In our GoStudent Personal Stories, we talk to real people about real experiences. Gain insight into education and learning trends as well as authentic advice from experts.
I’m here today with our GoStudent team member Mya. Mya is the team lead for Tutor Recruitment here at GoStudent. Mya also has extensive experience with 11+ tutoring and it’s her passion to help prepare students for this important exam.
How would you explain the 11+ exam to parents who have never heard of it before?
In general, the 11+ exam is an entrance exam that has to be used for grammar school entry and independent school entry. There’s also the 7+ and the 13+ exam but the 11+ is the most common and the most competitive. To obtain a place at grammar or independent school you have to pass the 11+.
In your experience, what are the most common concerns of parents whose children are taking the exam?
There’s a big knowledge gap in terms of understanding what the 11+ actually is. Sometimes, especially if you’re going to an independent school, you’ll go to something called a ‘feeder school’ or a ‘prep school’ which will specifically prepare students to sit the 11+ exam for independent school entry. I won’t lie, it’s actually very rare that you’d send a child to that kind of school, especially if you’re looking for grammar school entry. What that means is that parents are left very much in the dark in terms of what the 11+ exam is, what the content is and how to pass it.
Schools in general aren’t that helpful when it comes to understanding what the 11+ exam is. They want to make it more difficult to pass because then they don’t have to whittle down as many candidates. There’s not that much specific content out there on what the 11+ exam really is. Parents also usually have concerns about how competitive the exam is, especially if they’re trying to get into a grammar school. These schools are very oversubscribed and usually only have a handful of places compared to the number of applicants.
Parents are also not very sure if they can find the right support either. A lot of the time they don’t really know who to turn to which is why I would recommend getting a tutor. In general, these are the kind of exams you really need to get a tutor for. You need a specialist who understands exactly what the content of the exam is and also about the specific school. Especially with independent schools, every exam is going to be slightly different.
How far in advance should parents start preparing their children for the exam?
It depends on whether they’re doing grammar school entry or independent school entry. For grammar school entry we’d recommend between 18-24 months in advance. This is because grammar school entry is far more competitive. Also, the nature of the kind of exam that you have for grammar school means that getting one question wrong can be the difference between getting a place or not.
For independent schools, probably around 12 months. It’s slightly less competitive but you do need to be learning other techniques that are important for those exams.
What are your top revision strategies when it comes to preparing for the 11+?
Every student is going to be different in their approach to learning. However, I find that little and often works well. If you revise a little every day then the information really sticks with you. If you have an exam in 2 years time and you’re learning for ten minutes every day, I can promise you that by the time you get to the exam you’ll be fully prepared. There are a lot of resources out there that you can buy that are little ten-minute tests or just a lot more palatable.
We should be aware that kids that age are already under a lot of pressure. They’ve got their SATs coming up and they would have gotten homework already. It’s difficult to stress kids out by telling them they need to do hours of revision every night. Little often is, for me, the best approach.
When it comes to revision, try to get a tutor. Not only to teach your child the techniques but also for parents to understand how realistic entry is for the student, how much time they need to spend revising closer to the exam and also the weak points, figuring out where the focus for the student and the tutor needs to be.
Lastly, my favourite is to read widely. Especially for verbal reasoning and the English exam, they’re going to throw some very difficult words at the student. The best way to pick up that vocab organically is through reading. I know a lot of kids have comfort books and will read the same book again and again but really encourage your child to read widely and challenge themselves. Read Charles Dickens or other more challenging texts. They might not be the most fun to read but they’ll put you in the best position.
What part of the 11+ exam do children usually find most difficult?
This really depends on the student. I’ve been teaching 11+ for over ten years and there are some students that just get maths and would usually use me as an English tutor and I would support that side.
I would say though that the maths exam, especially for independent school entry, is very very tricky. You are going to be thrown some questions that are more towards year 9 foundation level GCSE style. The harder maths questions, especially towards the end of the paper, that’s where they’re really trying to trip you up and they’re trying to find the most suitable and most intelligent candidates to pass.
How can a 1:1 tutor benefit children who are preparing for the 11+?
Parents can underestimate how specific it is, in the sense that you really want to get a tutor with experience to come in and say “okay so you’re applying for this school, this is the paper and these are the kind of questions that you’ll face,” and you’ll practice and practice.
The worst thing you can do is practice everything and try to do everything and do it all mediocre. When actually, if you have a tutor that understands how the exam works, they’ll be able to say “this is the kind of question that you’re going to face,” and they’ll be able to train you on how to pass. For example, for the 11+ English paper for independent school entry, you’ll need to learn a technique called PPE which is Point, Evidence, Explain. By going through specific past papers and understanding how to structure answers using the PEE model, you’ll be able to pass the exam.
Having a tutor coming in and knowing what they’re talking about is invaluable.
What should parents consider when selecting an 11+ tutor to help prepare their child for the exam?
I would definitely say some experience is really important. Once you have a full understanding of exactly what the 11+ is as a concept, you can actually adapt your understanding of what is required.
For example, if I were to take a new student and I’ve tutored three students before to get into a certain school and they want to get into a school that I haven’t tutored for before, I know that I can access past papers, adjust my teaching model and be able to help them for that specific school. Definitely having some experience is important.
I would also say motivation and drive to support the student, having an understanding of the student themselves and the weaknesses that student might have. A lot of the time, you want a tutor to come in and motivate the student. The tutor will be the one saying “you can do this, you might have got it wrong this time but here’s what you need to practice.” A lot of the time the focus is on getting the kid into the school but actually, you need a lot of soft skills to support the student and to motivate them to believe that they can do it.
What makes GoStudent 11+ tutors so special?
We interview all of our 11+ tutors and they all have to be DBS or background checked. They all also have to pass an exam in the 11+. A lot of the time, with other platforms, you can just sign up and become an 11+ tutor. With GoStudent, we really do vet our candidates to make sure they’re qualified to teach 11+. They have to take an internal exam to reflect that.
And a lot of the time, speaking from experience, 11+ tutors are very expensive. It’s very easy to fool parents and say “I’m the only one that can teach this exam and tell you how to pass it,” and they charge extortionate rates. That’s not really fair to parents or students. At GoStudent we charge very reasonable prices for tutoring for this specialist exam. We’ve removed the hard work of finding that tutor, especially when it comes to the 11+. You have to look quite far and wide because it is a specialist exam and we take the work out of finding a tutor. We match you with a tutor and you go from there to succeed!