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Thursday, November 30, 2006

11+ Magic

King Arthur, or so the legend goes, had a round table. This meant that no one sat in a privileged position. The story goes that at every meeting King Arthur allowed his knights to sit in random places so that one knight was no more important than another.

One day five of the knights arrived early. Perhaps there had not been too much traffic along the way. They may even had taken one of the new toll roads. It was a long way ago - and our memories are weak.

They sat cheerfully at the round table and called for small beers. The knights were: Sir Agravain who was a handsome and capable fighter, Sir Bors was a fine knight, Sir Calogrenant was courteous and eloquent, Sir Daniel engaged in fantastic adventures while Sir Elyan was known as an excellent knight.

The middle knight sat between Sir Calogrenant and a knight. The first letter of his name was later in the alphabet that either Sir Calogrenant’s or his own. There was a large space between Sir Bors and Sir Elyan but the order was not alphabetical. Only one knight was in his correct place according to the first letter of his name.

This is a `easy’ 11+ question. All you have to do is to write down the positions and names of the five knight.

It is worth five marks - so you can’t spend more than three minutes on the exercise.

Naturally you will be able to strip the un-necessary words. We know we have to draw a plan and will need to sketch a `sector‘. (This leads to even more 11+ revision as a sector is a geometric figure bounded by two radii and the included arc of a circle.)

Use the hint about the large space.

King Arthur could call on Merlin for help and advice. Merlin was a wise magician and, as a your child looks to you for help, you will need to draw on your own magic.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Following Instructions

There will be a number of men, and some women, who will immediately recognise the work being done on this car:

To dismantle the brakes proceed as follows:

For front brakes, apply the hand brake, jack up the front of the car and remove the road wheel.
Take out the two brake drum retaining screws, back off the adjusters and remove the brake drums.
Mark the position of the pull off springs, and also mark the brake shoes to make sure they return to their correct positions.

Equally there will be a number of women, and some men, who will recognise these instructions:

Working from right to left, insert the tapestry needle into the first stitch.
Pull the yarn through first stitch.
Insert the needle into the first stitch on the top piece from front to back and second stitch from back to front.

In an English examination a child could be called up on to:

Write the actual words that Caspian said:

Caspian said that he could not pull his sweater over his head.

In all three examples of instruction there is lot left unsaid.

In the case of the car there is no mention of how to cope with nut that will not be moved.
Counting and recounting stitches takes concentration and effort.
To change reported speech to direct speech we need to think as much about a change of tense as the use of inverted commas.

Nothing is easy is it?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Just a Little Patience

We used to use yards and feet because these measures come from man himself - the length of a foot and so on. The length of fields used to be measured in yards. So 10 feet is three yards and one foot. Man has also developed a way of measuring time.

Time, however, is difficult to teach. When we are adding weeks and days we need to know how many days there are in a week. There are seven days in a week. So three days plus five days makes one week and one day.

5 weeks 3 days
+2 weeks 5 days

Sometimes teachers and parents try to help children to `discover’ and `problem solve‘. Part of the theory behind this approach is that if we help children to `discover’ we will save boredom and inattention. It must be very difficult for any of us to feel really excited about adding days and weeks. (Unless we are going on holiday.)

In the eleven plus examination your child will have to solve problems. What we are trying to achieve is to help our children develop the ability to reconstruct a mathematical problem and then solve it. We can go into a field and work our way through problems yards and feet. It not so easy with time.

In the time example above you may find you need to ask two or three simple questions. How many days are there in a week? How can you change eight days to weeks and days? You may find it difficult to construct a time machine at home to let your child discover time. You may need a little patience and a little drill.

Children, however, have been solving problems like this for years. Have patience - one day your child will do it all confidently.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Predicting Success

One of the big problems we have, when we are looking at tests like the 11+, is whether the test is measuring the specific ability is claims to be measuring.

Of course the 11+ examinations are partly used to try to predict future success at school in GCSE and A Level examinations.

It is not only the parents, teachers and tutors of children at the primary school age that are interested in the eleven plus results. Naturally the teachers in the grammar schools will be concerned about the quality of the children joining their school in the new school year.

All involved in the examination are asking:

Do the 11+ tests allow us to make predictions?
Do the tests actually measure what they set out to measure?
Does the test appear to be a `good’ test?
Is the test actually a reliable tool?

When two parents lean over towards their own eleven plus candidate and whisper in an encouraging tone: `You do know that if you go to grammar school you will be more likely to get a good job.’ The parents are making a prediction. Time will tell!

One day your child will arrive at your local grammar school. The teachers who look at the new intake will be just as concerned as you that they will be able to obtain good academic results.

Passing an eleven plus examination is really only one more step in your child’s life. There are plenty of real life examinations and tests to tackle in the years ahead. Doing well on verbal and non verbal reasoning tests can not make a child into a hardworking and serious `A’ level student. To be successful in life your child will need a different kind of spark – and that is a little more difficult to measure.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Time and Motion

Back in 1948 Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey produced a book called `Cheaper by the Dozen’. Their premise was that applying the principals of time and motion to a family group would enable a family to interact and respond by pulling together. The film was released in 1950.

