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Children can accomplish a lot more than we give them credit for

Methodology and Time Management


Going through hundreds of practice papers alone does not get your child to one of those top-notch schools, unless your child is thought methodically and progressively. The actual exam will feel nothing like the practice sessions done in the familiar circumstances and comfort of your home.

There are two sides to the methodology question. First one is of a strategic nature and concerns the general approach to the whole exam process. The other is to do with the actual ways of working out the answers for individual question groups.

it is very important to get your child into the habit of reading the questions carefully to ensure what is actually asked is understood correctly. Most mistakes are made by rushing into working out the answers without fully reading the question. Having repetitively solved so many questions of similar wording, the child may fall into the habit of jumping to conclusions after the first few words and skip reading the rest of the question. You must teach your child to guard against this tendency. Sometimes questions may have bolded words that serve as clues to what is required. However, this is not the rule and there may be instances when testing the child's comprehensive ability as well as knowledge is intended. In such cases it is very easy to fall into the trap of giving the right answers, but to a wrong question. Here is a simple example: You have 3 red, 5 blue, 4 yellow, 7 black and 2 white marbles in a bag. To win a price you need to pick a red ball. What is the probability of not winning a price? The answer is 1/7. Or is it?

Another common problem concerns the English test. Children are usually given a long passage to read and then answer questions to measure their comprehensive abilities. In their haste to avoid wasting time, children tend to read the passage and start answering the questions from memory. But, the memory, which is a product of the whole process of growing up, is also full of ideas about rights and wrongs, hard learned opinions about facts of life, value judgements, conditioning etc etc. So, during the process of answering the comprehension questions these fragments of information creep in and the child takes the easy way out by choosing an answer form his/her own experience. However, what is required is what is written in the relevant part of the article, what the author thinks about the subject that may or may not coincide with child's own reckoning. Hence, the child must let the author do the answering, by going back to the relevant section of the passage and checking each time before making a choice, even if this means a question or two is left unanswered due to time restrictions. What really counts is not whether or not the child answers all the questions, but how many questions he/she gets correct.

As far as the actual methods of working out the answers are concerned, use the appropriate method for each question category each time, especially in the early stages and make sure that your child works out the answers on the actual practice paper. As she/he gets proficient on mentally working out some of the easier operations, there is no need to waste time on insisting that they do these in writing. However, some categories must always be worked out on paper to avoid mistakes. Short divisions, products outside the times table for instance, are best done on paper. Also, there are those categories of questions where method must be marked out, tabled or steps should be displayed. Otherwise, not only silly mistakes will easily creep in, but also child's mind will endure extra stress that may have a diverse effect on performance. Transfer the burdening information on to the paper so that the mind can concentrate on the reasoning.

You must not loose sight of the uncultivated characteristics of a 10-year-old child's cognitive faculties. While you have a virtually unlimited capacity of fresh memory bank to work with, how you input into this highly receptive, yet analytically naive pool, will have a great bearing on how the child will perform. Never underestimate child's ability to learn, but keep it structured and simple. Be patient until they are comfortable with the method. Release the information progressively; making sure each step is digested before going on to the next.

Sometimes a child may have a mental block on a category or two and no matter how hard you try you may not resolve the problem. Do not dwell upon it as if it is a life and death issue. Do not avoid those questions categories, but just repeat the method in a matter of fact manner and pass on to the next. It may very well be the method that is lacking, try changing it. You know your child best, so modify the method to suit his/her strengths. There are a maximum of 7 or 8 questions to a category in verbal reasoning and in maths 3-or 4 is the limit. So, if push comes to shove, it is not the end of the world and that category can be left out. The child can still achieve a high score without it. What is worse is your child going to the exam dreading that category will come up. Not only the anxiety could have an adverse effect on the concentration, but also the time wasted for that category could mean not being able to answer more questions in the strong categories.

Most question types, especially in maths and verbal reasoning, can be made easier to work out and less error prone by applying a specific method that can be adapted to your child's way of thinking. However, the operative phrase here is that the child must be comfortable with it. Lets take a simple maths example:

6x + 8 = 44
Work out the value of x.

This is an equation. For any given equation you can change numbers round, add subtract, multiply or divide as long as both sides of the equal sign always remain equal. The idea is to leave x on its own on one side, while keeping the equation true. To do that we must do to one side of the equation exactly what we intend to do to the other side.
Method 1: What do we have to do to leave x on its own. First, we must get rid of the 8. So, we must take off 8 from the left hand side of the equation (6x + 8 - 8). What do we have to do to make sure the equation is still true: we must do the same to the other side, i.e. subtract 8. So, the equation now becomes: 6x + 8 - 8 = 44 - 8. Next we must simplify the equation by working out the subtraction on both sides. So, 6x = 36. Now we must get rid of 6 from the 6x (remember 6x means 6 times x). But, the rule says we must do the same to the right hand side as well to keep the equation true. We must divide the right hand side with 6 as well. Now the equation becomes: 6x/6=36/6. If we simplify, the sixes on the left side cancel each other out: x=36/6, so x=6.
Method 2: In any equation we can move an item from one side to the other as long as we apply the rules for doing so. What are the rules: We must first move the stand-alone numbers to the other side. Stand-alone numbers would always have either a plus (+) or a minus (-) value. In our example 8 has a + value. When we move one of these to the other side of the equation we must change its sign (+ becomes - and - becomes +). So our equation becomes: 6x=44-8, which is 6x=36. Now we have to move 6 to the other side so that x is left on its own. 6 is a multiplication (6 times x). Any multiplication when moved to the other side becomes a division, and visa versa (any division when moved on to the other side becomes multiplication). So our 6 in front of the x moves to the other side as a division. Equation now becomes: x=36/6. Hence, x=6

