11+ exam support: to tutor or not to tutor?

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, 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 a number of factors that are unique to every situation. In this blog, I’ve covered 5 Frequently Asked 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
  • Understanding the 11+

What if we speak a different language at home? Is the 11+ 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 11+ tests have a strong mathematical or reasoning element, which may allow children for whom English isn’t a first language to show their potential, though it’s worth remembering that instructions in the exam will be given in English.

However, the English element of the 11+ paper 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. Each of these subjects are tested at 11+ and SATs, as well as during secondary school so it will not harm your child to develop these skills in addition to their school work.

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

The 11+ will test your child’s ability to think critically, respond to instructions and work under pressure. It may be useful to practise these skills, either with you or a 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 in a test that is really important to them.

Additionally, some of the tests may be in unfamiliar formats such as multiple-choice, or test new subjects areas that they don’t cover in all schools like Verbal or 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 a 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 plus 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 11+ 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 a wealth of information available, though, to equip parents who are seeking to prepare children for the 11+ themselves, including the Bond website and Parents’ Guide to the 11+. Using these, and the information from the secondary school your child is seeking to attend to build a full understanding of what is needed, alongside 11+ practice material to build and hone skills, this option works for many families.

Liz Heesom


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