1- Does your child have a chance?
2- Cut off points for success & how to interpret
3- General tips for preparation
Does your child have a chance?
Let me start with a positive note. I am a believer
in the notion that every child, given the chance, can achieve a great deal. This
is the most valuable and eternally refreshing conviction I inherited from my full
time teaching experience.
Call me a hypocrite if you like, but I also believe in the parents right to acquire
the best possible education for their children. Be it in private school or state
selective school or through private tuition. If you can afford it, many private schools
are better equipped to deal with the demands of learning that will get your child
to a good university, and good luck to you. There are also those state-grammar schools
that are second to none in preparing your child for the elite route to the top. However,
these selective schools offer only a limited, very highly sought after places and
these places are targeted not only by those who are not fortunate enough to afford
private primary education, but also by those who prefer not having to pay a private
secondary school when they can enjoy equivalent quality of teaching in these selective
schools. So, the competition is extremely tough, especially for the children coming
from the state route. In fact, over 70% of the places offered by the state selective
schools, are taken up by the candidates from the private sector, where 11+ preparations
are taken for granted. What then? Should the children attending local junior school
forget about it? Certainly not. In fact, this is the very reason why majority of
the places go to more "fortunate" kids. There are so many able children out there
who can break the barrier with a little guidance and encouragement and a lot of determination
on the part of their parents. As parents, all we need to do is to create a platform
of level playing field for our loved ones. First, we must ourselves believe they
can do it. Otherwise, don’t even think about it, as the result of failure could be
devastating for the child. Be honest with them while trying to raise their self-esteem.
Tell them it will not be easy, but if they are prepared to put the effort in and
with a bit of luck they can succeed. Don’t get me wrong; the word "luck" is not used
as a metaphor here, but in its face value. Indeed, even the most capable private
school pupils need a bit of luck in the 11+ exams, as all is done and dusted in a
matter of 2.5 hours after months of preparation, and years of anxiety.
Cut off points for success & how to interpret them
Just browse over the Internet
with 11+ as any part of the keyword and you will be presented with thousands of links
to a variety of sites ranging from practice paper retailers, tutor lists, online
test sites to forums, information sites, official 11+ consortium's pages etc. In
all these sites you will find oceans of information about 11+ history, discussions
about the pros and cons of 11+ politics, case studies, chat rooms filled with heartfelt
messages from anxious, ecstatic, devastated, worried, waiting, relieved parents,
statistical details about pass marks, articles about standardized scores, complex
standard deviation lectures, waiting lists etc. etc. etc. Everyone has a thing or
two to say about the subject. Just when you begin to understand the gist of hundreds
of explanations to your burning question, there comes another one throwing you off
course, giving you hope to enthusiastically continue searching for more punishment
or ruining your day by pointing to a fact you never thought of before.
The reason why you can't get a straight answer to your simple question on the other
hand, is made even more complicated by the "profoundly intricate act" of daring to
ask the right question in the first place. Official sites prefer to keep their cards
close to their chest, while there are so many willing participants who inadvertently
muddy the waters in their genuine desire to extend a helping hand. Don't get me wrong
though. There is plenty of useful information out there for the determined parents
who can distinguish between do-gooders' hearsay blabbering and credible factual figures.
So, what percentage scores our children would need to achieve in order to be able
to gain admission to schools of their choice? Every 11+ region has its own examination
system and scoring scheme. There are of course many parallels between all the regions
as far as subject areas and question categories are concerned. Our chosen area for
this discussion is Essex and we shall base our findings on the facts and figures
of this region. Let us start with some background information and useful definitions.
There are three components for Essex 11+ examination. 1- English, 2- Maths and 3-
Verbal Reasoning. English is usually a 40 minutes test and has various categories
of questions with differing values totalling 50 marks. English (on average) counts
for 25% of the whole 11+ exam. Maths paper also counts for about 25%, lasts for 35
minutes and roughly has 35-45 marks in total. Verbal Reasoning usually has 90 questions
(in 45 minutes) each with 1 mark and counts for about 50% of the whole exam. As you
can see, weight of each paper is given as an approximation. I shall explain the reason
behind this a little further down the article. However, first I would like to say
a few words concerning the relationship between these figure and the admission criteria
for Essex selective schools.
