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Thames Valley 11+ Tutors

Thames Valley 11+ Tutors

Education, your way forward



How do we work with Twins?

Preparing 2 children for the 11+ by John Bains

Passing the 11+ is super tough. Not just the test itself, but the pressure that is put on the kids, the parents and the family as a whole.

You will question many times, 'why are we doing this?' Your children will at many points push back and want to potentially quit. There could possibly be tears and words exchanged, which when you reflect back, you regret.

I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way to get through this and can only give you my perspective from our personal experience.

Every child is different, we have twins and they both learn in different ways, so as a parent you will need to establish what’s the best way for the child. One of my girls required very strict discipline which was literally setting the work and giving a time to finish. Also applying incentives or taking privileges away. She tested my patience, felt she could wing through things. She’s very bright, but passing the 11+ unless you are super gifted takes a lot of effort, resilience and commitment. Doing the work outside the lesson and completing it to a good standard is the key.

It’s vital to spend time with the children and test their understanding, their depth, and try to make it as much fun as possible. Our girls took the 11+ at possibly the toughest time. Away from school due to COVID, home learning adds huge amounts of pressure and having a 5 year old and an 8 year old at the same time together with work pressures, risk of losing job and pay cut. Emotions were flying, but yet we still kept at it as we knew what the end result could look like.

For me, explaining to the kids why they were doing the 11+ and how great an achievement it was, I thought was important. Some people will say don’t discuss results, scores etc as it adds to the pressure. That’s completely true, however, I’m a firm believer that pressure is good, it keeps you on your toes and as you learn to manage pressure, you become better equipped to deal with any kind. So we were pretty open. We also explained, due to where we lived, i.e. outside the catchment area, the odds were against us, and therefore we needed to do better than others. We were pretty open about everything, the cost of the tuition, which isn’t cheap, the time and effort as parents we were putting in to support them. The sacrifice on the weekends ensuring we attended lessons. I grew up in a family, when times were very tough, you had to play your part, so as parents we always remind our children how fortunate they are and how less fortunate others may be, and to respect this.

So I guess what I’m saying is that we didn’t play down the cost, effort, privilege etc that the 11+ and tuition was having on us as a family unit. The one thing we always said however, is that if they didn’t pass, it wasn’t something they should be worried about. We emphasised the fact that all we wanted for them, to do was their best, and if their best was not good enough, then it wasn’t the end of the world. However, not passing because of being slack, not committed, focussed or just lazy, was not acceptable.

I gave both the girls options to quit at a point, I think it was towards the back end of the first year. They never!

Some basic work setting tips.

As a parent, I think you have to split the sheets, have a look at the work quantity and set a number of sheets to work through daily during the week. If you don’t plan this, your child could easily fall behind.

You have to check their understanding, it used to take me 2-3 hours a week to mark their work and then a few more hours to work through their corrections. It is this time that makes the difference in my view. You can go to a 2 hour lesson, be set the work, complete the work. But if you're not giving the support and feedback at home then you’ve missed circa 50% of the learning. There were times when we just took our eyes off the ball as we were just too busy and relied on the girls doing everything. This was not good as you could instantly see a  drop in result.

So plan the work and have a daily agreed task list and ensure that it is followed.

Think of the best time for them to do the work as you want them to do the work at a time that works for them too.

Reward them and praise them and do fun things after.

If you're teaching them certain techniques make it fun.

There are a lot of books given. Make sure they do their best to complete most of them.

When they have mastered a specific topic or certain type of work, pick 10 questions at random, instead of letting them do 40 questions. Repetition is good but only up to a point before it becomes unproductive - this however, is only possible when you know what they are doing and how good they are at a topic – it is important to know your children.

As you get closer to the 11+, practise papers are the absolute key. Sitting them in a timed environment is super helpful. I was spending 2 hours a night with the girls a month before the test. The execution of everything they learnt was tested, in an exam type situation -so clock, and start. The key part is marking the tests and giving the scores and discussing incorrect answers. Their scores improved each week.

Kids will naturally be stronger in certain subjects and therefore recognising their weak areas is so important and working on it, as it is easier to pick up points if you are getting circa 50% in a test compared to already achieving 90% and finding a few more % points. Know your child’s weaknesses -  you  can only  see your child’s weaknesses if you are investing your time in your child.

