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Thursday, August 31, 2006

We can only live in hope.

Degree courses cost money. Many of our ten and eleven year old children writing their Eleven Plus examinations will be soon be attending university. If the 2006 estimated cost of three years of university education is thousands of pounds, how much will the cost of attending university be in seven years time?

Careers Guidance becomes important. Many students will need to repay a lot of money at the end of their degree course. Traditionally a young person thinks of a career area they think will suit them. They then find out about the qualifications required – and then they need to find a job.

Our eleven plus children may need to find jobs that will enable the investment to be repaid.

Parents contemplating the 11+ and future university fees may care to consider:

Insurance Policy
Rich grandparents
Second job
Hope things will change ………

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Your Child's CV

I wonder when the results of 11+ examinations will only be part of the selection process. Schools will then need to add some form of pre selection. The schools will then need to consider the curriculum vitae (CV) as well as an application form. Perhaps the chosen few could even be interviewed.

Parents and teachers providing 11+ tuition could remind the ten year olds to bear the following points in mind:

Before completing the application form you are expected to read the school’s web site and literature.

Answer all the questions and you must use the space provided.

Express yourself in good English – and do not just write lists.

Give as much relevant information about yourself as possible.

Help with interview techniques could also be offered:

Why do you wish to attend this school?

What is your favourite music?

What are your opinions on our school uniform?

What clubs would you like to join?

Questions and answers, and thought about the actual school, may help to focus the child’s mind!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Unexpected Order

In 11+ verbal reasoning exercises we often need to show some flexibility. There is a difference between placing types of boats and ships into alphabetical order and into order of size.


Very able children will sometimes produce an unexpected order. The question may want a range from largest to smallest but the answer, inadvertently, could be reversed. If one mark is allocated for each correct answer then precious points could slip away.

Try to work out which type of questions may be misread. Work on techniques for helping your child to analyse the question.

Read the questions carefully.

Don’t assume facts (A large sloop may be bigger than a small schooner but one mast versus two masts may be the intent of the question.)

Pay special attention to detail. (Smallest first!)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Last Minute Advice

Babies just love to be touched and rubbed. Many parents will remember with pleasure the little rubs and pats to the back after food. There was that great feeling of triumph when, a last, a musical sound was willed from the little body.

It seems to become more difficult for parents to offer a little hug as their child becomes older.

When your ten year leaves you on the day of the Eleven Plus examination, open your heart. By all means deliver the following lines with great love and meaning:

“Remember to check your work over.”

“No, you can not take chocolates into the examination.”

“Read the questions carefully – and do be afraid to read some questions again.”

“Good luck.”

“Of course we will go to …… to night.”

Remember to add:

“Come here – I just want to give you a hug.”

Last Minute Advice

Babies just love to be touched and rubbed. Many parents will remember with pleasure the little rubs and pats to the back after food. There was that great feeling of triumph when, a last, a musical sound was willed from the little body.

It seems to become more difficult for parents to offer a little hug as their child becomes older.

When your ten year leaves you on the day of the Eleven Plus examination, open your heart. By all means deliver the following lines with great love and meaning:

“Remember to check your work over.”

“No, you can not take chocolates into the examination.”

“Read the questions carefully – and do be afraid to read some questions again.”

“Good luck.”

“Of course we will go to …… to night.”

Remember to add:

“Come here – I just want to give you a hug.”

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Counting Sheep in a Pen

Think back in time. A shepherd is counting his flock. He thinks that one is missing. He places pebbles in little piles so show just how many sheep he is responsible for. He carries his pebbles in little bags. The bags get heavier as the numbers of sheep grow.

The shepherd in the next valley uses a notch on a stick. This works very well until the herd grows so big that he needs a very long stick.

The third shepherd uses his fingers. He asks one of his fellow herders to raise a finger as soon as ten sheep have passed.

Every now and again, before your children go to bed, please remind them that the number 5 is 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, and that it equals 5 times 1. Suggest too that the shepherd would be hard pressed to explain to one of his family that he had 7 times 8 sheep. Surely he should have said that he had 56 sheep?

