4 Key Strategies To Help Your Child With The 11 Plus


Is your child sitting the 11 plus this year? Are you feeling overwhelmed by your child’s forthcoming 11 plus exams? Here are key tips to help your child prepare.

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Helping Your Child With The 11 Plus

There is a growing trend in my town. Since starting my education centre 12 years ago, I have seen an exponential increase in children applying to get a place in grammar school. Grammar schools have grown in popularity since the last recession and parents are now more aware of school standards.

The thought is “if I can’t afford to send my child to a private school, I’ll send him to a grammar school even if it is 30 miles away”.

1.  Don’t Start Too Late

Cramming for exams doesn’t work and it’s a short-term solution. You should start preparation at least one year before the exam so ideally at the start of year 5. If you leave it too late it will build unnecessary pressure on you and your child. I find that children who start early also adopt a good work ethic. They get into the habit of regular daily study on top of their school work and these skills will be invaluable at grammar school.

2.  Build a Good Foundation

Grammar schools take the top 5% of students.  For a child to have a good chance of passing the 11 plus exam, I recommend that the child should be in the top set and the top table in both English and Maths.  This alone is not enough, children must be keen readers.  Reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge.  General knowledge cannot be learnt by reading an encyclopaedia, rather it is learnt through experience or through reading around the subject.

3. Involve Your Child In Every Step

A child who is included in decision-making will be more willing to put the work in. It reduces the burden for you too.

  • looking at the websites of all the grammar schools you want to see

  • going to school open days

  • choosing the grammar school

  • knowing what is going to come up the exams – is it just verbal reasoning or is it more?

  • taking charge of preparation; your child should be organised and know what to revise

  • teach your child to mark the practice questions and tests

  • teach your child to monitor and record scores

4. Use a Variety of Resources

Use books. The popular books are by Bond, CGP and  Letts.

Use worksheets. You can download practice questions by searching “practice 11 plus worksheets”. Worksheets are better in some ways because once you have downloaded them, you can print them as many times as you need.

Use online sites. Online sites like 11plus.co.uk provide online practice tests and exercises and also do mock tests.   Wordbuilder is an excellent site for vocabulary practice.

Use practice papers. When doing practice tests, first focus on ensuring that your child answers every question without a time limit. Work on accuracy and technique and let your child familiarise themselves with the different question types.  You don’t want your child reading the instructions on how to answer each question in an exam situation, they should just start working it out. After that you can start doing practice tests under timed conditions.

Play games and puzzles. This blog article talks about how you can still practice verbal reasoning skills to keep your child interested.

Experts say that you cannot prepare a child for grammar school because they either have it or they don’t. I’m not here to argue that point, I’m just here to help you help your child. Whether they get into grammar school or not, it’s the journey that matters more than the outcome.

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5 Minute Verbal Reasoning Activities


A large part of the 11 plus verbal reasoning tests is vocabulary knowledge.  And most parents will be familiar with the Bond 11 plus practice books and thousands of online resources you can print out. However, children can get bored and frustrated with doing just these.

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So I have compiled a list of 5 minute activities that children can do to practice their verbal reasoning vocabulary.  Perfect for children struggling with concentration and to make it more interesting.  I regularly create games and short, sharp activities for the children to do at my centre and they don’t even realise that they are studying.  So have a go and see for yourself.  But if you haven’t got the time or struggle to explain things simply to your child, let us do the work for you.  Book your child for a free assessment and let us take care of things.

Children need to know the meanings of the words, their opposites, whether they are nouns, verbs or adjectives, and in some cases the multiple meanings of the words.

First of all you need to have a list of the most commonly used words.  You can get them from here.

Make these into flash cards and print them out on card.  You can get flashcard templates off the internet, but I like to use Quizlet to make flash cards.  It’s so simple.  All you do is cut and paste the words into the flash card set wizard and it generates them for you.

Take any set of 10 words and then try the following:

Alphabetical Order

Practicing using the alphabet is essential for verbal reasoning.  If a child knows that there are 3 letters between “m” and “p”, then it’s quicker than working it out.

Put the words into alphabetical order.

Put the words in reverse alphabetical order.

To make it more difficult, pick words beginning with the same letter and then put them in alphabetical order.

Write Synonyms

A synonym is another word with a similar meaning.  This may not be possible for all words.  When your child first does this, allow them to use a thesaurus (online is acceptable as well) and choose the synonym that they are most familiar with.  I taught a child once who was looking up synonyms for the word “rich”.  He chose the word “prosperous”, but a week later, he couldn’t tell me what the word “prosperous” meant.