I think I started by saying passing the 11+ is not easy. I still stand by this. What was the difference? I’m going to say The Parents (US), and the Tutor (Bal Basi).

As parents we have to take the responsibility to put 100% into their learning and for our children to do the same. Paying for the tuition is the easy part.

How do I manage the challenges of teaching my child comprehension 

A Parent’s Guide to Tackling Comprehension

(a personal account from one of our parents)

My two children successfully passed their 11 plus exams with Mrs Basi and understanding the comprehension text was one of the most challenging parts of the process.  Understanding and deciphering the text will help ensure your child stands the best possible chance to pass the exam.  As well as having a stand-alone comprehension section, these skills are also tested in other areas of the 11+ paper, including cloze passages and shuffled sentences.

In my opinion, the comprehension skills they will learn for the 11 plus examination will benefit them at secondary school, by establishing a secure base to delve and understand more complex text.

Before you start

One parent has to be dedicated and committed to sitting with their child every week.

It is easier if it is the same parent that goes through the text and questions each week.  This will ensure that they too understand the story as it evolves and are aware of any references made to earlier in the text.  Sit with your child initially, as they build their confidence in understanding the text and answering the questions.  Once you feel that they are confident enough, you should then start to review the answers only.  I strongly recommend that you hear your child read aloud, as it a superb way of listening to your child and reading aloud provides you with a window of understanding about where a difficulty might lie:

  • Is your child omitting a word/s?
  • Is your child replacing a word?
  • Is your child reading too slowly, therefore breaking the flow of the text to gather any meaning?
  • Is your child pausing in the correct places?
  • Is your child reading with expression?

Pausing and reading with expression are two very essential skills that aid reading for meaning.

Please remember you will not be present at the exam with your child, so if you initially find yourself driving the comprehension exercise, start to gradually take a back seat and allow your child to work more independently.

Pick an allocated time every week

Reading and understanding the comprehension text will take time and you will find it exhaustive at the beginning, so make sure that both you and your child attempt it when you are relaxed and have no time pressures.  I found the ideal time was during the mornings of a weekend when a parent is more likely to be off work and the child is more alert as they will not have had the pressures of school that day.   Find yourselves a quiet space in the house and DO NOT set a time limit as the different chapters will take different lengths of time to understand and go through.   Remember, as your child’s comprehension skills improve they will need less time and support from you.

The parent’s attitude is key

Your attitude towards doing the comprehension exercises will be mirrored by your child. Never use negative phrases in front of your child such as; ‘let’s get this over with’ or ‘it’s boring’.  Instead view the time you spend together as an investment into your child’s future and enjoy spending this quality time with them.  If you are upbeat about the text, you will find that they will be too.  My children and I couldn’t wait to read the following chapter to find out what would happen next and it was never seen as a chore.

Tackling the comprehension

Take time to read the text

Let your child read the text at their own pace, do not rush them and do not interrupt them.  The child should only read a few sentences or a short paragraph at a time.  Pick out words that they had difficulty pronouncing, correcting their pronunciation of these words and then pick out any words they did not know the meaning of and find out the meaning of them. When faced with a new unfamiliar word use the context to figure out the meaning, this means your child will read the words before and after the new/unfamiliar word and work out what the meaning could be by establishing what word would suit the sentence and make sense. It is important to ask the right kind of questions to facilitate your child’s thinking. You will be pleasantly surprised at how skilful your child will become at figuring out the meaning of new words using the context. Annotate the words neatly in the text book using the correct meaning (there can be several meanings to a singular word so be careful to use the right one).  Annotate simply means to underline/circle the word and write its meaning above it or on the margins of the page.

It is important that the child understands that even as adults we do not always know the meaning of every word and sometimes we also need to look up their meanings.  This will reinforce why understanding text is important at every age and we all need to look up words in a dictionary or on the internet. 

Now re- read the same sentences again, but slowly, using your annotated notes to understand exactly what the sentences are telling you.  You may need to read the sentence/paragraph several times to fully understand what the writer is trying to convey.

Listen to your child carefully as they interpret the text to you, be clear about what they understood the text to mean and what it may actually mean.  Ask them a few questions such as;

  • Why have you made this assumption?
  • What evidence in the text led you to think this way?