Every year, approximately four thousand children take
the 11+ exams through CSSE. Nearly 15% of the year 6 population of the covered area.
There are in total 12 Consortium schools in Essex. Their total admission number (both
boys and girls) is 1197. So, roughly about 30% of the exam sitters gain admission
to these schools (about 4% of the total number of pupils eligible for secondary schools).
In other words your child's average 11+ score should be high enough to be ranked
within the first 30% of the exam sitters to gain admission to one of these schools.
However, the actual admission process is not as simple as that. Outcome also depends
on the breakdown of the preferences list on the Local Authority Common Application
form. There is also a third dimension to this, affected by the two-tier admission
system adopted by some of the schools (eg. Southend & Westcliff split their intake
into two groups of pupils - catchment area and non-catchment area).
procedure for secondary school admission in Essex has been changing over the years.
Currently, you are restricted to choice of 4 schools in total, including both comprehensive
and grammar schools. So, your order of preference must be carefully considered against
all eventualities. Generally speaking your list of four schools should reflect your
preferences in a descending order. However, at least one of your choices should be
a catchment area comprehensive school to make sure your child does not end up without
a school to go to, if not successful in 11+. Furthermore, the list should also reflect
the general popularity order of the schools to be selected. In other words, there
is no point in placing the school with highest popularity second or third, as your
child will not gain admission to that school even if his/her score is above that
school's cut-off mark. First, choose the 4 schools you are likely to accept (including
at least one comp). Then, list the selective schools of your choice in the order
of their popularity ranking. Finally, putting the comprehensive school(s) last. Here
is an example:
You opted for 3 selective and one catchment area secondary schools.
Let's say that your 3 chosen selective schools in the order of your preference were:
1- WestCliff for Boys, 2- Colchester Royal Grammar and 3- Southend for Boys. Let
us also assume that this in fact was also the order you placed them in the application
form, with the local comp last. Your child's results came through in May and the
average score is 81%. That means your child has almost certainly scored high enough
to gain admission to any one of those schools. Your son would now have been admitted
to your first choice WestCliff High for Boys, which you had always wanted anyway.
But, you could have actually wasted one of your choices: Colchester Royal Grammar
School. Should you have subsequently changed your mind in favour of your second choice
school, it could have been too late. If, on the other hand, you had put Colchester
Royal Grammar first and WestCliff as second, you could have always rejected Colchester
Royal Grammar and opted for your second choice, as you would still have had a high
enough score amongst the second choice candidates to gain admission to WestCliff.
Popularity rankings of these schools are greatly affected by their performances in
the GCSE and A level exams. ie. Their positioning in the secondary school league
tables. For boys, most popular schools are: Colchester Royal Grammar School, King
Edward VI Grammar School and Westcliff High School for Boys and for girls: Chelmsford
County High School for Girls, Colchester County High School for Girls and Westcliff
High School for Girls. However, there may be yearly variations. It all depends on
the make up of the applicants. Some purely decide on the popularity order and distance
to travel is not an issue or even moving house is a viable option. While others just
go for the nearest one. Furthermore, even league tables show variations from year
to year as far as GCSE and A level results are concerned. Besides, there is always
the opportunity to change at the sixth form stage. Nevertheless, the general conception
of popularity still favours the top 2-3 schools.
Now, let's get back to the actual
scoring system employed and how this effects where your child ends up in the order
of merit list. I mentioned that the average weights of each component of the 11+
exams were 25%, 25% and 50 % for English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning respectively.
However, these figures are not absolute as the weights are further adjusted relative
to the general success rate in each subject area attained for the year. In other
words, the average score of all the participants for each topic is first calculated
and serves as the benchmark for that component. Then where a child's score stand
relative to that average figure determines the 'standard deviation' value for that
child. Standard deviation figure could be + or - depending on whether that child's
score for the topic is above or below the average mark. Finally, using the standard
deviation values, all the scores for that topic are standardized.
