During the preparatory phase, it is important to work smart, not hard. A common problem is burnout, where children are working too hard at the start of preparation which results in an exponential decline in energy levels. In order to preserve their fuel, it is important to have a balanced approach and an organised timetable: Set a few hours in the morning to study, followed by a break in the afternoon for lunch and exercise in order to re-energise for some more work later in the afternoon. It is much easier to visualise the day when it is organised and written out.
Breaks are equally important during periods of study time. Optimal focus only lasts for approximately 45 minutes – after this point, it is easy for concentration to waver so I would recommend working in 45 minute periods and then getting up, stretching or having a snack before the next 45 minutes of work. This is a good way to ensure your child is working effectively and does not get tired or bored too quickly.
Maintaining hobbies such as painting, or sports commitments like football club during exam season is necessary for children to take time to de-stress and will overall aid their well-being during this stressful time. Many studies have proven that a healthy and active body promotes optimal neural function, so it is essential to stay active, eat healthy, drink plenty of water daily and – most importantly – get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Research shows that the period of sleep between roughly 12am to 3am is vital for memory consolidation for everything learnt that day, so sleep is key for retaining knowledge. The power of sleep and exercise is often undermined, but it is by far the best secret to success.
It is important to start early in exam preparation – children must go at a steady pace and keep track of their progress. Those who fail to plan often plan to fail. In order to keep on top of work, it would be a good idea for them to keep a diary or work log, detailing the tasks for the day (e.g., how many papers is your child doing that day? What topics do they have to revise?), their marks, their strengths and weaknesses. This will ensure efficient work, and the ability to track what areas need improvement. The earlier you identify topics or concepts your child is struggling with, the earlier you can rectify this and seek help from their teachers or teaching assistants at Test Teach.
Children (and parents) will have a love-hate relationship with practice papers. They are the single most useful resource for 11+ preparation, but by the end of exam season you will have enough papers at home to burn a fire for weeks. The biggest mistake made by students is letting nerves hinder their performance during a practice paper, mock paper or the final 11+ exam so it is important to overcome this.
For starters, ensure all material is prepared for the exam or paper you are sitting (whether it be a practice at home or in an exam hall) – this applies for every exam beyond the 11+. Have your sharpened pencils, eraser, sharpener, ruler and other materials you require on the desk, and always keep a water bottle to hand. Make sure there is a clock face in sight. The next step is for your child to know exactly what paper they are sitting and the time they have to complete the paper.
There are a range of exam tips and tricks we provide at Test Teach, for example: always showing the working out, circle a difficult question and come back to it at the end (most of the time, all questions are worth the same number of marks), reading the question two or three times. These techniques are useful to remember and can only get better with practice.
Speaking from personal experience, sometimes the brain can “shut off” halfway through an exam or for a particularly difficult question, and the best way around this is to stop and drink some water. Taking a few seconds out to do this will not cost any marks, in fact it will refresh the brain so your child can look back at the paper with newfound energy. Alternatively, take a few moments to look away from the paper and take some deep breaths to get rid of the nerves and be in a better mindset.
If your child had the whole day to complete the 11+ paper, they would likely get near 100%, however the time pressure is what makes it so difficult and adds to the nerves. Practice papers done at home should all be timed and under strict exam conditions to make your child more comfortable with the exam conditions and timings. Hints that the time pressure is affecting your child could include rushing through the paper and making silly mistakes or performing worse than if the paper was untimed. Remind your child to take their time on questions and work through it methodically, but also to keep a watchful eye on the clock. Setting timestamps will give them reassurance they are on track e.g., they should be at least halfway through the paper by halftime.
An important point to keep reminding your child is that the 11+ exam does not predict the rest of their life. To go to a grammar school is a fantastic achievement, however it does not reflect a child’s intelligence or prospects of success in the long run. The stress of getting into a grammar school weighs down on some children, adding to their stresses during this exam period but reassurance that this is just another hurdle to jump will have a profound effect on their wellbeing. At the end of the day, they will do as well as the work they put in regardless of where they go for education. Each child is a different type of learner which is something we will unveil in this process, and they will continue to develop throughout their time in education.