Take time to explain what you took away from the text and why.  There is never a right or wrong answer, the key here is to have a discussion about the different ways the text can be viewed and what the writer is trying to tell you with their choice of words, phrases and language.  Ask your child what they thought of your interpretation of the text.  Do they agree/disagree with you?

Do not attempt to answer any questions until you have fully understood and annotated the text. This can take some time in the beginning but be patient, they will get better at it. It takes times to learn any new skill so please be patient…. Soon they will surprise you.

Role Play

W/H has several key characters and we really enjoyed incorporating an element of role play whilst reading the text.  For example, one of us playing the role of Joey and the other of Topthorn.  They have a great journey together and their personalities are very different, so we would often swap roles to get under the character.   You could discuss the differences in the personalities of these two characters and ask your child how Joey would feel?  You could explain how Topthorn is feeling.  Do they like each other? What evidence in the text makes you think this? Has your child had any experience where they felt like one of the characters?  This will help them in their understanding of the depth the characters have and really helps answering some of the questions.

Do not give children the answers

The answers to the questions follow a logical order in the chapter, the first question will be followed by the second, following the order of the text in the book. Do not read the text just to the relevant point to get the answer to the next question as this will not enforce an understanding of all of the text.  Hide the questions while you read the text together, as you will probably find you have answered all the questions in your discussion.

Do not spoon feed the answers to your child.  They need to learn to complete the questions independently.  Read the question and text carefully, making sure you have answered all elements of the question and used evidence from the text to support your answers.

Wishing you all the best on your 11 plus journey.

November 2019

Why does my child need to be tutored? 

Verbal Reasoning

The exam is a very challenging exam, unlike other exams it can not be taken again. The verbal reasoning exam consists of 3 main areas:

  • Vocabulary
  • Mathematics
  • Code Breaking and Deciphering

Most children need tutoring not only to grasp the question types but to answer quickly and accurately. The exam content is not part of the National Curriculum and is therefore not taught in schools. We will equip your child not only with a thorough grasp of the question type but also your child be taught how to answer the question using the quickest method whilst maintaining accuracy. In order to ensure that children perform to their maximum potential tutoring provides the essential skills that will secure a place at a highly sought after grammar school or independent school.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

The non-verbal reasoning involves problem solving using diagrams and pictures. Non-verbal reasoning is not taught in schools. Some of the questions require children to make detailed observations, notice a pattern and then predict the next part of the pattern, all within 30 seconds. Most children find this part of the exam very challenging, not only because of the unfamiliar content of the question but also because of the time constraints. Some of the questions are of a very abstract nature and most children do not develop these skills until they are older. A specialist tutor in non-verbal reasoning will ensure that your child is familiar with the range of skills required to succeed. Careful explanations, using a good range of practical resources will ensure that your child achieves a very high score.

Who are Intensive Courses suitable for? 

Intensive courses are suitable for both new students and students who have some prior knowledge. During intensive courses we always go back to basics, this gives new children a thorough grounding of the question types.

Our teaching is context embedded therefore children who have some prior knowledge gain a deeper understanding of the essential principles of the question types thus deepening their understanding, improving speed and accuracy.

What topics are covered? 

We mainly cover the tougher and more challenging aspects of the exam. We do not leave these questions until the latter part of the course. Children need sufficient time to process, practise and consolidate the tougher parts of the course so that their understanding is fully secure and they are confident when completing practice papers and achieving high scores.

Will there be a timed mock test during the course? 

There will be a timed mock test at the end of the course, you will receive a ranking for your child, types of errors made, a full explanation for every error made and further recommended resources.

Will any homework be given? 

Yes, there will be daily paper and online homework.

Is all the material included? 

Yes, all the resources and materials you require are included in the course.

What sort of feedback is provided? 

We give individual feedback daily at the end of the session, and also establish a pattern for your child in terms of strengths and areas that still need work on all of which will be fed back to you.

Who are the Tutors? 

All of our teachers hold a full formal teaching qualification. All of our teachers are experienced classroom practitioners. All of our teachers are CRB checked with full enhanced disclosures which are always available for inspection. All of our teachers are members of the General Teaching Council.

How long are the sessions? 

Sessions are 2.5 hours long. Each lesson includes the core skills, revision, essential vocabulary and exam content.

What teaching resources are provided? 

We use a range of practical resources to explain questions in context. We use our own teaching materials which are rigorously classroom tested. We advise parents about the best and most suitable commercially produced resources.