11+ PARENT CASE STUDY – Juggling schools and expectations
By Jane Gillespie - a London mum
28 Mar
Thanks to Jane for providing her invaluable advice on 11+ preparation. An entrance exam veteran, she has tackled the 11+ twice in the last 2-3 years and her son is now sitting 13+ Common Entrance.
Senior school admission is a daunting prospect for many parents. The tests change and get harder, different schools have different demands, every year there are more children chasing a small number of places…… As a parent, I worried not just if my child would get a place, but would it be at a school which was the right fit?
In London, where I live, the challenge is particularly great - in both the state and the independent sectors. When I checked out the different requirements – residence, academic – I realised the choice was even more limited than I’d thought. And then on top there was the other major factor – will my child actually be able to get to school without the kind of long and stressful commute which many adults would dread doing?  That’s something a surprising number of parents seem not to consider fully amid the flurry of exam results tables and future destinations.
But maybe my biggest shock came when I decided to sit my daughter for 11+ entry in 2014, rather than the 13+ preferred by her prep school; don’t assume that your current school is doing the preparation you would expect.
Be prepared to step in yourself
When my daughter was in Year 5, I realised her prep school focused on the 13+ and therefore lacked knowledge of the 11+ exam requirements and had no contact with the relevant senior schools. 13+ wasn’t an option - the entry for the independent London girls’ day schools is at 11 and the majority of boys’ schools offer their places at 13 after tests at 11 (so taking two lots of very stressful exams.) I know now that other London preps do prepare pupils for exams at 11 but in the state sector, such preparation and guidance is generally not part of the mandate, so many parents there have long learned to fend for themselves. 
Virtually every parent began hiring tutors at once but I joined the do-it-yourself bunch. It’s not really go-it-alone as there are plenty of resources and sources of advice out there – maybe too many – so focus is the obvious key.

Approaching revision

I bought some revision guides and practice tests and
matched the practice book questions to the style of the exam for each school, having gleaned this information from past papers I gathered from every school on my shortlist. Some were generously online on their website and others sent me a couple when I rang and asked (once my daughter was registered to sit the exam). Some of the papers you find on Google can be a bit old; be wary and always double check the school site.
In the end, for the maths especially, what is tested between schools seems pretty similar - a good grounding on the syllabus is fine. We started easy and built up the skill level to give her confidence and to reinforce the topics.
For English – reading is the bottom line. I made sure to discuss what she had read with her, while keeping a keen eye on the English exam comprehensions I had studied beforehand. I worked on the basis that many schools offer you the option of “continuing the story” from the comprehension as the creative writing task. So go for that! And think of styles of writing - a scary story for example, a dramatic event, think of your opening and ending (but stay clear of aliens and animals which come to life - they are such clichés!) Stick to a couple of characters, some dialogue, description etc. But on no account “learn” set pieces as the school will quite rightly spot this. Some give the option of a letter or a diary entry or a newspaper article - your child should have learned this in school (and you can practise at home).
The reasoning papers are tough to prepare for as the question types are so varied. Some parents I know moved mountains to try to find out which company’s papers were used by each school. I think it’s a better investment in time to use a few different books/papers from different companies and try to teach your child to solve the problems themselves.
It helped a lot that she was co-operative as I fully understand the wisdom in the old adage – “don’t ever teach your own child!”

Choosing schools
I decided on no more than 3 exams, which for my daughter at 11+ was a slightly easier option than it is now. The school she eventually chose – City of London School for Girls – was part of the 2-group consortium of independent North London girls’ schools and so was North London Collegiate (they both now have their own specific exams). I chose another “easier” school in each group - as there is no additional exam. I also settled on an additional “easier” school, so that I (hopefully!) had a back up and this was a co-ed with its own separate exam. I realized that I had made the right choice by keeping the shortlist short when she emerged very tired at the end of the exam fortnight. There were (hopefully again) still interviews to face.
Being able to access the consortium was a huge bonus – the papers are all the same, cover a good number of schools, and are published openly and freely. It was English and maths only, so it felt more achievable.  The third school meant separate preparation for verbal and non-verbal reasoning, which was an added burden for just one school. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have bothered. Specific revision may be necessary for some schools but I would try whenever possible to avoid it. Otherwise, your resources are spread too thin. 
I’d recommend going to as many Open Day events as possible, preferably first without your child and then back with them for a second visit, asking as many questions as you can.  On my list were of course academic success and onward destinations. But also – what about open space? Is there properly accessible drama, music and sport – or is it restricted in practice to just the “best” few children? What about separate sciences and good language options?  What happens if my daughter starts to fall behind – will you ask her to leave early on?
I also decided that searching out and listening to other parents was very important – but I restricted this very carefully to parents who actually had children at the school in question. It’s really important to screen out the hearsay - all too often it’s not true at all.  I remember being told that it’s how the school feels to you – is it the best fit? – and thinking this was a bit of nonsense – how would you tell? But you can.
It doesn’t mean though there is only one school which will work for your child – you have to have back up – the second best fit.  Because how ever hard you and your child try, you don’t always get what you wish for on the day, so it’s best to be as calm, realistic and accepting as possible.  And get started on sensible preparation well in advance.

Jane used various revision resources at 11+, including the Galore Park English and Maths workbooks.

You can check out our full 11+ and pre-tests revision range here, including English, maths, science, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

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