The 11+ is one of the most demanding and challenging examination papers, both for student sitting it and their family. Requiring a consistent and sustained effort, the 11+ will test pupils in ways they have never previously encountered. Although it is meant to be "tutor-proof", it is advisable that parents consider support for the child, as they will need to learn new techniques and processes for the exam. Having someone who isn't a parent to structure the learning timetable, can also help improve levels of progress and motivation.
The whole process can be a tricky and confusing one. As someone who has taken(and fortunately passed!) the paper and then tutored students taking it, I have garnered some small pieces of advice from my experiences over the years:
Set the record straight
Be very clear with children from the offset- the 11+ is a tough and gruelling process, which will require huge amounts of effort and dedication.
As a parent, you need to make an honest judgement of your child's abilities. If you don't feel they will pass, don't make them sit it, unless you believe it would be a good experience for them regardless. It's also important to appreciate your child's opinion when it comes to sitting the paper. If they have the ability to get through, but are dead-set against sitting it, try and persuade them about the benefits of passing and how it will give them more schools to choose from. Make it clear from the beginning that it doesn't matter if they don't get through the exam- the reason for sitting it is that it gives them more options if they do pass.
It's also worth noting that some children who are "borderline", can sometimes be coached to get through the paper. However, be honest with them and yourself and consider how comfortable they would be with the academic rigours of a grammar school. Bear in mind the buzz of passing the paper only lasts a short while- once it is over, they will then be at their school for potentially the next 7 years.
Many questions in the 11+ will be entirely unfamiliar to children, as they will never have encountered anything like it at school. It's crucial that they are introduced to the techniques required to work out these questions, especially in the Verbal and Non-Verbal papers.
Perhaps the most important aspect children will need to develop for the paper is their exposure to and knowledge of vocabulary. Having a deep and varied vocabulary considerably improves their chances of success, notably in the Verbal-Reasoning, which relies almost solely on a sound knowledge of words. Get them to start up a vocabulary book, recording any new words they encounter; encourage them to read more widely; look at suggested 11+ reading lists; play 11+ vocabulary board games and ones on the computer.
In English and Maths, they will need to be working at a higher level than the school curriculum in order to have a good chance of passing the paper. Source 11+ practice materials, workbooks and challenge/ extension resources, to stretch them. If you get the chance, discuss with their class teacher if there are any areas they require improvement in and concentrate on these alongside their work on the verbal and non-verbal papers.
Balancing the timetable
I have come across too many unfortunate instances where parents have overburdened children, piling an enormous amount of pressure upon their shoulders. Obviously, the 11+ requires children to put great effort in, but if the pressure becomes too much, they simply won't be able to cope. Countless children who were seemingly "nailed-on" to pass, have cracked under the strain of the process and have either suffered "burn-out" or "choked" during the exam.
Rather than trying to cram children with revision and practise for hours on end each day, the key is a gentle, "little and often" approach. Obviously, as the exam approaches, the workload can slowly be increased, but always at a manageable rate. It's also worth bearing in mind that those who leave preparation until the last-minute, give themselves a far lower chance of success. Cramming revision and practise in the last few weeks very rarely works and mostly just stresses out both child and parent! Don't leave it too late!
Children's lives are also so full now, stuffed with activities and after-school clubs. Preparation for the 11+ is just another thing to add to the list and it will gradually begin to encroach on other areas. It's great for children to have interests and things they enjoy outside of school, but this needs to be balanced with their 11+ work. If it starts to get too much for your child, consider dropping some after-school activities and resuming them once the exam is out the way.
Practice papers are an essential part of the preparation process. Children need to know roughly what the paper looks like and how it is structured. At the beginning, go through the techniques needed to answer 11+ questions with children, using workbooks to complement teaching. Once you feel they have a grasp of the techniques needed, they can then look at moving on to practice papers. For the first few papers, keep things untimed but gently encouraging them to keep an eye on how long they take. This allows children to go through the paper at their own pace and for you to work out any areas they need help with. After a while, start introducing timed papers, putting a stop-watch or clock in a visible place so they are aware of how long they are taking at different points and how long they have left. Timing then becomes crucial in the weeks leading up to the paper- consider also doing "mock tests", where you enforce strict exam conditions. This will help them prepare for the test and get them into the mindset of what it will be like on the day. Many tuition centres offer mock 11+ tests in exam halls, which give pupils practise for the sort of conditions they experience.
Choosing the right school
If your child has managed to pass the 11+, thoughts will then turn to picking the right school. This is a hugely difficult process, which only parents and children can really decide on. Make sure both you and your child look around different schools on offer. Discuss the pros and cons and which one they had a good feeling about. Very often, parents and children will be on the same wavelength on this, but occasionally there are differences of opinion. It's vital that your child's opinion counts though, as conflict can arise if they feel a school has been imposed on them.
The ethos and atmosphere of a school is very often determined by the headteacher in charge. Consider choosing a school partly on the impression the headteacher makes on you, as they set the tempo and make the big decisions around the place!
A final consideration is the practicalities of your choice of school. Consider seriously things like transport and travel. If a school is 45 minutes/ 1 hour away, think about all the time that will add on to your child's day and how much more tiring it will make things. Little things like organising things with friends and after-school clubs, will also be made challenging due to distances involved.
Tuition is something most parents consider as a means of preparing their children for the 11+. Undoubtedly, a good tutor can add real benefit to a child's chances, helping them structure their learning and teaching them the techniques required in the paper. Working with someone who is not mum and dad also means children are more likely and willing to complete tasks!
However, there is an enormous market for 11+ tuition out there, and as is the case with such huge numbers, there are a lot of "rogue" tutors, with barely any experience and understanding of the test, who are there to make a quick buck. Go on recommendations from friends and decide for yourself if they seem to know what they are talking about!