PARENT CASE STUDY: Tackling the 11+ process, with the benefit of hindsight
By Leah White
11 Jul
We spoke to a parent who is embarking on the 11+ preparation process for a second time, having already successfully supported one child in gaining their place at a South-West London grammar school. Now, they are preparing their daughter for the 11+ exams this autumn.

As a family that doesn’t believe in ‘super-tutoring’ from an early age, we were keen to hear how they are preparing for these exams, using Galore Park resources to aid this process – and in particular how they are preparing for the Verbal Reasoning exam ...

We are an education-oriented and educated family with a continued interest in lifelong learning. Our eldest has already successfully gone through the 11+ exam process, and our next child is currently being prepped to sit the 11+ exams in September/October 2016. We are fortunate to live within easy transport reach of seven state grammar schools and several comprehensives with selective intakes. As parents, we are of the belief that the children who would most benefit from selective schooling should be able to pass the tests without ‘super-tutoring’ from an early age – a trend that is becoming increasingly common as demand for places escalates year on year. We opted to undertake 11+ preparation with our child ourselves, in the hope that they will reach the level required to secure a nearby grammar school place, or one in the selective stream of a local(ish) comprehensive. Mindful that long-term tuition can cause burnout (with a child peaking ahead of the exam time), we have chosen to start this educational journey just nine months ahead of the autumn term ‘exam season’.
In recent years, the 11+ exam content for the local south-west London grammars has changed markedly. Formerly, non-verbal reasoning (NVR) and verbal reasoning (VR) were integral to the selective examination experience, whereas focus now falls on testing maths and English ability so as not to disadvantage children in the state sector. The exception is the Wandsworth test (and, until very recently, the Kingston Tiffin grammar schools) which, to date, remains NVR-/VR-specific. So, many parents considering a cross-section of selective state school options for their children may still need to provide learning support in all four examined areas.
The 11+ Verbal Reasoning workbook has been particularly helpful in highlighting areas in which our child already demonstrates core competency (or not, as the case may be). VR question types, in all their many forms (which test grammar, spelling and even maths patterns), range from number/letter codes, to deduction, statement logic and letter analogies. These aren’t subjects taught in the National Curriculum KS2, so these, along with NVR question types, have taken some time and resources to master. Use of the Galore Park publication has supported and expanded upon VR skills learning, whilst developing accuracy and speed en route. Naturally logical, our child has picked up most NVR and VR skills remarkably quickly considering she’s not come across these types of logic problem before. However, she has had a bit of a ‘block’ with the code and letter connection questions. They require a very alert and ‘on the ball’ mind, and are particularly challenging, sometimes even to grown-up helpers! They are still, at the time of writing, a work in progress but we are getting there, mindful to do such exercises at a time of the day when she is most receptive to study. Aside from this, our main challenge has been with confidence-building, particularly when embracing the new (which NVR and VR definitely constitute). We’ve found diligent use of the ‘progress record’ at the front of the publication to be an excellent motivator, particularly when completed by the student rather than parents.
We have adopted a ‘mix and match’ approach to 11+ tuition, using online tests, downloaded papers and paperback workbooks from different publishing houses, well aware that a change is as good as a rest. This enables us to vary format, test length and breadth of skills covered in one session, eliminating boredom. It also means that learning and practice can be broken down into ‘bite-size’ chunks, more formalised lessons or tests, depending on time constraints, locality and student receptivity. We started off with some study around NVR and VR questions, moving on to less teaching and more informal testing (using the workbooks and online equivalents). As we move closer to the exams (now only three months away!) we tend to work through individual ‘by type’ questions and exercises on school days and then half a timed set of papers on Saturday and Sunday to highlight strengths and weaknesses, particularly for NVR, VR and maths (an academic Achilles heel in our household). Children will ‘get’ some types of question without being taught, but it’s extremely useful to have study and revision guides for reference and to help fill in gaps, as even we grown-ups can have blind spots! We currently do 15–30 minutes’ prep a day with a view to covering all four bases equally over the course of the week. We envisage that over the summer holiday period, prep will become almost entirely 11+ exam practice papers-centric, but with use of VR and NVR practice workbook exercises as a good ‘warm-up’ tool, in short, sharp bursts to boost brain power.
If there is one thing that experience has taught us, it’s that the broader the approach to upskilling for the 11+ (and, indeed, any other) exams the better. The Galore Park range of revision aids is a most welcome addition to the 11+/Pre-Test resources library. We’ve found the age overlap covered by the three VR workbooks (8–10, 9–11 and 10–12) means the ‘leap’ in difficulty is less noticeable, and therefore more easily managed. Moreover, it also helps boost confidence (which plays no small part in success in these exams). Children are generally quite chuffed to think they can successfully solve problems aimed at children older than themselves (even if by only a year), and our child is no exception.
We particularly like the way in which the workbooks break down each question type into a double page of three activities: Have a go, Test yourself and Try it out. They give a brief overview explanation with examples to try out, a short test to see how well you’ve ‘got it’ and then a section that really tests if you’ve understood the principles underpinning it. That each section comes in three parts means that they can be done in one session or subdivided. We would recommend doing Have a go and Test yourself together and then leaving the Try it out questions until a later date, further into the 11+ exam prep time frame.

Sample page from 11+ Verbal Reasoning Workbook Age 9-11
Click to view full size.

That these resources are A4 in size means that their pages are set out to be super easy to read. Moreover, they look deceptively less question-dense than some competitors’ resources. Psychologically, this can only be a good thing when working with nine- and ten-year olds who are easily deterred by pages overloaded with questions. All of the resources cover a broader question type range than most 11+ exam papers are likely to include. This is both refreshing and challenging for the children. The learning journey should be about extending a child academically – not just to ‘teach to test’ – and to enable them to demonstrate independent intellectual aptitude. It also instils the idea of the ‘over and above’ approach to learning, which gives the smartest and most diligent pupils an edge in education and in life.
We are two-thirds of the way through our 11+ journey, so use of the VR workbook being reviewed is ongoing at the time of writing. We have worked through the more VR-typical language- and grammar-based question types. However, the more logic-based ones are still a work in progress. We are enjoying having this less familiar but more challenging revision aid to fall back upon when other resources don’t meet our child’s needs. It is evident that our child benefits hugely from being able to switch between learning resources and the ways in which they can be accessed. Variety is key to successful learning at any stage and age. The Galore Park VR workbooks certainly give considerable added value to the 11+ exam preparation activities we’re undertaking. We can only hope their use pays dividends in the ‘E’ days ahead of us.

If you'd like to try the 11+ Verbal Reasoning range with your child,  you can find out more about all of the books and download a free sample containing pages from the Revision Guide, the Workbook Age 9-11 and Practice Papers 1 here

Tags: 11+, Common Entrance, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, exams, Independent School Examination Board, ISEB, Parents, practice, Practice Papers, Revision Guide, Verbal Reasoning, Workbooks

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