Close nav

My Top Tips in Preparing for the 11 plus


by Theodora

It feels like yesterday they just about learnt to walk and now you are looking at what secondary schools they will go to! There are no ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ of how to go about such a seemingly overwhelming task of preparing your child for taking 11+ entrance exams. Preparation for exams can be tough and this will likely be their first ‘big’ exam they take as they barely make it into double digits in age! Below are some top tips as you go through this season.


Before starting preparation for the 11+, sit down with your child and create a plan that you will follow. Do this process together so that there is more accountability and so that they get to take some responsibility for their learning. You can choose to do this daily, weekly, or monthly and do not be afraid to adjust goals as you go through the tasks set! Try adding colour to the plan and let them decorate it; boost their enthusiasm so that they will allow themselves to get excited by their learning!

Keep this plan realistic! Rather than expecting them to do an ‘X’ number of papers every day (on top of their reading on top of their piano practise on top of simply being a child and enjoying life), have smaller achievable goals. Looking at the science behind brain productivity, it is much more efficient to do a few shorter sessions of focus, going through questions slowly and constantly reflecting on each one. Even better, ask them to explain the questions they got wrong after working out how to get to the correct answer to you! Let them consolidate techniques by using active recall to allow them to make further progress.

Active recall

Active Recall is one of the most effective and efficient ways when it comes to understanding and consolidating topics. Encourage your child to become the teacher! (And just accept you will become Maths and English experts by the end of it all by yourselves!) Active Recall essentially involves you trying to retrieve information by stimulating your mind, further strengthening that memory (which could for example be the memory of how to use a specific technique when working out a type of question in a paper). While remembering, you re-access information from the past which has been previously encoded and stored in your mind.  Every time you try to remember something, you reinforce its connections. Therefore, the more you use active recall to revise, the easier you will remember the information. In fact, retrieval practice can improve long-term retention by 50% when tested with exams containing both verbatim and inference questions.

A practical example of this is after your child reads parts of a book, ask them to explain what happened, teach them to be curious and inquisitive. Ask them questions about characters/settings/feelings etc!


Regardless of who you are, as humans, we are built for, and thrive off encouragement. It plays such a crucial role in your child’s development! Please take a few minutes to just let them know you are proud of them and that they are doing well! Reward them too- in the form of love/hugs/treats- whilst also avoiding it becoming like bribery! Find what will motivate your child- every child is different.

Research Research Research

Before you begin 11+ preparation, as well as during the whole process (and even after having taken exams), it is so important you research all you need to know and familiarise yourself with the process. Even if you have already had a child go through this phase, things change very quickly!

For example, initially, look at what exam board is the test for each school you are looking into. CEM? GL? What subjects are tested for each school that requires an entrance exam? Maths and English? Is there any Verbal or Non-verbal in addition? Is there an interview needed at all? How many spaces is the yearly intake? (These numbers have also recently changed in some schools) What proportion of those places are inside/ outside the catchment area?

Look at the location of the school also. Is it worth them travelling hours and being too fatigued to get all the work done/ not having time to do many other things which are also important for future university applications and shaping them as an individual/ having to skip out on extra-curricular so that they do not get home too late?

Also, during the year of the application for your child, make sure to research deadlines for certain steps- create a timeline for this. You do not want to have put in all the hard work to then realise you missed the application deadline and cannot attend exam day. (Yes, I have seen this happen far too often!)

Ask for a range of opinions from others too! And I would highly recommend visiting open days- you can learn so much through experiencing the school environment itself.


Do not compare

Equally, do not look too deeply and don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not doing enough (especially as a parent). Sometimes, “knowing too much” comes as a detriment. Remember that every student is individual and has different needs to cater for. There is no ‘formula’ to a grammar/Independent school candidate- you can only work through the foundations and build on them over time, taking it slowly. Exam technique takes time to develop so be patient with it! Experiment with different things and see what allows most progress with your child’s learning.

Ultimately, you can only do your best- and that is enough.


Little bits and frequently! Try using papers, books, short tests, YouTube videos (or the online detailed explanation videos on the learning platform at Test Teach!) and see what works. Try not to overwhelm your child and do not rush through questions to try and complete anything and everything! Also, please do not feel like you need to purchase all of Waterstones, WHSmith and Amazon’s educational book collections (unlike my mum did before she realised our home was becoming a book shop and gave lots away!)


This involves general organisation with life. Are they fuelling themselves with nutritious food and having plenty of water? For example, what you eat can really have an impact on energy levels and focus, so keep away from junk food if you can. Keep your body and brain well-fuelled by choosing nutritious foods that have been proven to aid concentration and memory, such as fish, nuts, seeds, yogurt, blueberries and bananas.

Are they getting fresh air and taking regular breaks? Why not go on walks in nature together to break up work and talk about what you see (practising active learning)- build on their descriptive terminology which will have a big impact on their creative writing!

Also, are they getting involved in extracurricular activities where they can or doing something other than just spending so much time in front of a blue light screen their eyes are going square shaped?

Having a routine is going to help their physical and mental health as well as yours. Some days you may all just feel like not doing anything and just enjoying time together or taking a nap- do not be afraid to do so! You do not want to overwork and burn out your child too early that they lose interest, and it becomes an even greater battle! Take each day as it comes and celebrate the wins no matter how small!