And a verbal reasoning example:
Katie, Adam, Lucy, Ranjit and Richard all wear school uniform.
Katie, Adam and Ranjit wear ties.
Ranjit wears a blazer.
Richard hates the uniform but wears a blazer and a tie.
Lucy and Katie wear hats.
Adam wears a blazer but no hat.

Who wears the least items of uniform?             (                        )

First lets make sure what the question asks: Least number of items.

This type of question needs a table to make sure we make no silly errors. There are 5 kids and 3 items of clothing. So we draw a table with 6 columns and 4 rows (extra column and row are for the headings) and starting from the first line of information mark the items on the table.

So Lucy is the answer.

Time management

Don't leave it to the last few weeks. Give them at least 2-3 months or more to practice their time management skills. This is one area you should not compromise on. This might make all the difference. In the last few months of preparation do not compromise on time to encourage your child. Find other ways of building their self-confidence. Praise them for correct answers, especially in their weak areas.

In the early stages, show your child the suitable method of working out the answer, and then let them do a number of questions on their own until they get it right. Give them as much time as they need to work out the answers correctly. Do this for all question categories. Then give them practice papers with mixed categories. Gradually encouraging them to do these quicker and quicker. With each paper, write the time taken to complete on the paper. Eventually, they should only be allowed the time stated on the actual paper. During this whole process you should be able to gather enough information to compile a list of your child's strong and weak categories relative to time. Time is the operative word here. Your child may be very good in answering some categories, but if he/she takes longer than that question merits, than that would be counted as a weak category.

Remember, this is a race with almost 4,000 other kids against time. Ability to answer all the questions correctly is not enough. The challenge is to be able to correctly answer more questions than rest of the top 30% in the given time. So many kids will be clustered at or around the cut-off point that even one more correct answer in any one of the 3 topics could make all the difference. So your child must work efficiently and systematically and utilize every second of those 2 hours productively to make his/her dream come through, or rather your dream as the case may be.

First, establish a list of weak and strong question categories for your child, not forgetting to include
time as another determining dimension in your analysis. A very important factor to consider here is that each category would merit varying amount of time. Some question categories are designed to be answered quicker than others. In other words, not all categories carry the same weight as far as time is concerned. While you may need more than the average time allowed (total time for the test divided by total number of questions) for some questions, you will make up that lost time from other categories that need much shorter time to work out.

Now, put them in order from strong to weak. However, don't forget even the weak category will contain one or two easy questions which can be answered within the appropriate time. Then, get your child into a habit of answering the strong categories first. Your child should start the test from the beginning working her/his way through until a weak category is arrived at. Answer any question in that category that are exceptionally easy and mark all the others with a circle around the question number and go on to the next category and so on. Once the end of the test is reached, if there is any time left, go back to the beginning and scan through the questions with circles around them and find the least difficult category amongst them to work on. Then the next least difficult and so on. By doing this you would have made sure that all the 'easy' questions are completed and you will have no regrets reflecting back on the test.

Also, if the verbal reasoning test is in multiple choice format, your child should leave himself/herself one or two minutes to go through the answer sheet and mark all the unanswered questions with any answer. 20% chance of getting a question your child finds impossible to answer right is better than no chance. Besides, for some difficult questions the child may be able to reduce the possible answers down to two and the probability would than go up to 50%.

I can hear you thinking, how can you expect a 10 year old child to adapt such a complex strategy, especially when they are racing against time.
Children are able to accomplish a lot more than we give them credit for, as long as the benefits of such tactics are demonstrated to them in real life during their practice sessions.

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Planning of the revision processed depends on various factors

Some Thoughts on Revision

Gathering the relevant material is the first step. Almost all 11 Plus regions set exams in three main subject areas; English Comprehension, Maths and Verbal Reasoning. Then, there are those regions , which also measure Non-Verbal Reasoning skills. In some LEAs  you can obtain recent past exam papers for some of the subject areas. You can find out if this is the case for your region by contacting your LEA, Selective School Consortium or individual schools. Check our ‘Useful Links’ pages to get the contact information for your area.

