11+ exams – When should you start preparing?


So you know that you would like your child to sit the 11+ exam, but you might have conflicting thoughts:

  • If you don’t start preparing soon enough, will your child be capable of sitting the 11+? You have heard that some children began tutoring when they started Reception, is it already too late?!
  • If you do a lot of preparation, does this mean that your child isn’t naturally bright enough and may struggle at grammar school?
  • What if your child peaks too soon and is sick of answering 11+ questions by the time the exam arrives?
  • Should you book a tutor and if so, when should you start looking for one?
  • How should you prepare your child at home, should you panic-buy every book with 11+ on the front?

Every year, hundreds of parents ask themselves these questions. The 11+ process can be quite demanding and requires a lot of commitment from both parents and children, so it’s natural that you’ll be worried about whether you’re making the ‘right’ choices when preparing your child. In this blog, I’m going to look at one of the most common question parents have about the 11+: when should I start preparing my child for the 11+?

Before Year 4

Before Year 4 your preparation might focus on building the skills needed prior to starting 11+ work. Some children need additional maths to secure core basics or English to build vocabulary and this is the time to strengthen these skills.

After Year 4

From Year 4 onwards, determining the best time to start 11+ preparation is based on the following three questions:

  1. How academic is your child? Is your child gifted academically? Are their school reports always well above average? Are your child’s results above average in their SATs/CATs/PIEs/PIMs or whichever system your primary school uses? Does your child’s teacher feel that passing the 11+ is achievable for your child?
  2. How academic is the school that you are applying for? Are the 11+ subjects tested strengths or weaknesses for your child? How many 11+ subjects are tested? What score does your child need to attain? How over-subscribed is the school? How many children from your child's primary school go to your chosen secondary school?
  3. What is your child’s learning style? Does your child enjoy reading and studying? Does your child pick up new information quickly? Does your child need much consolidation to reinforce skills and techniques? Would your child work better with short intensive periods of study or a slower, more gradual approach to studying?

How long do I need?

Once you have the answers to these questions you can then plan when to start your 11+ preparation. If your child is excellent in literacy, your 11+ is one exam in English and the pass rate easily achievable, your child might only need a few weeks to work through some mock test papers. However, if your child is average at school, the 11+ exam for your chosen grammar school tests all four subjects (maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness) and the standard needed is extremely high, you would need to begin earlier – most likely at least a year of regular practice, increasing the amount exam practice in the last few months before the exam.

General advice

There are opportunities to build your child’s core 11+ skills everywhere – perhaps some quickfire word games on long journeys, or through a game of Scrabble or completing a crossword together. Similarly, you could build maths skills by asking your child to total up the value of your shopping on a quick trip out for groceries, interpret bus or train timetables or through logic puzzles like Sudoku.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of reading either. Your child should be reading as broad a range of material as possible, so try tempting them with some different genres and format types (reading a factual piece on a website still counts!). Do also continue to listen to them read, helping them with vocabulary they don’t know and asking them questions around the text to explore their understanding.

Michellejoy Hughes


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