11+ Mathematics/Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning

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Subject: 11+ exam
Last updated: 12/11/2011
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Tags: 11+, 11+ exam, advice (for parents), advice (for tutors), mathematics 11+
11+ exam

Getting to grips with the 11 plus can be a difficult task. I hope this article will help to support some parents.

Can I tutor my child myself?

You not be able to afford tutoring and as such may decide to tutor your child yourself. Unfortunately, most of the families I have worked with have struggled to tutor their children themselves. I believe this is due to two things. 

Firstly, the way you and I were taught is different to the way children are taught now. I believe children have a much better understanding of the foundations of maths due to the intuitiveness of teaching. The way you and I learnt maths was basically rote learning. We learnt the formal algorithms of long multiplication, short and long division and column addition and subtraction. Granted these methods are quick but they are not intuitive.  If you try explaining these methods to your child you will may see how difficult it is to explain what is going on and in the process you may confuse them and put them off learning maths with you altogether. Time and time again, I've taught these methods and some children simply can't remember the steps and more frighteningly, when they come to do mental maths e.g 15 x 4, they use the long multiplication algorithm instead of simply multiplying 10 x 4 and 5 x 4 and adding together the answers or doubling 15 and then doubling again or using their knowledge of their 4 times table. If you are thinking about tutoring your children then make sure to get a copy of "Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers" by Derek Haylock

It's a great resource for parents and teachers alike. It demonstrates all the intuitive methods that children are learning at school.   It's companion "Understanding Mathematics for Young Children", aimed at Foundation and Key Stage 1 is also useful but perhaps a little more on the theoretical side.

Secondly, the relationship between parent and child can be fraught in the tutor-student dynamic.   I think this is to do with many things: the parent's own insecurity about mathematics or teaching, the fear of the child disappointing their parents and the parent's impatience with the child when they do not know the answer amongst other reasons.

My advice is the following:

Don't worry if you do not know all the answers. Be honest and forthcoming. You'll find that your child may work it out for themselves in an attempt to help you.

Find out how they do it at school. If they are doing multiplication for instance, they may tell you they use the grid method. If so, then look it up in the Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers book. If they don't know, then you could find out from the teacher at school. 

Pay attention to how they feel. You can only get this from spending a lot of time with children. I imagine you probably know your child pretty well so this can help you to be sensitive to how they feel. They need to feel completely relaxed if they are to be able to engage with their learning.  If you're unable to explain it and your child's stuck then maybe it's time to have a break and come back to it later or another day, taking a look at it from a new perspective.

When should I get a tutor and who should I employ? 

If you are thinking about getting a tutor for the 11 plus then make sure not to leave it to the last minute. Teaching is a complicated business. It's not as simple as you pay a bunch of money and your child now understands. Cramming might work for the brightest students who simply need a little coaching to get them in the habit of taking exams but for the rest, they may need six months to a year to build up their confidence.

The Tutor Pages is a great place to find a tutor. The advantage of an agency was that they would meet you in person, check your CRB and chase up a couple of references (although I'm not even sure they do this!). With the Tutor Pages, you no longer need an agency because you get to meet the person before deciding whether you want them to be your child's tutor, you can check their CRB yourself (mine is on my profile so you don't even need to do that) and ask them to send references directly from other families they've worked with.

For the 11 plus, I do think it is important to get a qualified tutor if you can afford it. Most tutors are unqualified teachers which for GCSE or A level Maths - and for other subjects for that matter might be fine - but for Primary Maths, I certainly think you have to be up-to-date on how children learn at schools now.

How can I ensure my child does their very best?

I think it is important to keep things in perspective. Whilst it's true that a grammar school or independent school may improve your child's chances of getting a good education, it's not to say that your child won't necessarily do well in a mainstream state school. There are plenty of good mainstream state schools out there. Remember also that grammar and independent schools can be very demanding too, meaning that your child could struggle to keep up and have their confidence knocked. I think if you keep this in mind, you will alleviate the pressure on your child.

It helps if you stay as relaxed as possible as your child may absorb your own anxieties about the exam and even if they've learnt heaps, they could lose their nerves on the day of the exam. If you can try not to talk about it a lot, then this will help too!

What level does my child need for the 11+?

All children at primary school are allocated levels for Maths, English and Science. Teachers formally assess the children at the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, that is years 2 and 6. In other years i.e 1,3,4,5 teachers do an informal assessment and the level they obtain is written on the end of year report. Levels for Key stage 2 are typically from 3 to 5. At the end of Key Stage 2 a child who obtains: a 3 is below average, a 4 is average and 5 is above average. Each level is subdivided into 3 parts. The order from highest to lowest is 5a, 5b, 5c, 4a, 4b, 4c, 3 ª, 3b, 3c. Children normally go up two bits in a year e.g from 4c to 4a.

It's no easy task understanding the levels, so don't worry if you didn't understand them beforehand. I'm not sure schools even bother to explain them. What you do need to know though is that if your child has a level 4c and above by the end of Year 4 then there is a very good chance they will gain entry into a grammar school or independent school. Whilst it is not impossible with lower levels, the chances do reduce. It's important to remember that both types of school, in particular, grammar schools are heavily oversubscribed. So provided your child has this level, tutoring is a good investment. If they do not, then tutoring may still be beneficial but instead as means to bolster your child's confidence and nurture their love for the subject.

How can my child get the most out of the classes?

1 hour is a good amount of time for a class. Two classes of one hour is better than one class of two hours, if more than one class is needed.

Make sure your child gets a chance to relax before the class and has eaten something nutritious so they can replenish their energy. A snack for the tutor would be very welcome too!!