Why, you may ask,
go to all this trouble of complicating the issue, when you can simply use the percentage
figures to arrive at the total score. This system is used to ensure that children's
rankings fairly reflect their levels of attainment, not only for that year, but also
in historical terms. As degree of difficulty varies for each subject area from year
to year and overall ability of a child is intended to be measured, it is difficult
to argue against the need to employ this procedure. A good example is the last year’s
exam. In 2006 maths test was quite easy, the verbal reasoning was fair and English
was one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, over the last 10-15 years.
Subsequently, high marks in English reflected more favourably in the overall score
than the allocated 25% and could have increased the total by as much as 2-3 equivalent
When you browse the Internet you will often come across sources
quoting 80% as the total average score needed to gain admission to one of the top
2 schools. The cut-off point varies every year, but this figure is given as the minimum
required to ensure entry in all circumstances and therefore represents the ceiling.
Last year (2006) about 72% was good enough to get into any one of these schools,
provided that your English score was above the average. Obviously, there have been
occasions when you did actually need that 80%.
Please also bear in mind that when
you actually receive the results in early May, they will not be set out in percentages.
You will have the ratio of correct answers/total number of questions for each subject.
Then you will have the total standardized score and finally your ranking for your
choice of schools against the total number of applicants for that school. The list
will include all the schools up to and including the school your child is accepted
to. Also, do not be surprised if your child's ranking for the school he/she is accepted
to falls outside the admission capacity for that school. This is due to the fact
that the initial rankings include all applicants, whether first choice or otherwise,
and the list for that school will be further adjusted in terms of first choice candidates
only. In other words, for your first choice school you will have priority over the
second or third choice candidates even though their scores may be higher than your
The admission criteria is further complicated by those second choice candidates
achieving very high scores and opting to reject their first choice schools. This
is a bit of a grey area and I do not think it will serve a useful purpose to dwell
upon this too deeply at this stage.
And alas, there is ultimately the final frontier
- the waiting list process. Children scoring outside the cut-off point for their
first choice school will automatically be put on the waiting list for that school,
where they will stay until the end of first week of the start of term in September
or until they move high enough in the list to fall inside the admission number. If
your child is quite low down on the waiting list, initially you may see that he/she
will move up fairly rapidly up the list until shortly after the deadline for rejecting
schools passes. Then the move will markedly slow down and stop. Eventually, there
may be 1 or 2 more people dropping out the list, but that's it.
General tips for preparation
So, what can you do, as parents, to give your child
the best possible chance to succeed?
I shall discuss this under three main sub-headings.
1- Practice makes perfect
There are many categories of questions in the three subject
areas in Essex. Make a list of all these categories under each subject. Looking at
last 5-6 year's past exam papers you can compile a comprehensive list that will cover
most, if not all, question types.
English is easier to analyse. Basically, you have the comprehension section, where
the questions range from true and false statements, equivalent words section, choice
of descriptive phrases relating to the passage, closest meaning questions, express
with your own words questions etc. Then there are the punctuation and grammar questions(s).
Maths questions on the other hand, come from a larger pool covering many areas. Simple
additions and subtractions, decimals, fractions and percentages, measurements, problem
solving, graphs, pie charts, date and time calculations, areas, angles, formulae,
geometrical shapes, sequences, symmetry, patterns, averages, probabilities, temperatures
Verbal Reasoning has about 25 categories of questions in total, ranging from
words with opposite meaning, closest words, compound words, incomplete words, jumbled
words, hidden words, sums, letter series, number series, words x codes, arranged
words, true statement, jumbled sentences, unrelated words, word pairs with a missing
letter, number coded words etc. Then there are the questions where you need to move
a letter from one word to another to make two new words or completing sentences with
a choice of given pair of words etc. The list goes on.
You need to make sure that
all these question types are cover in your child's revision process. There are great
deals of material to work with. You can obtain last two years' past paper for English
and Maths from the consortium (due to copyright considerations you won't be able
to get the actual verbal reasoning papers). Almost all bookshops sell 11+ practice
papers from many different publishers. Internet is an endless pit for these. However,
you must make sure you make an educated choice when buying practice papers. Check
and see if they cover question categories relevant to your region. Otherwise, you
may inadvertently cram your child's brain with unnecessary information.
