How hard is it to prepare for an 11+ Grammar School Entrance Exam

Just how hard is it to prepare for an 11+ Grammar School Entrance Exam?

At Peterborough Tuition we’re all about teaching, tutoring and assessment, so let’s start with a quick question.


Which type of parent are you?

Which of the following do you believe, A, B or C?

  • A) “The grammar school system is a wonderful institution and only the best prepared can get in.”
  • B) “The grammar school system is one f the last bastions of elitism in the education system and all of the remaining grammar schools should be converted to mixed-ability comprehensives.”
  • C) “Eh? What’s a grammer school then?” (sic)

If you’re a Type A person then whether your child’s in years 3, 4 or 5 you’re no doubt already following a grammar school preparation programme.

Or, if your’re a Type B person, you wouldn’t dream of sending your child to such a terrible, hot-housing place. You’re either ok with the local state comprehensive (with perhaps some additional support for your child in key subject areas) or you’re juggling finances to cover private school fees.

But what if you’re a Type C person?

What if you’re someone who’s travelled along years 1, 2, 3 and 4 and maybe even part of their year 5 parenting journey and then realises or remembers there’s a grammar school in the vicinity and thinks…

“Oh. Yes, my child will soon to go up to their secondary school, but that’s going to be that local one, and I’ve heard it’s not very good. I wonder if they could go to that grammar one just a bit further away?”

And it’s then that the Type C person opens a browser using their latest piece of kit and Googles, “How to get into a grammar school”.

It’s about then that the enormity of the task ahead begins to become clearer for them.

Problem one – Time, or lack thereof

Let’s assume the Type C parent has a child in year 5 and hasn’t read up on grammar school entrance papers and suchlike.

So they won’t have considered that there’s more to getting in than simply being strong in the subjects taught in their child’s Key Stage Two classes.

Specifically, the perceived wisdom within UK schooling is that children can’t, or shouldn’t be tutored, in any way, for the 11+ test and so it’s not something that’s allocated very much, if any, time in their school’s hectic year 5 timetable.

Furthermore, and notwithstanding the above no-tutoring viewpoint, many other parents will have decided, whilst their children were in year 4, that they’d quite like their own children to get into that grammar school.

They will have therefore been either home tutoring their child, or having their child work with a tutor for the past twelve months, or more.

This means that the children of a Type C parent will need to make up for their late entry into the grammar school preparation routine by being extra busy, in multiple ways.

Unfortunately, however, children never do as well when they’re rushed, so it’s even harder for them than they expect.

Problem two – Not all grammar school entrance tests are equal

A further spanner in the works when Type C parents get on board with the whole 11+ preparation shooting match is this one of differening entrance requirements.

Specifically, when comparing grammar schools across England, different areas set different amounts papers which can be from different exam providers.

This means that students applying for a grammar school in one location might have to pass just two papers, eg, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

Elsewhere, however, candidates for another school might have to pass four papers – and then sit a second exam if they clear the hurdle of the pass mark set for those first set of papers.

And a further variation is this:

In many grammar school tests achieving a ‘pass mark’ in the exams (approximately 85% or higher) should mean their place is ‘safe’.

At other schools, however, all this would mean is they’re up for possible selection for one of the coveted places instead.

Nobody said the system was fair, it just ‘is what it is’.

Again, this is something that canny Type A parents would have researched during year 3 or 4 but Type C parents wouldn’t have even thought about.

“Can you help me tutor my child for the 11+?”

And so as a way of outlining some of the steps required for late preparation for the 11+ I’ve replicated below the essence of a reply I gave to a parent who recently contacted us and asked about help with preparing their child for their local grammar school.

I’ve changed a few details, but the broad facts were these:

  • Their child was in year 5 and we had approximately 65 days until they were due to take their 11+ exams.
  • Their location was one which expected candidates to pass papers in four papers, namely, Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Reasoning & Comprehension
  • They’d recently purchased some 11+ papers but weren’t sure how to help him get better at doing them
  • Their child wasn’t too confident with the basic maths and English rules
  • Vocabulary wasn’t their strongest suit either
  • The grammar schools in their area were at least 5x oversubscribed.

Your seven week game-plan

“Thanks for your reply (and advance apologies for the length of mine but …)

Mmm, yes, I would say you’re cutting it rather fine, as regards time left to prepare.

Yes, it is possible, but we’d really need to be picking up the pace quite a bit, from tonight in fact!

Remember: the tests happen around 18th Sept, which is only 67 days away.

Also, since your target school is 5x oversubscribed, many other children will have been preparing since year 4 and have been living the 11+ 24/7 for the last few months.

Slow steady preparation is easier (for parents and their children!), however, it’s possible to move the needle and improve scores with focus in the last few weeks.

As you’re no doubt aware, your son will need to score highly in 4 papers:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Non-Verbal Reasoning
  3. Numerical Reasoning &
  4. Comprehension

Some grammar schools only test across two papers, but your target one, er… sorry!

To do this he’ll need to become au fait with the 21 different question types in the Verbal Reasoning papers, understand how to derive the correct graphics in Non-Verbal Reasoning questions, handle relatively straight-forward maths Very. Quickly.

And then interpret a selected text like a boss!

All that whilst having a well-developed vocabulary.

So, where should we start?

Step 1

Step 1 is, from this moment onward, he needs to be acting like mental flypaper for every new word he sees or hears – if he doesn’t know what it means, how to spell it, etc he needs to grab an A5 notepad and jot it down.

Then later, hit the dictionary and confirm what it means plus the antonyms and synonyms, etc.

The more wordplay he can do the easier the VR and comprehension will be for him.

Step 2

Step 2, NVR. That ability comes from being shown how to interpret the questions and quickly derive the answer from the other red herrings on show.

Step 3

Step 3, Numerical reasoning means having a top level maths brain but NOT for anything more complex than high KS2 work, so yes, he needs to let his confidence grow and trust he’s right… then move onto the next question.

Unfortunately, by July you don’t really have a ‘which one first’ option, it’s all at the same time.

And that’s about it really!

The fact is every year children do score highly and so your son’s in with a fighting chance, if he’s nudged in the right direction.

He needs to quickly get up to speed with the papers.

No offence to what you’ve done so far but if I’m reading you right you feel he’s not there yet.

Which means he needs to complete them, have them marked, identify his method errors, present better ways of working and then work with those methods in his next paper, etc.

So, Mr Parent, having read the above, do you think you we can get your son to work through, say 3-4 papers a week, with perhaps 1, 1/2 or 2 hours a week of tutoring to prime him so she’s not spinning his heels?

What’s your thoughts; it’d be an interesting journey and the rewards could make it worthwhile.

I’m not aiming to put you off, just want you to know how much five or more other boys are fighting to have that chance to sit behind the grammar school desk that’s rightfully your son’s.”

What would you do?

Rather like that old joke about when a lost traveller asks a local about how to get to some particular location and is told, “Oh if I were you I wouldn’t start from here”, beginning tutoring around the end of year 5 is never an easy journey.

Comment below and say whether you’d be a type A, B or C parent, and if you were type C, how did you get on with the last-start.

It can work for some families but the late starting pupils are always having to play catch-up with their preparation compared to the others.

A better way to prepare

We tutor students throughout the year, whether that’s to support their 11+ exam preparation or to improve their maths or English skills.

We also help with private school scholarship exam entrance and so if you’d like to explore this further, please do not hesitate to hit the link below and let us know how we could help you.

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