Start of by choosing just one synonym, then build up to maximum 5 per word.  As your child gets familiar with the word list, get them to choose synonyms from the word list.  For example “oppose” and “contest” are synonyms and both are in the list.

Write Antonyms

Antonyms are opposites.  Again you can allow the use of a thesaurus and as with synonyms, make sure your child knows the meaning of the antonym they choose.  Start off with one antonyms and build up to a maximum 5.  Try to get your child to choose antonyms from the word list.

Write Sentences

Sentence writing helps children to understand the meaning of the word.  The sentence must make sense and use the word in he correct way.  This is especially so for words with multiple meanings.  For example the word “permit” has 2 meanings.  The child must write a sentence using both meanings.  the sentence must also illustrate the meaning of the word.  So writing “I got a permit” is not enough.  Writing “I got a permit to go and work in America” is better.

the verbal reasoning type 8 questions requires the child to find hidden words in a sentence.  Once your child has written the sentence, see if they find any hidden 4 letter words in it.

Make Smaller Words

For each word, make smaller words from the letters in the word.

Start with making as many 2 letter words as possible

Then build up to making bigger words.

Nouns, Verb or Adjective

Sort the words into either noun verb or adjective.  Some of the words may go into more than one category.  This is a great exercise for grammar skills.  With nouns, you can go further and categorise them into abstract, proper or common nouns.

Use Quizlet

Quizlet is a free website providing learning tools for students, including flashcards, study and game modes.

You start by creating your own study sets with terms and definitions.

Next, you can add images, copy and paste from another source, or use Quizlet’s built-in auto-define feature to speed up the creating process.

Track your progress with 6 powerful study and game modes!

Flashcards—Review your material, shuffle/randomize, or listen with audio.

Learn—Track your correct/incorrect answers and retest the ones you’ve missed.

SpellerType what you hear in this audio-powered study mode.

Test—Randomly generate tests based on your flashcard set.

Scatter—Race against the clock to drag and match terms/definitions.

Space Race—Type in the answer as terms/definitions scroll across the screen.

Compound Words

Compound words are words made up of two words joined together.  Here is a list of compound words and some suggested activities to try.  They come up in verbal reasoning type 11 questions.  

You can also take any group of 10 words from the word list, and try to break each one down into compound words.

My previous post called “4 Games to Help With Verbal Reasoning” can also be used to improve verbal reasoning skills.

Grammar, private and state schools. Do you know the difference?


grammar school versus state schoolsA few months ago a parent brought their son to my centre to get assessed. The parents wanted their 9 year old son to start preparing for grammar school but when I asked which grammar school they said the name of a private school. The family had friends living elsewhere in the country whose children were attending grammar school and because there aren’t any grammar schools in our county, they assumed that private school meant grammar school. It’s not the first time I’ve come across this situation so I think its time to write things out in black and white.

Every 11-year-old in primary school has the choice of going to either a state school, private school or grammar school. So let me list now the differences between the three types of schools:

State Schools

These are also known as comprehensive schools and the majority of UK children attend them. State schools are government-funded and any child between the ages of 11 and 16 can attend. Some state schools have a sixth form attached and therefore cater for children up to 18 years of age.

A state schools performance can vary from year to year. This information can be found out from school league tables which are published every year. A child may attend a top performing state school in year 7, but there is no guarantee that it will still be top when the child is in year 8 or year 11.

A top state school will be heavily over-subscribed and families will even move house to get their children a place.

Grammar Schools

Grammar schools are also government-funded but only children who pass their entrance exams can attend. These entrance exams are commonly known as the 11+ and are taken in year 6 (age 10/11). The exams can cover one or more of the following 4 areas: verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, english and maths. The dates of the exams are set by the schools and children usually need to score 80% or more to pass the exams. Many parents start preparing their children for the 11+ exam as young as age 7.

Grammar school are highly selective and have a strong emphasis on academic achievement. The standards and expectations at grammar schools are high and it is for this reason that you will find many grammar schools at the top of national school league tables.

Private Schools

Private schools are not government-funded – although some private schools give bursaries and scholarships to a select number of students each year. Parents may choose to send their children to private schools because of the smaller class sizes. These children are more confident, driven and have access to a greater range of extra-curricular activities. Plus mixing with affluent families builds contacts and improves their chances of getting better jobs.

Given the choice, which type of school would you choose? For me, grammar schools win hands down, but to get my son into one of those he needs to be a child genius. I think I’ll let him decide.