This is important because he may have asked his son the following question:

If one sheep needs one square metre – and the perimeter of the sheep pen is 24 metres – how many sheep could he fit into the pen?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Carla's Thoughts

If you had to choose a career for your nine year old – what would you want? Carla recently did an assessment with us. Here is her account:

I went into the testing room and the teacher, called Michelle, gave me the first test and explained it.

I found some parts hard and some parts easy. I finished the test with 15 minutes to spare.

Most of the maths was easy but the hardest thing was the algebra. I also found the non verbal reasoning quite hard as I have never practiced that before. The verbal reasoning was easy.

I finished all the tests early because I answered the questions I could do quickly.

I speak Spanish, French and English. I like school and rock climbing.

Which of these jobs do you think that Carla will be doing when she is thirty five years old?


Friday, August 25, 2006

A Question of Comprehension

In Looking Glass Land words are read by holding the words up to a mirror. Our 11+ children are very lucky to have to answer comprehension question based on `Standard English’ rather than try to explain and understand the Anglo Saxon English of the `Jabberwocky’.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wade;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

We can appreciate the value and the sincerity of simple comprehension questions like:

1. Why was it brillig?
2. Why were the borogoves mimsy?

Comprehension of this nature can be taught.

Children, however, will need strong comprehension and reading vocabulary skills when they have to cope with `Cloze’ comprehension. One type of Cloze activity is filling blanks from a given list of words. A different `Cloze’ activity is providing an open ended solution.

Imagine an 11+ paper where children have to make up the missing words:

'Twas_______, and the slithy _______

Did gyre and _______ in the wade ………

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Nutty Problem

An old custom, often revived on Halloween night, was to roast two chestnuts on a fire. There was one nut for a boy and one for a girl. If the nuts cooked without any problem the couple would marry.

If one exploded, or fell in the fire, the marriage, if it took place, would fail.

Some children enjoy the routine of a systematic approach to the examinations. They like feeling prepared.

Other children seem to enjoy the challenge of leaving every thing to the last moment.

Some parents like the idea of regular lesson – so that they feel they have given their child the best possible chance. (Some parents are also very competitive.)

Other parents feel that if they leave their child to choose when and what to work on they are making sure that if their child does pass the child really does deserve to win a place in grammar school.

Both extremes are probably a bit nuts – most parents and children are somewhere in the middle.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Problem with Nine Times Table

My grandfather was a clerk on the Dover to London Road. He lived in Wingham in Kent. His headstone lies in Wingham’s church. We visit him every few years.

He worked in the days before calculators. He could add a column of figures in his head: In those days money had pounds, shillings, pence, halfpennies and farthings. He was proud that he could run his finger down the page adding five different variables at the same time.

Thank goodness that the current 11+ examinations do not allow the use of calculators. Our children may lose the use of being able to manipulate numbers altogether if all they have to do in the examination is whip out their mobile phone and press the buttons.

I watched a reasonably competent 11+ child write:

+ £34.96

She said she could do multiplication but she was not sure of her nine times table. She explained she could manage 6 x 3 but was unsure of 9 x 3 or even 3 x 9. She said that it was easier and quicker just to add it up! Any advice to the child and her teacher?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Last Minute Reminder.

My wife’s father was a tool maker. Tool makers do what it says on the label. They build the tools to make the moulds to do the jobs. Grandfather Coombe worked on radar during the war. He never talked much about what he did but we know that his team was involved in installing radar for the Ark Royal.

He used a tool called a Vernier Gauge. This is a small moveable scale attached to a larger graduated scale. The gauge is used to measure fractional parts of subdivisions of the larger scale. His work needed to be remarkably accurate. He was content to spend time trying to get his work to be as accurate as possible. He needed to check and recheck his work.

Some eleven plus children are in so much of a hurry to complete their work they do not budget enough time to check their work over. Good study habits and examination technique are built before the examination.

