New academic year started and aspirants for 11 Plus exams who started their academic year 5 in the school started or preparing to start their preparation towards their desired school exam in the next year.
Competition has brought in lot of pressure, confusion and insecurity to most of the parents' mind about the success of their child in 11 Plus exam. Many of them are on call to us or visiting us to know more about starting point and preparation strategy.
Here is my take on the preparation strategy. Few tips and not the comprehensive step by step methods about how to prepare for 11 Plus exam exactly 12 months later from now.
A lot of parents of 11 Plus aspirants believe that coaching for these exam preparations is compulsory. There are a few aspirants on the other spectrum that believe that it is not required at all. I have been involved in the competitive exam industry, specifically 11 Plus preparation industry for over a decade and I have come to realize is that it completely depends on the student. 11 Plus training does not really have that much of an impact on the end result. It provides all aspirants a direction to work in but that is pretty much it. If you think that your performance would be drastically different if you take 11 Plus training or if you don't - that is incorrect. It would primarily depend upon the time and effort you put in towards your preparation. 11 Plus exam tutors, at least the good ones, give you the right tools to study but if you are going to completely rely on the classes - it is not going to take you to your goal of a desired threshold of 11 Plus exam.
We have an unhealthy obsession with wanting the best things. We want the best returns on our investments, we want to eat the best food, and we want to practice from the best books / material. As there is no "Best Mutual Fund", there is no "Best 11 Plus preparation material" either. There are plenty of good ones and you should pick any of them. As long as you go through them in a proper fashion - you would fulfil your requirements.
As far as study material is concerned, I prefer the one that is created and tested by the authors and tutors.
This study material should give you complete overview about what topics to study, what type of question to expect and enough practice questions with explanatory answers.
Passing an 11 Plus exam in UK nowadays is no joke. Getting into the top 5-10% in any field is difficult considering the amount of competition that exists. That is the reason a lot of students try to emulate what successful students did without ever stopping to realize whether they are in the same boat or not. People who are just starting their preparation should not blindly rely on tips from only successful students.
A lot of them would suggest stuff that worked for them but 11 Plus preparation beginners fail to understand that it worked for the successful students because they were capable of getting pass marks. They not only had the background preparation and clear fundamentals that were required for a success but also the right mindset. I am reminded of a story.
Young Composer: "Herr Mozart, I am thinking of writing a symphony. How should I get started?"
Mozart: "A symphony is a very complex musical form and you are still young. Perhaps you should start with something simpler, like a concerto."
Young Composer: "But Herr Mozart, you were writing symphonies when you were 8 years old."
Mozart: "Yes, but I never asked anyone how."
Although Mozart was one in multiple centuries and there are hundred odd people who are successful in a particular school every year, but I hope you got the point that I was trying to make. I would also like to add that some successful students do give out really good advice and suggestions, but it would be difficult for you as a beginner to distinguish between the two.
Practice Exams for 11 Plus exam preparation are important. As a matter of fact, it would not be wrong to say that they are the most important tool of 11 Plus preparation. It would also not be wrong to say that Practice Exams are utterly useless for beginners. Until and unless you have covered at least 50% of the curriculum, it makes absolutely no sense to even think about attempting a practice. Please understand that there are two main uses of a practice exam:
1. To make an aspirant familiar with the exam pattern
2. To help an aspirant figure out the strengths and weaknesses in his preparation.
None of the above is valid in case of someone who is just getting started with 11 Plus preparation. You should bother about a practice exam series for 11 Plus entrance exam probably around July - August of the year you are planning to attempt entrance exam in. Even then, it should be done only if you are close to finishing your curriculum. I believe the ideal number of practices for any student lies somewhere in the range of 5 to 15. 5 is the ideal number for people who are struggling to finish their curriculum and / or getting marks in the 70-80% range. 15 is probably suitable for candidates in the 95-99 % range. If and only if you are consistently scoring above 98 %, you should think about attempting more than 15 practices.
I believe that the aspirants develop an unhealthy obsession towards practices and the pass marks that they achieve in practices. It gives them something to do. It validates their preparation. It gives them the illusion that they are not wasting their time. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I would like to repeat - Practices are an important tool for 11 Plus preparation but you should use them wisely and as a beginner - you should stay away from them.
I believe the right amount of time for 11 Plus preparation lies somewhere between 300 hours to 500 hours. 11 Plus preparation can be broadly divided into three categories:
Learning - where you understand the necessary concepts involved.
Practice - where you do more and more questions to understand the various ways in which the concepts can be applied
Testing - where you test yourself and figure out your strong and weak areas
If you can dedicate roughly 100-150 hours to each one of the above categories, it should be enough. If you have more time on your hands that should probably go towards skill building. By skill building, I mean that you should do things which can help you perform well in these exams. For example, the time that a cricketer spends in the gym, helps him perform better on the field. Similarly, the time that you would spend reading books and novels, it will help you do better in the Reading Comprehension part of these exam.
I run a face to face tutoring company named "Champs Learning, so it is obvious that I would be biased. Having said that, I have taught at online training institutes as well for a long time, so I know about that process as well. While there are some obvious benefits of online preparation, the classroom training institutes prove an edge over online. Here is a simple beginner's tip/question that should help you decide.
How motivated and hardworking are you as a 11 Plus aspirant?
If you consider yourself as highly motivated and good hardworking student, then you should get a few books (or material from a tutoring institute), a practice exam series and that's it. You can easily get by with that. If you can prepare by doing everything on your own, search for solutions and tutorials - you do not really need a classroom tutoring. A large amount of resources is available online for free and also paid and all you need to do is to put them to good use. It is not going to be easy but as a motivated aspirant, you should not face too much trouble.
If you do not think that you will be able to take all the decisions on you own. If you are not confident of figuring out how to divide your time, how many practice exams to take, and generally need a little bit of a helping hand - classroom tutoring is better suited for you. Almost all tutoring institutes provide you with the necessary hand-holding. Once again, expect that you would be shown the door but do not expect a spoon feeding.
If you are the kind of person who believes in joining a gym because of the ideology - "If I have spent so much money, I would use it", in that case offline coaching is what you should pick.
Social media is a great tool. It can help you prepare for 11 plus exam. But sadly, people focus on the wrong things when it comes to social media. Nearly every Facebook group that I am a part of, nearly every Whatsapp discussion moves on the fringes of preparation and not actual preparation. It gives you the illusion that you are studying and learning new things but nothing could be farther from the truth. Even when participants discuss actual questions, most of them are related to Math.
Learn to use the forums / groups wisely to clarify your doubts and get guidance but do not confuse them with serious 11 Plus preparation.