolf said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” FOOD is your fuel … and SLEEP is important too.


  1. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE: Plan fresh air, breaks and outings as well. Just because your child is working towards an exam you don’t have to neglect the outdoors. If your child begins to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, encourage them not to give up, but if you sense this is counter-productive take a break for just one day and start again tomorrow.  
  1. STAY CLEAR OF OTHER PARENTS: pavement chatter will only make you and your child stressed and confused. Keep your counsel and resist the urge to share everything. You and your child are now a team and you should focus on your journey, not anyone else’s.
  1. MAINTAIN A SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE: a university lecturer once told me that you should think of all your options as baskets with good things in each one. Try to teach your child to see the good in all of the possible outcomes. The glass should be half full not half empty and every cloud has a silver lining. 


Bonus Gem: give yourselves a theme song - I love this one by Shakira: who can fail to feel it’s all going to be OK whatever the outcome when they turn up the volume and dance to this!

Be kind and share this with someone who is about to embark on an exam - or is gearing up to one… whether it's next week, next month or next year…. 

Good Luck!