get your child to do as many comprehension practices as possible. Device different
ways of enhancing their vocabulary - vocabulary is the most important single area
that will have a great bearing not only for the English test, but also for the Verbal
Reasoning. You could for example write the words on pieces of card with the meaning
or equivalent/opposite on the other site. You could play a game to see who will get
the most words right, giving one mark for each meaning, opposite or equivalent for
the card picked at random. Ask your child to read an article or a passage from a
book, then ask them to tell you the main points of the story in their own words,
helping them at each opportunity for a better choice of word. You could take sentences
from a book and remove the punctuation and ask them to complete these, then show
them how much of it they got right. For maths and verbal reasoning start with repetitive
practise questions for each category. Let them do one type of question for a day
or two. Then introduce another category and so on. Then combine few categories together
eventually going onto doing the timed full practice papers.
Let them do as many full
practice papers as possible in all subjects, without actually overworking them to
an extent that they loose interest. Try and device ways of making them enjoy the
tests, by structuring the papers so that the children see their progress at every
step and are encouraged by it.
Make sure you give them at least 4-5 full mock tests
under exam conditions - that is, precisely as laid down in the actual 11+ exams.
English first (35 minutes), 10-15 minute break, maths (40 minutes), 30 minutes break
and verbal reasoning (45-50 minutes), with time reminders every 15-20 minutes. If
you can, do one of the mocks in a non-local library that may be useful. Try to find
the best corner that simulates exam conditions.
Remember that you are dealing with
a 10-year-old child. Don't expect their concentration span to be anywhere close to
an adult's. So, make sure your revision sessions do not go beyond an hour. Do it
regularly without fail but limit it to an hour each time. (Only the mock tests should
go beyond this) Try to work out at what part of the day your child's comprehensive
faculties are at their best. Some do extremely well after playing with friends for
an hour or so, others may be sharper and more attentive early in the morning before
school. Plan the practice sessions at least a day in advance. Make sure not only
you know the answers to each question, but the methods of working them out which
best suits your child as well.
Going through hundreds of practice papers alone does not get your
child to one of those top-notch schools, unless your child is thought methodically
and progressively. The actual exam will feel nothing like the practice sessions done
in the familiar circumstances and comfort of your home.
There are two sides to the methodology question. First one is of a strategic nature
and concerns the general approach to the whole exam process. The other is to do with
the actual ways of working out the answers for individual question groups.
and far most, it is very important to get your child into the habit of reading the
question carefully to ensure what is actually asked is understood correctly. Most
mistakes are made by rushing into working out the answers without fully reading the
question. Having repetitively solved so many questions of similar wording, the child
may fall into the habit of jumping to conclusions after the first few words and skip
reading the rest of the question. You must teach your child to guard against this
tendency. Sometimes questions may have bolded words that serve as clues to what is
required. However, this is not the rule and there may be instances when testing the
child's comprehensive ability as well as knowledge is intended. In such cases it
is very easy to fall into the trap of giving the right answers, but to a wrong question.
Here is a simple example: You have 3 red, 5 blue, 4 yellow, 7 black and 2 white marbles
in a bag. To win a price you need to pick a red ball. What is the probability of
not winning a price? The answer is 1/7. Or is it?
Another common problem concerns
the English test. Children are usually given a long passage to read and then answer
questions to measure their comprehensive abilities. In their haste to avoid wasting
time, children tend to read the passage quickly and start answering the questions
from memory. But, the memory, which is a product of the whole process of growing
up, is also full of ideas about rights and wrongs, hard learned opinions about facts
of life, value judgements, conditioning etc etc. So, during the process of answering
the comprehension questions these fragments of information creep in and the child
takes the easy way out by choosing an answer form his/her own experience. However,
what is required is what is written in the relevant part of the article, what the
author thinks about the subject that may or may not coincide with child's own reckoning.
Hence, the child must let the author do the answering, by going back to the relevant
section of the passage and checking each time before making a choice, even if this
means a question or two is left unanswered due to time restrictions. What really
counts is not whether or not the child answers all the questions, but how many questions
he/she gets correct.
You must help your child to get into a habit of working out the answers patiently,
but efficiently. You must also help your child find ways of holding that concentration
span for the duration of each test paper. In addition, after each paper is completed
he/she needs to completely forget that one, stop reflecting on what is done and set
his/her mind to the next task.