A last minute exhortation to: `Check your work over!’ is unlikely to bear fruit unless the act of checking has been rehearsed.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Useful Hint

My grandmother was a farmer’s wife. As the senior woman on the farm she had many responsibilities.

I can remember one Saturday night the family being woken by hammering on the door. There had been an axe attack and a young woman had been carried over three miles on a bicycle to the farm house.

She had a gaping wound in her shoulder that was about four inches long.

The nearest hospital was twelve miles away. It would take well over two hours to drive in the nearest town because the rivers were swollen. Ouma, (Grandmother), took out her sewing box, sterilised some needles and used good honest cotton to sew the wound.

We all know there are about two and a half centimetres to the inch. If each stitch was about 3mm apart, how many stitches did Ouma have to sew to close the wound?

Some of our young eleven plus candidates will grow up to be surgeons, doctors and nurses. They too will be involved in sewing and saving lives. Please remind your child, on a weekly basis, that there are 2.5 cms in an inch. It may come in useful one day.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Just a Question of Practice

Some 11+ children actually like questions like:

How many centimetres are there in six kilometres?

But is it a worthy eleven plus question to demand:

Change 4.5 million centimetres to kilometres and metres.

It is a pity that the 11+ examination does not only ask useful questions like:

Three children divide 280 sweets among them so that Julie gets 40 more than either of the others. How many does Julie get?

Unequal sharing could come up in real life in the years ahead. Changing centimetres to kilometres may appeal to a more limited audience.

When the thorny question of inheritance comes up it must be useful for someone in the family to be able to divide £6000000 between two people so that one gets half as much as the other. Perhaps the extra practice with the number of zeros in the metric questions will help on the sharing question.

It would be very sad for one party to leave a zero out on the sharing question!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Keeping a Balance

Mark out two lines with a start and a finish. Don’t let the lines grow too far apart – because then you lose the opportunity of explaining parallel lines. Divide the children into two teams. Appoint yourself as the referee.

Encourage the children to drop onto their hands and knees at the start line. Hand the first child in each team an apple. When `Go’ is given the children have to push the apples using their noses.

Naturally you will need a simple rule. `If you touch the apple with any part of your body – other than your nose - return to the beginning.’

It would be interesting to see if children learnt to use and apply this rule faster than: `To find ten percent simply divide by ten.’

Divide the children into two teams. Give one team the apple rule and the other the percentage rule.

Give one team a little more practice and the other a little more theory and see …….

Friday, August 18, 2006

Train problems

In only seven years our ten year olds will be grappling with a very different sort of language.

`Gear Changing
Effective acceleration is only possible when a useful and economical increase in engine revolution is obtainable. The use of the gearbox must therefore be considered in conjunction with the capabilities of the vehicle.’ (Road Craft 1977)

This year our children are expected to cope with a range of ideas and language.

Train A leaves Manchester at 0805. The train takes about two and a half hour to reach London. Train B leaves London at 0910. If the distance from London to Manchester is 185 miles, when will the trains meet?

Should we expect ten year children take this question at face value? Did both engine drivers accelerate at the same speed? What happens if the 8.05 was five minutes late? To how many decimal points should the average speed be worked out?

Does our 11+ teaching cater for children who want to explore outside of the confines of the syllabus? Would intensive coaching from driver training school for seven years deliver us better drivers? Should 11+ papers encourage more creative thinking?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

On holiday!

Tarzan was a hero. He was the son of an English noble – but was abandoned in the jungle and raised by apes.

We know too that he learnt the language of animals and we would like to believe that he lead a happy life.

He married Jane. `Me Tarzan – you Jane,’ has been part of our legacy for many years. Tarzan and Jane had a son.

Tarzan had superhuman strength. This is exactly the same strength that a child will need to be able to display when Eleven Plus papers are taken on holiday. `We are off to Greece for the week. What papers should we take?’

`Oh Mother dear, please give me a break from papers. I want to have a holiday. We have not had a holiday for a full year. One week’s break will not make a difference. Please, please – I will do a paper every day when we return.’

