When to Start Tutoring your Child for the 11+ Exam?

Liz Heesom is an experienced primary school teacher, specialising in languages and special needs support. She has over 30 years of experience in tutoring children for the 11+, school entrance exams, maths and English to GCSE level, as well as for more general learning support. In addition, she is an author, translator and mother of three.

That’s a very big question – and a hard one to answer! It depends on several factors that are unique to every situation. Below, I’ve covered six questions that I’ve heard again and again during my time as a tutor.

Our child is nine years old; do we need to get a tutor if she is taking the 11+?

It’s important to remember that your child is a child and so probably at school for over 30 hours per week, for 40 weeks per year. The idea of secondary school may be a long, long way off on a 9-year-old’s horizon. Tutoring sessions would be an incursion into a child’s free time, which some children may resent. It is important to respect this, but also to show your child how the next year or two might look:

  • Go through a calendar or make one together
  • Talk with your child about how they feel regarding getting support with their learning
  • Think about both your aims and the aims of your child
  • Check that you understand what the 11+ entails - you can find out more here 


What if we speak a different language at home? Is the 11+ exam an option? Will our child be at a disadvantage? Can it be helpful to have an 11+ tutor?

The ability to speak more than one language can be an advantage, developing an understanding and dexterity with language that can be really helpful. Furthermore, many eleven plus exams have a strong mathematical or reasoning element, which may allow children for whom English isn’t a first language to show their potential. It’s worth remembering, however, that instructions in the exam will be given in English.

The English element of the 11+ preparation papers really tests a deep understanding of the language, so it will be essential to make sure children read broadly and have lots of opportunities to listen to spoken English.

If your child is struggling with their English skills, it may be worth finding a tutor to work with your child on language development, building vocabulary, practising spelling, developing oral skills, and improving comprehension for 11+ preparation. Each of these subjects are tested in the 11+ and SATs, as well as during secondary school so it will not harm your child to develop these skills in addition to their schoolwork.


Our child’s primary school says it’s fine to sit the 11+ exam without any extra tuition. Is that true?

The 11+ will test your child’s ability to think critically, respond to instructions, advance skills, and work under pressure. It may be useful to practise these skills, either with a parent, guardian, or tutor, before the test to ensure that your child isn’t completely unfamiliar with the format of the test or working under exam conditions for the first time.

Additionally, some of the tests may be in unfamiliar formats such as multiple-choice, or contain new subject areas that they don’t necessarily cover in schools, like verbal and non-verbal reasoning. If these are tested in the 11+ exam your child will be sitting, some preparation would be useful, so that they are familiar with the question types before the day of the test and can compete fairly against children who have practised these question types in school.

Secondary schools with entrance exams in your area will be able to share information on how testing works for their school.


Will it harm our child if we take on the tutoring for 11+ exams?

If you have a good working relationship with your child, then working together for any exams can be fun and companionable. However, many children want their parents to be ‘Mum and Dad’ – not their teacher.

If parents have to lead their children through timed testing, working independently, or difficult new subjects, the parent/child relationship could be damaged in the process. Some children can get angry and frustrated with the process and may want to give up. Learning together can then become a frustrating battlefield with tears and tantrums. Is this helpful to your child? Is your family life going to suffer?

Additionally, parents can feel quite disheartened when they discover that their child is expected to do things that they have trouble explaining and understanding themselves. However, preparing together for this upcoming event, and learning alongside your child can be a wonderful new step. After all, lifelong learning is for everyone.


Can employing an 11+ tutor help our child and us?

For many parents it can be a relief to find someone in whom they have confidence to help support their child’s learning and development, but this entirely depends on the tutor you choose. If you find the right 11+ tutor, this extra input can be extremely valuable, bringing a wealth of specialist subject knowledge and experience in developing children’s skills.

These benefits of tuition may be felt not just for the eleven plus exam, but for your child’s general progress, confidence, and self-awareness. Working in partnership with a tutor can be a helpful and supportive step to take. A tutor will get to know your child well and, because you are employing the tutor and engaging regularly with him or her, a close triangle of communication may be set up.

There is also a wealth of information available to equip those parents who are seeking to prepare children for the 11+ themselves. The information on this website is a great place to start and it is also essential to get as many details as possible from the secondary school your child is seeking to attend. Using this guidance, alongside 11+ practice materials to build and hone skills, is an option that works for many families.


When should we start preparing our child for the 11+?

When you start preparing for the exam will depend on how confident your child is with the subject areas and how engaged they are with the idea of extra study and practice. Just don’t leave it too late to start – it can take time to build confidence and to do so in a way that does not feel rushed, and which might reinforce concerns that the exam is something to be feared.

It is also worth remembering that schools do sometimes change exam boards and that you might not be informed of this until the year before your child is due to sit the exam – so if you do start early, be sure to prepare a range of skills and approaches so that your child will feel comfortable whichever exam board they end up sitting.

Programs such as Bond 11+ offer preparation materials from age 5-6, focusing mostly on core maths and English skills, but also starting to introduce concepts such as verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

As verbal and non-verbal reasoning are often not taught in schools, introducing these question types early may be advantageous and as they generally take the form of puzzles, they can be good fun and not feel too much like work – just make sure that the problems they are looking at are age appropriate, as being presented with material that is too difficult to complete comfortably can be off-putting, especially for younger children,

Different product ranges suit some children better than others, so don’t be afraid of trying out different books and online resources – just ensure that what you are using has been developed by experts who really know the 11+ and the best ways to prepare for it. Products that are available for a range of age groups and difficulty levels can be helpful so that you can gradually increase the challenge as their skills develop, whilst keeping the format familiar.

From around age 9, it can be helpful to simulate the exam environment and focus more on speed and precision. The 11+ might be the first formal exam your child sits, so helping them not to be fazed by the environment, the need for focus, and working under time pressures would be a great benefit.

Ultimately, some practice is better than none at all and introducing 11+ practice content to your child at any stage is likely to be helpful. If you leave preparation until later, try to identify where your child is less confident early on, in order to make the most of your time.

Download the Bond Revision Planner to create a helpful, clear schedule.  

Liz Heesom

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