As far as the actual methods of working out the answers
are concerned, my advice would be to use the appropriate method for each question
category each time, especially in the early stages and make sure that your child
works out the answers on the actual practice paper. As she/he gets proficient on
mentally working out some of the easier operations, there is no need to waste time
on insisting that they do these in writing. However, some categories must always
be worked out on paper to avoid mistakes. Short divisions, products outside the times
table for instance, are best done on paper. Also, there are those categories of questions
where method must be marked out, tabled or steps should be displayed. Otherwise,
not only silly mistakes will easily creep in, but also child's mind will endure extra
stress that may have a diverse effect on performance. Transfer the burdening information
on to the paper so that the mind can concentrate on the reasoning.
You must not loose
sight of the uncultivated characteristics of a 10-year-old child's cognitive faculties.
While you have a virtually unlimited capacity of fresh memory bank to work with,
how you input into this highly receptive, yet analytically naive pool, will have
a great bearing on how the child will perform. Never underestimate child's ability
to learn, but keep it structured and simple. Be patient until they are comfortable
with the method. Release the information progressively; making sure each step is
digested before going on to the next.
Sometimes a child may have a mental block on a category or two and no matter how
hard you try you may not resolve the problem. Do not dwell upon it as if it is a
life and death issue. Do not avoid those questions categories, but just repeat the
method in a matter of fact manner and pass on to the next. It may very well be the
method that is lacking, try changing it. You know your child best, so modify the
method to suit his/her strengths. There are a maximum of 7 or 8 questions to a category
in verbal reasoning and in maths 3-or 4 is the limit. So, if push comes to shove,
it is not the end of the world and that category can be left out. The child can still
achieve a high score without it. What is worse is your child going to the exam dreading
that category will come up. Not only the anxiety could have an adverse effect on
the concentration, but also the time wasted for that category could mean not being
able to answer more questions in the strong categories.
Most question types, especially
in maths and verbal reasoning, can be made easier to work out and less error prone
by applying a specific method that can be adapted to your child's way of thinking.
However, the operative phrase here is that the child must be comfortable with it.
Lets take a simple maths example:
6x + 8 = 44
Work out the value of x.
This is an
equation. For any given equation you can change numbers round, add subtract, multiply
or divide as long as both sides of the equal sign always remain equal. The idea is
to leave x on its own on one side, while keeping the equation true. To do that we
must do to one side of the equation exactly what we intend to do to the other side.
Method 1: What do we have to do to leave x on its own. First, we must get rid of
the 8. So, we must take off 8 from the left hand side of the equation (6x + 8 - 8).
What do we have to do to make sure the equation is still true: we must do the same
to the other side, i.e. subtract 8. So, the equation now becomes: 6x + 8 - 8 = 44
- 8. Next we must simplify the equation by working out the subtraction on both sides.
So, 6x = 36. Now we must get rid of 6 from the 6x (remember 6x means 6 times x).
But, the rule says we must do the same to the right hand side as well to keep the
equation true. We must divide the right hand side with 6 as well. Now the equation
becomes: 6x/6=36/6. If we simplify, the sixes on the left side cancel each other
out: x=36/6, so x=6.
Method 2: In any equation we can move an item from one side
to the other as long as we apply the rules for doing so. What are the rules: We must
first move the stand-alone numbers to the other side. Stand-alone numbers would always
have either a plus (+) or a minus (-) value. In our example 8 has a + value. When
we move one of these to the other side of the equation we must change its sign (+
becomes - and - becomes +). So our equation becomes: 6x=44-8, which is 6x=36. Now
we have to move 6 to the other side so that x is left on its own. 6 is a multiplication
(6 times x). Any multiplication when moved to the other side becomes a division,
and visa versa (any division when moved on to the other side becomes multiplication).
So our 6 in front of the x moves to the other side as a division. Equation now becomes:
x=36/6. Hence, x=6
And a verbal reasoning example:
Katie, Adam, Lucy, Ranjit and
Richard all wear school uniform.
Katie, Adam and Ranjit wear ties.
Ranjit wears a
Richard hates the uniform but wears a blazer and a tie.
Lucy and Katie wear
Adam wears a blazer but no hat.
