As an 11+ tutor of many years my role isn’t limited to teaching primary children how to pass the exam, but it includes nurturing and hand-holding parents through the process too.

And I’ve noticed that many of you are really quite anxious about reasoning.

Reasoning comprises of verbal, non-verbal and spatial exercises and none of this content is allowed to be taught in school.

According to the Kent 11+ Familiarisation Booklet, “The verbal reasoning test contains questions where you may have to think about words, letters and numbers.” … “Non-verbal reasoning asks you to look at the relationship between shapes – their similarities and differences – as well as identifying changes between shapes shown in sequence.” And “Spatial reasoning questions are similar, but also test how well you can picture a shape and move it around in your head.”

 Kent state primary schools are explicitly told not to prepare children for the 11+ by the county council.

According to the FFT Education Datalab, “Children eligible for free school meals score particularly poorly in the reasoning element of the Kent Test compared to other children. There is evidence that other children receive more preparation for this part of the 11-plus through access to private education, or tutoring.”

If you are a parent with grammar school ambitions for your child and a limited budget, what can be done?

Here’s my advice, based on years of experience.

  • Absolutely don’t give your child reasoning training books before year 5 as I am 100% sure you are wasting their time. Particularly avoid Bond books as their content is dated and not directly matched to our test.
  • Introduce reasoning training in the September of year 5 and aim to spend no more than 30 minutes per week in total on the content. Bond Online is cheap and has all the content (last time I looked it was £6.50 a month), or use specific books that match our exam. If you need help choosing, email me for advice, I keep my resources lists up to date to match the latest developments.
  • Read aloud to your child every night from your own reading book – chosen to be appropriate but fun to enjoy together. Don’t share the reading with your child or another adult. Discuss the characters and the plot in a natural way as you go (this is easy to do as a catch up on what happened in the book on the previous night’s reading – rather than stopping and earnestly asking questions that spoil the flow). When you come across new vocabulary, give its meaning quickly and carry on

Children who are great readers will do well in the verbal reasoning part of the exam. There are some fiddly codes to learn – involving counting on the alphabet back and forth – but beyond that a strong reader is unlikely to have too much trouble. The non-verbal and the spatial elements improve dramatically with recent practice. In our club programme we introduce each type but beyond that rely on an easy-to-manage home-based revision programme the summer before the test. The content isn’t difficult, but it needs to be experienced. Familiarity is all it takes, not a particular skill.

So next time you open an 11+ Practice Paper and see all the strange shapes and patterns in the reasoning don’t panic. Little and often is all your child needs in the year before the exam. And if you need any help with it, please get in touch.