The same critical errors are made time and again by well-meaning parents. Here’s how to side-step them with confidence…

And a good place to start is to understand what the 11+ actually is.

As you’re probably aware, it is a blanket term given to any formal entrance exam sat in year 6. Counties set them – Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire, and individual schools set them (often they group together in ‘consortiums’). Each set of exam papers is drawn from a similar pool of curriculum content: maths, English, verbal reasoning, non-verbal and spatial reasoning. But each one is individual – with its own specific content and timings.

We adults might look from one maths paper to another and see a different layout but similar content. But a child of 10 can be thrown by a new layout with written answers and sub-questions when they expected multiple-choice options. Timings play a huge part too. Exams – such as the Kent Test – are set up as a race to the finish. Increasing numbers of questions are posed to an ever-decreasing time span. When up against the clock, a well-prepared child will use the multiple-choice answers to their advantage whereas one who has trained with written answers and sub-questions may not.

1. Confusing your exam boards

In order to prepare your child fully for the 11+ you have to find out which exam board is setting the test, a list of the papers set and exact timings for each one. Fortunately this is easy to find if you can spend 10 minutes with a cup of coffee and google. In Kent our children are tested on all the content above, but some counties drop one or two elements – perhaps English, or non-verbal reasoning – so you do need to be sure of what is included before you begin.

The two main players are GL (based in London) and CEM (based at Durham University). If you scratch the surface you will find these two firms behind most 11+ exams in the UK. Here in Kent we have GL papers, so make sure you avoid all ‘CEM-style’ content as it doesn’t match our exam.

2. Wasting time on poorly-targeted content

Once you have informed yourself of the specifics of your exam, you can target the preparation materials you plan to use. All the popular 11+ practice books state clearly whether they are GL or CEM based, so check before you buy.

What you will notice first of all is that Bond books often don’t state either exam board on their covers. This is because they don’t specifically match either board’s content, so why would you waste your time on them? I’ve lost track of how many parents I’ve fallen into conversation with who have reassured me that they have the Bond books – often a big stack of them. They usually have a programme in place where their child sits with these depressing books for hours on end. But they don’t match anything specific that the child is going to be tested on, so what’s the point?

And as an extra little note here, anything that might pre-train your child to prepare for the reasoning papers in year 4 or earlier is also a waste of time. The reasoning curriculum is of a manageable size and is easily taught in year 5. Pre-work may reassure you that you are on it – but it will do nothing for your child.

3. Throwing money at the problem

There is no getting away from the fact that the 11+ process is tough and the exam is miserably tricky. And it would be a wonderful thing if you could outsource the problem to somebody else, to simply pay for a tutor and let them take the strain.

Of course, what a good tutor can do for your child is teach the right content, offer gap-filling support and resources, invite them to exam training sessions and boost their confidence and technique. A good tutor can also hold your hand through the process, answering questions and making themselves available when you’re having a bit of a wobble.

Yet what you have to do as a parent is to prioritise this whole process and take control yourself. Plan your holidays at the right time (ask your tutor when that might be), read to your child every night and put a sensible homework routine in place. If you can add to that healthy meals, some fresh air and a decent bed-time then you are on the right lines. Unfortunately booking a tutor can’t take that responsibility away from you. Nor does booking a second tutor, as some parents do.

Now you have put those three potential pitfalls behind you, you are on track to prepare you child successfully for their looming 11+. And if you need any help with it, do get in touch.

Click here for the 2018 Mock Exams booking form.