Panic, worry and even guilt is just some of the emotions mums and dads are feeling at the moment with the 11-plus exams fast approaching. Many parents are going to extreme levels to equip their children with every ounce of information they can get their hands on. Grammar schools are state secondary schools that select their pupils by means of an examination taken by children at the age of 10/11. Commonly known as the 11-plus. There are only about 163 grammar schools in England, out of some 3,000 state secondaries. Thus, making the competition to gain a seat incredibly high, leaving many parents in a form of frenzy this term. That said, this journey doesn’t have to be an exasperating one. So, how can we make the 11-plus journey as relaxed and stress free as possible?
Start the journey early
It really is possible for both you and your child to enjoy this journey, so long as you start the process early, slowly and gently. Many would argue that you don’t need to start the preparation until the beginning of year 5. However getting your child into good practice, routine and habits as early as year 3 will make this journey so much smoother. There is so much information and resources out there to help you prepare your child. The 11-plus should not be a crash course with last minute cramming just before the exam. Rather it should be a curriculum to follow. Starting early means that your child doesn’t need to sacrifice their little joys of attending clubs and activities or going on holiday the summer before the 11-plus. The exam can be a valuable experience for the child if approached in the right methodical way. Setting daily and reasonable amounts of study establishes good work ethics and is a priceless life time gift to nurture from a very young age.
Easier said than done, I hear many of you scream! However, a positive mindset, combined with a stress free environment is the road to success for every child. When a child is constantly witnessing a parent worrying about the exam, and when every conversation in the house revolves around the 11-plus, its only natural for the child to panic but also start self doubting. It is essential that you do not convey your anxieties to your child.
If you or your child is feeling frustrated or under stress during revision, take a break: go for a walk, play some sport or take an hour to watch some television. It is common knowledge that children pick up on vibes, so don’t try to pretend to be happy either- once again easier said than done! But kids will sense the truth from a mile away.
You need to ask yourself whats the worst that can happen ? If failing the exam is the answer then remember FAIL (First Attempt In Learning). Is that really the worst that can happen? Parents we need to have a reality check here. Many students have had a successful future and have entered into the top Russell Group universities from attending a state comprehensive school. There are also students who have not been academically successful after attending a grammar school.
Preparation for the 11-plus can be an anxious time for all concerned. Your child should not be made to feel like a failure. Or made to feel like their letting their parents down if they do not succeed. Make it clear to your child that the end result does not change the unconditional love you have for them. Try to protect them from the stresses and strains of the real world as much as you can.
Before I hear an uproar about starting the preparation for the 11 – plus for children in year 3, it doesn’t mean you give a 7 year old an 11 – plus paper to do. But rather start steering them towards the curriculum and getting them into good habits early on like; daily reading, spellings, learning time tables, mastering the foundations of maths; adding, subtractions, division and multiplications.
First and foremost; Read! Read! Read! An excellent way to improve verbal dexterity is to implement a good reading habit. Broaden your child’s literature from reading the newspaper, magazines to a variety of different books fiction and non fiction; then talk about it afterwards, get them to describe what they’ve read and explain how it made them feel. This will enable them to unlock their emotions and effective story-telling brings a satisfying increase in marks.
As for Maths, practice times tables daily; ensure you’re child is completely utterly thorough. Go over times tables until they do not even pause at all to think of the answer. This gift will save them so much time in an exam. Understanding the core concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication division, fractions, percentages and decimals and that they can apply this knowledge under pressure, particularly in problem- solving-type questions.
Last but not least; Verbal Reasoning and Non Verbal Reasoning; many think these exams test innate ability and, therefore, cannot be coached for. But I believe it is vital to provide opportunities for practice, however, this can be easily done as there are plenty of books on sale, and past papers are easily accessible. There is no magic to it, but if the child has not seen this type of question before the exam they are likely to be completely thrown on the day.
All throughout, help your child to unwind by making sure they take regular breaks; tired children can easily get frustrated and find it harder to concentrate.
Although a little bit of stress can be a motivating factor, if it gets out of hand it can stop your child from performing at their best. To get those feelings out of their system, encourage them to talk freely to you, friends or their tutors. Having a healthy balance is crucial; make sure that your child has sufficient play time and time out doing something that they enjoy. A child that is happy, confident and at ease will feel encouraged to work hard regardless of whether you have decided you want your child to sit the 11-plus exam or not. A few words of gentle encouragement, frequent praise and an explanation that exams are not the be all and end all will go a long way to improve your child’s confidence, the 11-plus journey and ultimately their results.