I wonder what Jane and Tarzan’s son had to say?

Give me a break!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What a Good Girl!

In the Shona language of Zimbabwe the word for a `girl’ is `musikana’.

`Musikana’ is a musical sounding word. The shape and pattern of the word seems to suggest a wonderful innocence.

There is a big difference between: `Now you will have to face the music!’ and: `This is music to my ears.’

It will never be easy for any parent to have to turn to a ten year old and explain the consequences of not winning a place at grammar school. It must also be an agonising interval of time when a child lands up on the waiting list. The uncertainty must be even greater if one’s child is number four or five on the list.

The pleasure to all the family on receiving the news that a place has been won must surely be a cause for celebration. What pleasing words: `Well done my girl!’

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Please just try your best.

When Longfellow shot his arrow in the sky he was not sure where the arrow was going to fall.

`I shot an arrow into the air –
It fell to earth, I know not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.'

When you have children you never really know where the arrow will fall. I recently heard a grandparent saying to the much loved grandchild: `The honour of the family lies in your hands. You have to pass the eleven plus. The whole family relies on you.’

Who knows what pressure is being put on that child. The burden of family expectations is a very heavy one for a ten year old.

We hope the parting words before the 11 Plus examination were: `Just do your best. That is all we pray for.’

If the honour of the family was not satisfied would the child have been comforted or received a verbal arrow?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Please Sir. Can we have a new exam?

We can try to `fast track’ a development through a planning authority. We can appreciate too that our child’s teacher is on a `fast track’ and has been recognised as a future leader in the profession. In America the term `fast track’ is used when the President is given powers that Congress will vote on later on.

Do we really need to `fast track’ children? Why do we have to make children pass an examination at ten or eleven years old? The same child can pass a swimming examination earlier than at eleven. There are other tests that a child can pass that are not age related. Why can’t we develop a new style called `The Fast Track 11+ Examination’?

We can, however, imagine the problems that may arise if a bright nine year old is `fast tracked’ through the selective examination system. Intellectually the child may be able enough to cope with the syllabus of a grammar school. Emotionally there may be problems at times.

Whay are we are all so pleased when a bright, cheerful eleven year old wins a place in a grammar school? Why aren’t we as happy if the child is surly and uncommunicative? Maybe one day the powers that be will develop an emotional and social 11+ test. This could allow the happy and hardworking child to be fast tracked into grammar.

We could test the children on: How wide is your smile? Do you laugh at my jokes? Do you like working hard? Do you love school?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Childish Discovery

Please remind your children of the decorum of the 11+ examination room. By all means remind your child of Archimedes. He solved a problem of the amount of gold in a crown when he saw how much water he displaced as he climbed into his bath.

Archimedes jumped from his bath and, without stopping to dress himself, he ran through the streets to the king's palace shouting, "Eureka! Eureka! Eureka!" In English this means, "I have found it! I have found it! I have found it!"

When your little one solves a problem in the examination please urge him or her not to tear off their clothes and run down the class room shouting at the top of their voice.

I am not sure what the examining board would say if it received a report: `Candidate 3456 ran shouting down the classroom.’

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Numbers Game

I wonder why all ten year old children do not know that numbers up to one hundred should be written as words. Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs does not have quite the same ring as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

We are used to seeing the range: 11+ or 11 Plus or Eleven + or Eleven Plus. If a number is used as a figure it can be written as a number. I suppose we could write 11+ in Roman numerals as XI +. There is a convention that names of Kings, Popes and Emperors have Roman numerals as in Henry VIII. Of course we can also write Henry the Eighth.

We can allow our children to become little emperors for very short periods. An emperor is a ruler. We do not want our children to dictate what and when they are going to learn. They should, however, learn to write some numbers as words.

It does seem better that we think about our children as little princes or princesses. This allows us to remind our children that they have not yet attained the throne. Children do need to work towards winnings the hearts and minds of the people (especially their parents).

Friday, August 11, 2006

Don't worry - just turn up on the day.

