Let’s face it – preparation for entrance exams at 11+ is stressful, both for children and parents alike. Wandsworth Prep School, however, is a Prep School; hence, preparing children for a variety of senior school entrance examinations is always at the forefront of our minds. Between the two, it is the child’s stress that needs to be avoided as much as possible if the preparation is to be effective. Stress may be a motivating factor for adults but stress in children can overwhelm and de-motivate them.
A website that I recently found claims that children should start preparing for 11+ exams two years beforehand in order to ‘optimise their chances’ of success. Furthermore, children hoping to gain a place at a selective school, particularly in London, should be working one or two years above their age group in terms of their academic ability. The implication is that a 9-year-old should be reading books suitable for 10 or 11 year olds and be able to solve mathematical problems at a level of a first year of secondary school.
Other websites I have visited offer downloadable books and practice papers suitable for children in Year 4 with the expectation that at least an hour a day should be spent on preparing for 11+ exams.
It is true that 11+ exams are competitive, and the types of questions included both in English and maths papers are very different from what children will encounter in an average primary school. Endless practice papers from the age of seven, I am convinced, is not the key to success.
At Wandsworth Prep, the preparation towards 11+ is gradual. The journey towards 11+ begins, in fact, when children first walk through our gates aged four. Preparation for 11+ does not involve non-stop cramming and coaching. We want to develop happy young people who have the confidence and learning skills to cope with the demands of whichever senior school they move on to.
Children begin their preparation for verbal and non-verbal reasoning examinations in Year 4. Preparation is subtle, but effective, couched in thinking skills afternoons, workshops and access to online reasoning games to ensure that preparation is gradual, enjoyable and not stressful.
The curriculum is carefully planned to ensure that children are taught the ability to use and apply knowledge, and to have well practised exam technique. In Year 5, engaging and relevant texts are used to enhance children’s comprehension skills. Children learn how to plan, structure and write discursive and persuasive essays, supported through feedback, sharing of ideas and models. Maths lessons have a clear emphasis on problem solving and children are given every opportunity to revisit key skills at regular intervals. The aim is to enable children to solve mathematical challenges independently and confidently.
We would be doing the children in our care a disservice if we did not prepare them adequately for exams at 11+; more of a disservice, however, if we do not sustain our emphasis on breadth and balance, ensuring that children enjoy their learning, whilst being mindful of the necessity to prepare them for the important senior school entrance exams they take in Year 6.
To find out more about how we prepare pupils and support parents with 11+ preparation, click here.