In addition to past exam papers, you need to obtain some practice papers. Most practice papers in the market cover question categories for almost all regions. Going to a bookshop and studying practice papers provided by different publishers would help to decide which ones are more suitable for you. We also publish our own brand of practice papers. This is not an easy task, but asking other parents could be a great help. Check our forum pages for discussions on the topic or visit our FQA section. Or, you can sign up to our forum and post your own questions.

Having gathered the necessary material, next step is to decide how to structure the actual revision process. Here, we shall discuss our recommendations on the three main axam topics:

There are many categories of questions in the three subject areas in Essex. Make a list of all these categories under each subject. Looking at last 5-6 year's past exam papers you can compile a comprehensive list that will cover most, if not all, question types.

English is easier to analyse. Basically, you have the comprehension section, where the questions range from true and false statements, equivalent words section, choice of descriptive phrases relating to the passage, closest meaning questions, express with your own words questions etc. Then there are the punctuation and grammar questions(s).

Maths questions on the other hand, come from a larger pool covering many areas. Simple additions and subtractions, decimals, fractions and percentages, measurements, problem solving, graphs, pie charts, date and time calculations, areas, angles, equations, geometrical shapes, sequences, symmetry, patterns, averages, probabilities, temperatures etc.

Verbal Reasoning has about 25-35 categories of questions in total, ranging from words with opposite meaning, closest words, compound words, incomplete words, jumbled words, hidden words, sums, letter series, number series, words x codes, re-arranged words, true statement, jumbled sentences, unrelated words, word pairs with a missing letter, number coded words etc. Then there are the questions where you need to move a letter from one word to another to make two new words or completing sentences with a choice of given pair of words etc. The list goes on.

You need to make sure that all these question types are cover in your child's revision process.

With English, get your child to do as many comprehension practices as possible. Device different ways of enhancing their vocabulary - vocabulary is the most important single area that will have a great bearing not only for the English test, but also for the Verbal Reasoning. You could, for example, write the words on pieces of card with the equivalent/opposite meanings on the other site. You could play a game to see who will get the most words right, giving one mark for each meaning, opposite or equivalent for the card picked at random. Ask your child to read an article or a passage from a book, then ask them to tell you the main points of the story in their own words, helping them at each opportunity for a better choice of word. You could take sentences from a book and remove the punctuation and ask them to complete these, then show them how much of it they got right. Then, get your child do full practice papers. In a practice papers you would have a fairly long passage (anything from about 700 to 1500 words). We recommend that your child skims quickly through the story once to gather a general idea about where different themes are located, without actually trying to understand the details of the story. Then, starting with the first story related question, go back to the passage and locate the relevant segment to answer the question. Do this for each story related question. By mid way through these questions the child will have a much better mental picture. This could also help decide if the earlier answers need revising. Some questions however, are not directly related to one paragraph or another and may not even have a definite answer in the story. Such questions require a general understanding of the whole story to answer. These could be left to the end until the child is fully familiar with the passage.

For maths and verbal reasoning start with repetitive practise questions for each category. Let them do just a few types of question for a day or two. Then introduce other categories and so on. Then combine more categories together eventually going onto doing the full practice papers.

Let them do as many full practice papers as possible in all subjects, without actually overworking them to an extent that they loose interest. Try and device ways of making them enjoy the tests, by structuring the papers so that the children see their progress at every step and are encouraged by it.

Make sure you give them at least 4-5 full mock tests under exam conditions - that is, precisely as laid down in the actual 11+ exams. Usually: English first (35 minutes), 10-15 minute break, maths (40 minutes), 30 minutes break and verbal reasoning (45-50 minutes), with time reminders every 15-20 minutes. If you can, do one of the mocks in a non-local library that may be useful. Try to find the best corner that simulates exam conditions.

Remember that you are dealing with a 10-year-old child. Don't expect their concentration span to be anywhere close to an adult's. So, make sure your revision sessions do not go beyond an hour. Do it regularly without fail but limit it to an hour each time. (Only the mock tests should go beyond this) Try to work out at what part of the day your child's comprehensive faculties are at their best. Some do extremely well after playing with friends for an hour or so, others may be sharper and more attentive early in the morning before school. Plan the practice sessions at least a day in advance. Make sure not only you know the answers to each question, but the methods of working them out which best suits your child as well.

It’s a Myth...

It is often said that if children cannot attain the standard required by trying their hand in just a few practice papers in each 11 Plus exam subject, it would be futile to insist on prolonging the agony, as they would, more often than not, find it too difficult in the grammar school, even if they were lucky enough to secure a place.

Nothing can be further away from the truth.

First, the hard work already done will put the child in a much better standing in all eventuality.

Secondly, for those children who are not lucky enough to have the opportunity to revise for the 11+ Exams as part of their school curriculum, there is no way other than concerted involvement in the preparation process to gain the required standards unless they happen to be exceptionally talented. How else would you create a level playing field, where every child has a chance to prove their ability.This, by no means however, should be seen as a green light for pushing the child to burn-out point, where the interest and the enthusiasm starts wavering and memory regression process takes over.