Mr Wilkins Micawber is a famous character in Dickens’ David Copperfield. He had many ideas about schemes that would lead to wealth. His ideas constantly failed – but Micawber never gave up – he was always hoping that something would turn up.

There will be questions your child will face in the 11+ examinations that you can not have planned for. Naturally we hope that something will turn up in the examination that none of us can have forecast. Some very bright children will be sitting the 11+ examinations. They need to be stretched and stimulated. Some of the very able children will be delighted and excited to be able to leave an examination without being able to answer all the questions.

Micawber’s famous maxim will give many opportunities for discussions on maths, credit, pocket money, moving house and rising inflation:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

It does seem a good idea to be able to explain to your child that wealth is more likely to come with hard work. If you work with your child over a period of time it is likely that a lot of the work you have done together will turn up in the examination. All of us can dream.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Will You? Won't You?

The apostrophe has a number of functions. The (‘) shows the possessive case. This is why we write Lord’s (the cricket ground) and not Lords’ or Lords because Lord’s was once the meadow of John Lord. The (‘) also is used to take the place of abbreviations as well as omitted letters.

Some 11+ examinations ask for a written paper where the children may write a story or an account or a description. The children have to learn to proof read their output. Eleven Plus children would be expected to cope with the girl’s dress – as in the dress of the girl. We hope too they will remember that they need an apostrophe if a letter is left out – as in couldn’t. How do we explain won’t? If it is an abbreviation of will not why do we not write willn’t?

As teachers and parents whenever we are short of knowledge or information we always have the invaluable option of saying `because’. Perhaps won’t came about because it rhymes with don’t. Who knows? Who cares, as long as the apostrophe is used in the right place. Just remind your children that if they are writing about a rhinoceros it sounds better to say the horn of a rhinoceros rather than a rhinoceros’s horn. (This information just might come in useful.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

One Step Nearer to our Graves.

Gravesend, the headquarters of Etc, is an industrial town on the bank of the Thames. The name wrongly suggests `graves’ when it should have been `groves’. The name means `place at the end of the grove’. The original grove was perhaps located to the east of Gravesend where the Fort Gardens are now. Would the town be better liked if it had been called `Grovesend’? This last name brings up a picture of rolling orchards, gentle walks and a tranquil sleepy town.

How would we regard the 11 Plus if the name 11 Minus had been adopted. Would this make us think of all the children who had failed rather than those who have passed? How about 11 First? We could then dream of our children obtaining first class honours degrees on graduation. What about 11 Hundred? `If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times.’ Familiar words to all parents.
Perhaps we can apply to our councils to have a `style counsellor’ look over the words Eleven Plus. A style counsellor would be able to dictate what is and what is not a fashionable term for an examination at the age of eleven. We could have different names for the 11+ in all the towns and districts offering 11+ examinations. This could help to make the 11+ a little more confusing for parents. After all helping children through the 11+ examination does bring all of us nearer to the grave

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Please Miss. I don't know what you mean.

It seems likely that some children will be prepared for the 11+ examinations by experienced and gifted teachers. Other children will have to compete for the same prize with very different expectations and preparation.

Non verbal reasoning plays a part in a number of 11+ examinations. Most non verbal tests look at the ability to recognise similarities, analogies and patterns in unfamiliar designs.

Language knowledge is not supposed to play a significant part on the results - providing that the initial instructions have been understood. The initial instructions may be couched in terms like these:

Each of the questions below starts with a pair of shapes on the left hand side. These two shapes have something in common. Decide what it is, then look at the rest of the shapes in the boxes on the right. Mark your answer with the letter that goes best with the shapes on the left.

Learning to follow instructions may be a major benefit of 11+ examinations.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Beyond your control – Are exams fair?

A number of parents will approach the 11+ examinations with some considerable degree of disquiet and concern. How far will their child’s future, at such a tender age, be affected by a largely irrevocable decision? Is the way we use the examination’s results really fair on all children?

