A Beginner’s Guide To The 11 Plus – Kent, Medway and Gravesend Edition
Chapter 7: How to Prepare for the 11 Plus
Competition is fierce for Kent grammar schools, so it’s common for children to feel under pressure when they’re preparing to take the Kent Test. To give your child the best chance of success, you can use preparation techniques to give them confidence when they take the test.
Start at the Right Time
The answer to the question, “when should I start preparing my child for the Kent Test?” isn’t a simple one. Ultimately, it will depend on your child – and no one knows them as well as you do.
Some parents begin the preparation when their child is in Year 3 or 4 – but a majority of children start their preparation after Year 4. By this point in their development, you’ll have a better idea of their academic capabilities.
Exceptionally bright children may only need a few weeks of preparation for the Kent 11+. However, most children will benefit from a longer preparation period, typically beginning when they’re in Year 5.
Improve Students’ Maths and English in the Years Before the Test
It can be helpful to think of the 11+ tests as the end point of a journey that your child is heading towards from the moment they enter Key Stage 2 in primary school. The skills that are tested in the 11 Plus are developed over several years – and if you know that you want your child to sit the 11 Plus, you can grow their maths and English skills early.
You can do this by supplementing what they’re learning in school with extra practice at home using books and practice tests – and building opportunities to practice maths and English skills into everyday life.
Many parents don’t have the time or knowledge to consistently help their children at home. In addition, some parents find it difficult to sit and teach their own children, often leading to arguments and frustration for both sides. This is when extra tuition can be helpful. In these earlier years, (pre Year 5) tutors will be aiming to improve English and maths skills in accordance with the national curriculum as well as boosting overall confidence.
Build Comprehension Skills
Comprehension is an important part of the Kent Test, so encouraging your child’s comprehension skills is important. It’s an excellent way of building their confidence in answering comprehension questions.
Many children manage straightforward and fact-based comprehension questions without a problem, but the Kent Test can be more demanding of their comprehension abilities.
Building your child’s comprehension skills can become a part of everyday life and not just confined to times when you’re actively preparing for the Kent Test. For example, you can ask ‘why?’ questions:
- whilst watching a film – such as asking why a character is upset or afraid
- during play – perhaps asking “why do you think your sister responded like that when you stole her biscuit?”
- whilst reading – exploring the thoughts, feelings and actions of characters
Books for Home Study
There is a wide range of materials available to help you and your child prepare for the Kent 11+ Test. These include both books and guided courses. As a general rule, guided courses will be more expensive than using preparation books, but offer more advice and guidance, as well as putting you in touch with expert help.
Courses are often quite rigidly structured, with a work schedule for each week. Everything that you need is provided, which may give you peace of mind that your child is being properly prepared with everything that they need to know for Kent Test success.
Using books to prepare is sometimes referred to as a kind of DIY approach – and for parents, it involves a much more hands-on approach. For example, you’ll need to plan what to cover each week, buy the appropriate books and practice papers, and supervise your child’s study sessions.
Preparing your child for the Kent Test using guided courses or books can be rewarding – but there can also be challenges. You’ll need to have a good relationship with your child so that they’ll listen to your guidance. Tempestuous relationships won’t really work for these kinds of preparation techniques.
Some children naturally love to read, while others need more persuasion and encouragement. Encouraging your child to read is a great (and enjoyable) way to improve comprehension and build English skills. Children that read every day for at least 20 minutes have more advanced English skills than children who do not read every day.
Do Practice Tests
Practice tests are a great way of familiarising your child with the format of the tests and the types of questions that will be asked. Familiarisation builds confidence and can reduce anxiety about sitting the tests.
Another great advantage of practice tests is that if you use them early enough, you can use them to gauge how much preparation your child is going to need. Practice tests enable you to see how well your child handles the questions. Some children may need more help in some areas compared to others.
As you continue to prepare for the Kent Test, repeating the practice papers can not only enable you to recognise the areas that need more work, but also give your child confidence as they see for themselves the progress that they’re making.
Practice Extended Writing
The extended writing part of the 11+ tests (where used) is something that children often struggle with. It’s completely different to the multiple choice type questions in other parts of the 11+ and it’s worthwhile spending time developing your child’s ability to write for 40 minutes or more and produce a well-structured story or essay. These tips may help:
Tips for Writing a Story Under Exam Conditions
- Use planning time effectively: During the planning time, plot out the storyline based on:
- The key event in the story
- The primary character
- What happens before the key event
- What happens after the event
- Describe the details using language that evokes the senses of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound.
- Make your character interesting, and just use other characters as background.
- Use some dialogue, but not too much – get a balance between speech and description.
- Make sure you understand the conventions of how a story is laid out – e.g. when a new character speaks, that starts a new paragraph.
- Jump straight into the action.
- Show what a character is feeling, don’t tell. For example, this is telling: Logan was furious as he looked up. But this is showing: As Logan looked up, I could see his fists clenching and his jaw muscles flexing.
- Use literary techniques like similes and metaphors carefully when you’re writing.
Get Expert Help
Some children engage well when doing preparation for the Kent Test at home with parents – but others may not take the preparation sessions seriously and therefore not benefit so much. In those cases, private tuition is an alternative means of building confidence and skills.
Although not available in all areas, tuition groups that are held at Kent 11+ Tuition Centres can be hugely beneficial for your child. The groups are usually relatively small – usually around 6-10 pupils per group – and they’re cheaper than hiring a private tutor.
Children who attend tuition groups as part of their preparation for the Kent 11+ Test are often more motivated, diligent and confident. Being in a group environment can make them work harder – and because there are fewer distractions than there may be at home, tuition groups can boost your child’s learning potential, too.
Tuition centres also tend to have many resources available to them such as books, worksheets, activities that private tutors may not have. They’re also likely to have a lot of experience in taking students through 11 plus preparation. We’d recommend asking tuition centres about their setup and their teaching structure as this will say a lot about their organisation.
Be Aware of the Pressure Your Child Is Under
If your child is one of those preparing for the test this September, it’s important that you understand the pressure that your child may be feeling under. Preparation is important, but doing so without putting too much pressure on your child is vital. A stressed child doesn’t test well – because when under stress:
- it’s harder to think – there’s a reduction in speed of thought
- mental maths abilities are reduced
- verbal reasoning becomes more difficult – with a decrease in vocabulary recall.
Top Tips for 11+ Preparation
- An average child’s peak attention span is 30-50 minutes long – don’t expect your child to concentrate closely for hours on end.
- Visual aids like mind maps make it much easier to retain information
- Mnemonics help you to remember information
- The brain is plastic – this means it is capable of learning new things but needs to rest as well as ‘train’
- Set up a rewards program for small achievements in the preparation process to keep your child motivated
- Active revision under ‘exam conditions’ helps your child to mentally adjust to sitting exams like the 11+
- Sleep is vital when preparing for the 11+ – if your child is struggling with sleeping in the run up to exams, try techniques like a hot bath, hot chocolate, or making sure they have enough time to unwind/relax before bed