What books can I use?

Practise and Pass Level 1 and 2, Peter Williams

These books have just been published and are ideal for grammar school and independent school exams.  There are excellent explanations and practice questions; varying in difficulty.   If you are preparing your child for entry into independent schools I would suggest you supplement the books with school exam papers.

11+ and SATS workbooks, Stephen Curran

They are designed for Key Stage 2 and 3, so you would need to be able to identify which exercises are for which Key Stage and are specifically suitable for the 11+.  I find that they are useful for giving children plenty of practice in specfic questions that pop up in the independent school exams.

Key Stage 2 Level 4 and 5 question books and Year 5 and 6 question books, CGP

Many parents ask me whether the level the teacher has allocated to their child is accurate.  The practice tests at the front and back of the book is useful for determining this.  I do find, however, that the levels schools given to children are generally a true reflection of their ability.   The books are ideal for the SAT exams in Year 6 and the Year 5 and 6 books ensure your child is practising questions for their year.

Where can I get more information about the 11 plus?

You can find some great advice at the 11 plus exams site.

What is verbal and non-verbal reasoning?

Verbal Reasoning (VR)  and Non Verbal Reasoning (NVR) can easily be confused.  Verbal reasoning involves manipulating words, letters and numbers. Nonverbal reasoning, meanwhile involves establishing relationships between shapes.  I call VR, word games and NVR, shape games to the children.  The more fun you can make the exercises, the more enjoyable the experience will be for the children.

How can I support my child?

There are some great books on the market.  My particular favourite is the Practise and Pass 11+ published in October, which offers clear guidance to the tutor or parent on how to coach children for these exams.   I suggest you do the questions yourself without reading the helpful tips.  This way you can put yourself in your child’s shoes and imagine the sorts of difficulties they may have. As the questions are multiple choice the book provides the children with five answers for each type of question.  This makes the questions considerably easier so it is a good idea to not give these to your child so they can try extra hard and get good practice at using a certain strategy.  If they are finding a certain type of question difficult, then do give them the selection of answers.  Further tips can be found in the Bond How to Do Verbal Reasoning and Bond How to do Non Verbal Reasoning and Susan Daughtrey’s Verbal Reasoning Technique and Practice books on the strategies you need.

Make it fun.  Children can do crosswords, word searches, word games, model-making kits, puzzles, and Sudoku to make it more enjoyable.  As a child, I used to play a lot of games with my parents and grandparents which helped me with maths, VR and NVR. 

Can you really coach a child for the Verbal Reasoning exam?

I believe you can.  I find that the children, who do well at English at school and enjoy reading, have little difficulty with verbal reasoning but if they have never had prior practice they may have struggle to understand the instructions for the question or simply, they will need to do several questions before they get into the swing of it.  If you find that they struggle with a certain type of question, then you can ensure that they know what strategy to apply.  For example, with the” Finding the hidden word” questions your child may not immediately see what the hidden four letter word is.  Best to let them just try to find the word first though.  Failing this, they can compare two adjacent words in the sentence “His top mark is fifty seven”.  They compare His stop.  “Hist, istt, stop”.   By looking at the last three letters of the first word and the first in the second word they get “hist”, then the last two letters of the first word and the first two letters of the second word they get “isto” and finally, with the last letter of the first word and the first three letters of the second word they get “stop”.  This is the strategy.   Another option, is to use the predetermined answers and eliminate those that definitely do not apply.  This will only work for certain types of questions.

Can you really coach a child for the Non Verbal Reasoning exam?

I personally find the Non verbal questions harder and sometimes, the children do too.  John Holt, an education writer, advocates letting children have a go without giving it too much  thought.   I think this is sensible with the abstract thinking that is required for these questions.   I find that the more I think about the questions, the harder they become and that simply having a go – a kind of meddling – I can find the pattern.   This is why, when you or your child gets stuck on a question, it’s best to come back to it later as you will be too involved in the question and you may need to distance yourself from it for a while.

It is important that your child is familiar with transforming (a shape changing it’s size), reflecting and rotating a shape.  Children may not have covered this at school if they are in Year 4 or 5 so it may be useful to do some practice with this before attempting the questions in the book.   Have a read of the section “Transformation and Symmetry” Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers and/or you can find some useful worksheets on Primary Resources.

What types of questions will be in the Verbal reasoning exam?

I mainly tutor children for the Kent exam for which child need to do the following type of questions.  Each type is allocated a letter to which they are commonly referred to.  For other counties, you can go to the elevenplus exams site.  There is no point covering the types of questions which will not show up in the exam which are typically referred to as HIKNOS.

Insert a letter (A)

Related words (B)

Word-letter codes (C)

Closest Meaning (D)

Hidden Word (E)

Missing Word (F)

Letters for Numbers (G)

Move a letter (J)

Letter Series (L)

Word Connections (M)

Number Series (P)

Compound Words (Q)

Make a word (R)

Letter Connections (U)

Reading Information (Z)

Opposite Meaning (H)

Complete the Sum (I)


Adrian Beckett 11+ exam Tutor (South East London)

About The Author

Specialist Maths tutor in 11+, 13+, KS2, GCSE and QTS Skills Test, with expertise in exam preparation.



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Article Comments

Natasha Chan Key Stage 2 English Tutor (Croydon)
Posted by Natasha Chan (view profile) on 2014-05-08 20:05:36

Very thorough article , covering all bases , not only explaining the process but useful advice regarding resources. Thank you .

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Vicki-Marie A-level Sociology Tutor (Torquay)
Posted by Vicki-Marie (view profile) on 2011-02-13 15:53:38

Vicki-Marie rated this article 5 stars

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