If verbal reasoning tests are designed to give useful information about a child’s ability then the verbal reasoning element of the 11+ examinations may need to investigate areas different from normal classroom work. Children with reading problems or who are not fully fluent with the English language, may sometimes be at a disadvantage when attempting verbal reasoning tests.

There are many factors that are far outside the control of a teacher or parent. The death of a loved one or a family break up can affect performance. No matter how many practice papers a child may have done – if the child does not feel up to the examination then the content of the following years of education could be altered for ever.

A simple comprehension problem, however, could affect the progress of your child through school – and into the examination hall. The words `It is not fair - the dog ate my paper,’ will be offered by some children when they have not done as well as possible. Lots of quality reading may help to save the day.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Numbers, Levels and Words

Your child’s teacher at school may discuss `National Curriculum levels’ with you. Your child’s tutor may talk about `11+ levels’. To all of us it is just a numbers game. Some 11+ work can be floated between different levels.

We are all used to dealing with a house number, or a registration number, or a telephone number. Each one of these types of numbers suggests a different kind of numbering system. Moving between Level Numbers in the National Curriculum and the levels a child is aiming to reach in 11+ examinations is an inexact science. At first glance it may look as if an 11+ candidate needs to be preparing for an examination a whole level higher than the National Curriculum. This could be a red herring.

Take the two words bark and barque. A ship can be a bark – because this is a word that can be used for a ship. The word barque is largely a rather technical term used for a type of rigging of a ship – or even a ship. The word bark does not need to need to be anything to do with a tree or the sound of a dog or even barking up the wrong tree! At what National Curriculum Level number should a child be able to define or even comprehend the difference? Should children working towards the 11+ need to know the intricacies of the word?

National Curriculum Level

Year 3 Achieving Level 2 Working mainly at Level 3 in class.
Year 4 Achieving Level 3 Starting to work at Level 4 in class.
Year 5 Achieving Level 3 Working at Level 4 in class.
Year 6 Achieving Level 4 Starting Level 5 in class

In National Curriculum terms each level represents 2 school years, therefore a child is not expected to progress a whole level per year. Levels may have an A, B or C grading – where A is the highest.

11+ Examination

Year 3 Achieving Level 3 Working mainly at Level ¾ in Lessons
Year 4 Achieving Level 3/4 Starting to work at Level 4 in Lessons
Year 5 Achieving Level 4 Starting Level 5 in Lessons
Year 6 Achieving Level 4/5 Working mainly Level 5 in Lessons. Revising Level 4.

All parents can do is encourage their children to read as wide a range of books as possible. Some Year 3 children will naturally pick up a wide vocabulary. Other children may meet the word `barque’ for the first time on an 11+ paper. All parents can do is try to add as many words and their meanings to their child’s vocabulary as is sensible. Anyway all parents are sensible all of the time!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Parents as Teachers

Some questions demand good skills of analysis and interpretation. – as well as powerful deduction. We do expect children to solve verbal reasoning questions like this:

A group of children were enjoying a birthday party. One-quarter asked for vanilla ice cream, and one third of the remainder asked for drinks. The other children asked for orange juice. If 12 children asked for orange juice, how many were at the party?

A question like this asks for flexibility. Teachers and parents will naturally adopt different styles of teaching to embrace differing needs and requirements.

The problem for a child doing 11+ work comes when mum or dad becomes `Mum the Teacher’ or `Dad the Teacher’ because these are different roles for children to cope with. Parents simply take this in their stride. Every parent knows what is best for their child.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


I was asked today by a bright, smiling ten year old where the word `examination’ came from. We were chatting casually before our latest 11+ course started. We looked up dictionary definitions and then went to an old faithful.

My trusted copy of `Brewer’ – The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable’ – offered:

Examination Examen is Latin for the needle indicator of a balance. To examine is to watch the indicator, so as to adjust the balance.

We discussed the balance of life – the need to humour parents and the need to work hard for one self. We then chatted about what balancing indicators a ten year old could recognise.

It is important that life does not become too centred around the 11+ examination. I am often staggered by the capacity for original thought by our ten year olds.