In guiding parents through the 11+ entrance exam process, I am often asked what is the right time to begin purchasing and using practise papers. To help parents understand why I ask them to delay doing this, I use the analogy of learning to cook.
Look at this simple recipe for stir-fry:
Step 1: Finely chop or slice the vegetables into pieces roughly the same size.
Step 2: Heat the oil in a large frying pan then fry the garlic and ginger for 1 min.
Step 3: Add the veg and toss to coat. Fry for 2-3 mins, then add the soy sauce and chilli sauce, if using, and mix well.
Step 4: Cook for 2-3 mins more until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the prawns until cooked.
For most adults, following this recipe and producing a meal would be straight forward. However, for a child who is learning to cook, there are a number of skills that would need to have mastered before they are able to make this recipe. Have they learned to safely chop vegetables? Do they know how to mince and chop garlic and ginger? Can they tell when a vegetable is cooked through but not overcooked? Do they know how to tell if a prawn is cooked? To successfully follow this recipe, the must first learn the foundation skills of food preparation, food safety, and frying techniques.
When a student is preparing for the comprehension portion of the 11+ exams, the foundation skills must be fully grasped before tackling practise papers. Learning how to understand and answer each type of question that they will encounter on the exam before they tackle whole papers will ensure they have success when they practise. Do they know the PEE method of answering questions about tone of a passage? Can they comment on language techniques used by an author? Do they know how to answer “in your own words” questions?
Regular revisiting of each question type is also a must. When you learned to chop an onion, did you get it perfect first time?
My process for smooth 11+ comprehension learning, whether you are a tutor or a parent helping a student, is these 4 steps:
- Spend time on each individual question type, becoming comfortable with what is being asked and how to answer. Do one type of question at a time. (Note – this step should take the largest proportion of time)
- Practise a whole comprehension paper that encompasses all question types. Look for areas which need improvement and where skills have been forgotten.
- Review the question types from step 2.
- Practise whole papers, refining exam techniques.
Ensuring the right skills are in place first before doing practice papers is like getting the right ingredients together for your recipe before you cook. Both will lead to success!