What nobody tells you about the 11+

It is usually sometime in Year 4 or 5 that you will decide which schools to focus your efforts on for your child's education after Year 6 or Year 8. You might be seeking an independent day school that you have long believed would be the school for your child. Or you may have set your sights on the excellent local grammar school that is consistently at the top of the academic tables. Whatever your choice, it is a good idea to know a few things about the road ahead and to bear in mind that these tips apply to every change of school, whether at 7+, 8+, 11+ or 16+.


So what are the inside secrets you should know before your child approaches the 11+ exam?


School work and homework should be done well and to your child’s best ability. From day one. This is the most important work your child will do. Tutors will of course help, especially if your child is behind or there are gaps in their knowledge, but the syllabus that the teachers teach, and the work they set around it are the foundations. Don’t skip this bit.

Maths is important. The basics need to be mastered, practiced and revised, as and when they are learnt, so that they are rock solid before new concepts are introduced. This is important aged 5, 6, 7, 8 …  because it will be hard to catch up at 11+ and even harder at GCSE level. Your child doesn’t necessarily need a tutor. But they should get into the habit of practising maths. And they should get it right before they move on. Here are some links to my favourite resources for Year 5: Free Worksheets. Mental Maths Books. Bond Maths. Maths Fun for Cool Kids. Apps like squeebles are a good idea too….

This is not a Parents' Only journey. You should definitely be on the 11+ journey with your child, but help them own it. They need to feel that they got themselves there … with a little help from their friends.

The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. In all exams, those who are successful have generally worked hard. They didn’t just wake up bright and brilliant. They put in time.

Your child can only do their best. Think about what you really want for your child and where their strengths lie. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t fit the profile for a school. They will DEFINITELY have skills and you can help them to nurture them in the right environment. Don’t push and push and push if it will just make your child feel like a failure. Focus on what works and where they will flourish. While courage is definitely tested at 11+, many other skills which are just as important are not: humour, empathy, generosity, humility, kindness, charm and manners to name a few …. 

Even the brightest children can’t be sure that they are doing “enough”, because there are few teachers who will say,  “You, bright child, are top of the class! Relax!” But also because on a bad day the brightest child might: fail to write their name at the top of the paper… fail to turn over to see the last page of questions …. fail to follow the instructions for the exam… or just have a mind block. These things happen.

If you are about to embark on your child’s journey to get into a good local grammar school or a top independent school, be prepared. It’s a challenging journey and it isn’t easy. But if you understand why you are doing this, make a plan and stay focused, you will survive. Keep stepping away from the project and reassessing - are you overdoing it … or underdoing it? I know from experience that time flies by and as you embark on your journey, you might like to ask yourself, “If I don’t help my child now to do their best, will I regret that I didn’t?”


If you want to help your child to be calm in the face of comprehension read my Secrets of Comprehension here.

Next week, 10 books your child might enjoy in the coming months.


If you buy something through the links, Jumping Yak might earn an affiliate commission.