Browsed by
Category: learning

Why you should start 11+ work in Year 4

Why you should start 11+ work in Year 4

To many parents in Buckinghamshire, the grammar school system represents the best chance of a great education for their children. Indeed, some even move to the county to take advantage of the few remaining areas that continue with the grammar school system.

Whilst there is much debate about whether the test should be tutored for (because it disadvantages lower income families), the fact is that the test is not tutor-proof. The other fact is that schools are not allowed to teach the 11+ directly. That leaves a yawning gap that needs to be filled.

The Transfer Test, otherwise known as the 11+ test, takes place early in September for the incoming Year 6. That means that much of Year 5 is spent preparing for the test.

However, a lot of parents choose to start tuition even earlier than that, in year 4, and here’s why.

Why start tuition in year 4?

Eighty per cent of the 11+ is supposed to be based on the national curriculum, in other words, taught at school. However, this doesn’t allow for those that fail to grasp certain topics comprehensively and the 20% of the test that isn’t part of the curriculum.

The Year 5 11+ revision is spent honing in on the three aspects of the test: Verbal reasoning, Non-verbal reasoning and Maths.

Year 4 is a great time to start laying the foundations for this work. These are the areas that we cover in Year 4.

  1. The importance of spelling and vocabulary.

50% of the 11+ test in Bucks is made up of what they call Verbal Reasoning. It’s crucial to get spelling, vocabulary – including synonyms and antonyms – and comprehension skills well under way.

We spend a lot of time in 11+ tuition learning new words and frankly, there is no end to the amount of words a child can add to their vocabulary. Therefore, the earlier they start, the better! Comprehension practice, understanding the meanings of different words in different contexts, all of this can begin to be built up gently from Year 4.

  1. The importance of maths

There are two other parts to the test, “non-verbal reasoning” and maths.

Non-verbal reasoning takes up around 20% of the test. Here examiners are looking at a child’s ability to pick up patterns and codes. What they want the children to do is to show that they can solve problems.

Skills such as maths, spatial awareness and the ability to spot patterns is crucial to these types of questions. While some children have a natural ability in this area, others need to be taught how to do it.

In addition, plugging any gaps in maths is very helpful – it allows them hit the Year 5 11+ tuition running.

Maths is 30% of the exam. First thing’s first, times tables are key. If a child knows the answer to a times table they can work out the answer to a maths problem that much more quickly. The 11+ test is very much about answering accurately – at speed!

Maths, in common with Verbal Reasoning, is a skill that can be built up gradually. It is not just about numbers. Shapes, time, angles and even coordinates come under the Maths umbrella. Then there are measures, fractions and place value.

Above all, tuition helps a child’s confidence in their ability. The more confident they are when they start 11+ tuition in Year 5, the better they will do!

Please contact me on 01494 773300 or email to discuss your child’s particular needs.





Why do we need to learn the times tables?

Why do we need to learn the times tables?

You wouldn’t dream of building a house without first digging the footings and putting the foundations in place.

Nor would you attempt to put a meal together without assembling the right ingredients in the correct proportions.

Everything starts with a solid foundation, and in maths, that’s where times tables comes in. Schools have to make sure that children learn the times tables as part of the national curriculum. There is no silver bullet to learning them; it is simply a case of going over and over it until it is solidified into memory.

When children (or parents!) complain about having to learn it, it’s because they haven’t understood why it’s important. A few years ago OFSTED did a study that said that, without a solid grasp of the times tables, children’s ability in maths suffered. If you can get children to understand this, they will more easily buy into the reason for learning.

It’s a short cut

For instance, another way of viewing a sound knowledge of times tables is taking a shortcut rather than going the long way round.

If you were presented with a maths equation such as (8 x 8) / 4

And if you just knew that 8 x 8 was 64, you would not lose valuable seconds working it out before getting on with the rest of the equation.

It also helps with division. Imagine having to answer 40 ÷ 8. If we knew our times tables we would come up with the answer in a nanosecond (it’s five). If we had to do 42 ÷ 8 ,we would instantly know the answer was 5 remainder 2.

In fact, the times tables is a key building block for the much harder multiplication and division that children need to learn later on. It’s also the foundation of fractions so it is vital know them to understand fractions.

And here’s the clincher.

It saves time – which really helps when it comes to the 11+

This is where it comes in really handy for the 11+ exam. The test doesn’t just want to test a child’s knowledge, it wants to see how quickly a child can access that knowledge.  How fast can they process the question and still get it right?  Maths comprises XX% of the test, if a child knows all the times tables, imagine how much faster and easier the whole thing will be?

It’s worth remembering, though, being able to remember the times tables isn’t the be all and end all, it won’t suddenly make you a maths genius. Rather, it’s a very useful building block along the way to building that magnificent house.


Here are some great resources for learning the times tables.

Hit the Button is available on Apple and Android is a fun way for kids to rapidly improve their times tables. The division tables are also very useful.

Times table practice books, like Carol Vorderman Times Table Made Easy, or Usborne Lift the Flap Times Tables for younger children. WHSmiths has a good collection.

How do you pass the 11+ ?

How do you pass the 11+ ?

Parents all come to Pen and Ink Tuition for the same reason – they want their child to have the best chance of passing the 11+ test.

For the uninitiated, this is the so-called Transfer Test that helps to decide whether a child can go to grammar school or not. There are two papers, each around 45 minutes’ long.

They are supposed to be tutor-proof, but research has shown that this simply isn’t the case. 

So tutoring is, rightly or wrongly, one of the best ways to help children have the best chance of passing.

But that’s just the beginning.

Perhaps one of the questions I get asked the most by parents is: What do we need to do now to have the best chance of passing?

Being clever is one thing, but not everything

How do you decide if your child is right for grammar school? Clearly, if they are already in top sets at school then that’s a good start, but even then, it all depends on what levels other children in the school are at. The top set in one school may not equal the top set in another.

It’s also well worth speaking to teachers around the end of year 4 or early in year 5. They will have a pretty good idea of whether your child could pass the exam by then. In addition, good tutors offer free assessments.

Even if your child is top of the class, there are not many very clever ones who will sail straight through the exam without even trying. It requires hard work.

But hard work isn’t everything either

But hard work alone won’t be enough to pass the test. Whilst its true that the more vocabulary a child can learn, the better they are at times tables and other maths basics, the quicker they will be able to answer questions, this alone will not be enough to see them through.

Attitude also plays a huge part. When children get to grammar school they will be expected to be self-motivated and self-starters. In secondary schools in general children are expected to take much more responsibility for themselves. In grammars the academic demands will be even more rigorous than what they have thus far been used to. Your child has to want to be in that kind of environment.

It’s the same with the test. Children have to have a certain determination to want to pass and be prepared to put in the necessary time to do so. Some are only doing it because they are being told to, and they will have less of a chance of passing.

Practice, practice, practice

Practising does always improve their chances. No time learning vocabulary, or practising papers, will ever be wasted. The trick is to find a balance between that and other schoolwork and extra curricular activity.

It’s a team effort

The best combination is a child’s determination to succeed, and parental support helping them to work.

A year spent preparing is much better than a solid month of cramming, at least for most children. That’s because it takes time to build up the vocabulary and maths knowledge needed. That said, I offer courses in August as both refreshers for, and preparation for, the looming test in September.

Starting early also pays dividends. I was delighted when one child, who came to me with weak maths skills, went on to pass the 11+ two years later. Their sheer determination and perseverance paid off.