Who wears the least items of uniform? (
First lets make sure what the question asks: Least number
This type of question needs a table to make sure we make no silly errors.
There are 5 kids and 3 items of clothing. So we draw a table with 6 columns and 4
rows (extra column and row are for the headings) and starting from the first line
of information mark the items on the table.
So Lucy is the answer.
3- Time management
Don't leave it to the last few weeks. Give them at least 2-3 months or more to practice
their time management skills. This is one area you should not compromise on. This
might make all the difference. In the last few months of preparation do not compromise
on time to encourage your child. Find other ways of building their self-confidence.
Praise them for correct answers, especially in their weak areas.
In the early stages,
show your child the suitable method of working out the answer, and then let them
do a number of questions on their own until they get it right. Give them as much
time as they need to work out the answers correctly. Do this for all question categories.
Then give them practice papers with mixed categories. Gradually encouraging them
to do these quicker and quicker. With each paper, write the time taken to complete
on the paper. Eventually, they should only be allowed the time stated on the actual
paper. During this whole process you should be able to gather enough information
to compile a list of your child's strong and weak categories relative to time. Time
is the operative word here. Your child may be very good in answering some categories,
but if he/she takes longer than that question merits, than that would be counted
as a weak category.
Remember, this is a race with almost 4,000 other kids against
time. Ability to answer all the questions correctly is not enough. The challenge
is to be able to correctly answer more questions than rest of the top 30% in the
given time. So many kids will be clustered at or around the cut-off point that even
one more correct answer in any one of the 3 topics could make all the difference.
So your child must work efficiently and systematically and utilize every second of
those 2 hours productively to make his/her dream come through, or rather your dream
as the case may be.
First, establish a list of weak and strong question categories
for your child, not forgetting to include time as another determining dimension in
your analysis. A very important factor to consider here is that each category would
merit varying amount of time. Some question categories are designed to be answered
quicker than others. In other words, not all categories carry the same weight as
far as time is concerned. While you may need more than the average time allowed (total
time for the test divided by total number of questions) for some questions, you will
make up that lost time from other categories that need much shorter time to work
out. Now, put them in order from strong to weak. However, don't forget even the weak
category will contain one or two easy questions which can be answered within the
appropriate time. Then, get your child into a habit of answering the strong categories
first. Your child should start the test from the beginning working her/his way through
until a weak category is arrived at. Answer any question in that category that are
exceptionally easy and mark all the others with a circle around the question number
and go on to the next category and so on. Once the end of the test is reached, if
there is any time left, go back to the beginning and scan through the questions with
circles around them and find the least difficult category amongst them to work on.
Then the next least difficult and so on. By doing this you would have made sure that
all the 'easy' questions are completed and you will have no regrets reflecting back
on the test.
Also, as the verbal reasoning test this year will be multiple choice,
your child should leave himself/herself one or two minutes to go through the answer
sheet and mark all the unanswered questions with any answer. 20% chance of getting
a question your child finds impossible to answer right is better than no chance.
Besides, for some difficult questions the child may be able to reduce the possible
answers down to two and the probability would than go up to 50%.
I can hear you thinking,
how can you expect a 10 year old child to adapt such a complex strategy, especially
when they are racing against time. Children are able to accomplish a lot more than
we give them credit for, as long as the benefits of such tactics are demonstrated
to them in real life during their practice sessions.
I will conclude this longer
than intended introductory episode with a couple of pointers.
Passing the 11+ exams
is only the beginning of this rather difficult path to success, but it is a solid
beginning. You will find, especially in year 7, that there will be a lot of hard
work at school and at home, so the parents participation would need to be a continuous
You may also find that despite all efforts you child was not able to gain
admission to the nearest selective school. Personally, I would do all in my power
to make sure my child goes to whatever grammar school he/she is accepted to. Using
the consortium busses is one alternative, though not cheap. I would even consider
Finally, in the event that your child is unable to get into any one
of these selective schools, there is one thing that is certain. Your child will reap
the benefits of all that hard work whatever secondary school he/she attends to. Admittedly,
the success rate for the comprehensive schools is a lot lower than those of the selective
ones, but it is almost certain that a child who has gone through all the prep work
for the 11+ will be one of the top achievers.