I have a 1968 copy of the book in a Pan Books Edition. The inscription reads:

Who only reared twelve children
Who reared twelve only children

Do mothers really do everything? Food, clothes, school, homework, 11+ study, recreation, comfort, love, role model - in fact everything. Does this mean that while dads understand that they have children, a mother’s nurturing side enable them understand their children’s needs in a different manner?

What do dads do? A number of dads can do some of the non verbal and some of the maths. Some children even allow their dads to offer tentative solutions to verbal reasoning questions.
This brings us back to time and motion in the home. To fit everything into a early morning scramble for school I can think of a very wide range of activities that the average mum has to manage. This leaves dad able to spend just three minutes a morning revising key concepts.

Can you image the impact on the family as all concerned sit down to cereal and toast and the conversation opens:

“We were able to revise multiplication of factions and proportion this morning. Thanks to dad’s clever methods I think I now know how to do them.”

“I have always thought he was clever, that is why I married him.” (Fondly.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Solving Problems

When you selling your house you are advised to take on professional advisors. It could be, for example, your accountant to check that you presenting your income correctly. You could also telephone your solicitor about the progress of the sale. The estate agents too are acting professionally on your behalf. While you may rail at times about the unfairness or the iniquities of the system it is the system that exist at the time.

I wonder how often parents are tempted to phone the professional when it is something they can actually do themselves.

Helping a child with 11+ work is, however, very different from selling a house. Both events are probably equally stressful. Selling a house, for example, could involve a chain and with this in place unfair events could happen that are beyond your powers to influence.

The frustration that your child feels when your explanation is not absorbed immediately could sometimes be demonstrated in a slightly pouting lip. Your frustration is also manifest when you have just delivered a perfectly logical and reasoned answer for it to be rejected by a sullenly muttered: `I still don’t understand.’ It is very difficult for you to pick yourself up, smile sweetly and try again.

So before you telephone for professional help think back to when you were able to out think and out wit your child. Do you remember the time in the supermarket when your two year old lay full length on the floor because you had offered a carrot in exchange for a shiny packet of sweets? What did you do? You know you could not get angry - that only would make the matter worse. You could not forcibly remove the sweets from the little one’s hand because that would have brought shrieks of disgust. You were fearful too that you would incur the cumulative censure of the surrounding shoppers.

Do you remember how you distracted your little one? Can you recall how you murmured loving words and offered grateful thanks? Surely that feeling of relief as the onlookers faded away is still engraved on your heart.

When you had your problem with your house you did not telephone the professional. You talked about what you should do. When your two year old decided to express his or her personality you did not call a professional. You talked about what you should do. When your 11+ explanation is rejected - however unfairly - you should simply talk it through.

Keep your cool. Do your thing. Enjoy your child. Do not pick a fight. You know that in time you will solve the problem. Have faith in yourself. Believe in yourself. (Remember that if all else fails bribery usually works with a ten year old.)

After all if you can sell a house and raise a child from two years old to ten years old you will, in time, solve any eleven plus problem.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dropping Intensity

Many of us make visits to the gymnasium on a regular basis. We go there on the premise that since the brain stores every movement, the more frequently a movement is performed, the more it will stay in the mind. With constant repetition a fast muscular reaction is obtained with lasting effects. At least I think that is what the instructor told me on my induction.

Each time you change gyms you have to have another induction. Every gym you go to has different equipment. This gives your brain a new learning curve and your muscles too. The instructors also remind you to work at 40% of your capacity when you meet new equipment in order that you do not put too much unfamiliar strain on your body.

One of the most reassuring statistics around is that there are remarkably few fatalities in gyms. This must be heartening to the instructors as well as reassuring to the gym users.

What the gym is supposed to do is increase the feeling of physical and psychological well-being.

The brain gym of 11+ papers and exercises is supposed to engender the same feeling of being well conditioned mentally. The ability to concentrate must also be improved if the brain and the body feel fit and healthy.

There is no need, however, to over do it. Try not to allow your child to feel pressured and overstrained. Drop your intensity down to 40% at times - especially when covering a new topic. Think of the smiles and the encouragement offered by your gym instructor. Take their words of praise into your sessions.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Sands of Time

I am always impressed by the ingenuity of children and their parents. It is no secret that we run 11+ courses. On the courses we talk a lot about timing - and we do practical exercises based on timing. Naturally we encourage the children to bring their own watches.

“Can I use my mobile phone? I have forgotten my watch.”
“ I didn’t bring my watch today. Can I bring it along tomorrow?
“I don’t have a watch. My mother times papers for me.”
“My mother uses our sand timer to make sure I watch the time running out.”

The idea of using a sand timer shows one very sensible mum. The flowing sand seems to start so slowly - but towards the end the sand seems to be ebbing remarkably quickly. It must be quite distracting to look up from an 11+ paper to see just a little bit of sand left in the hour glass.

We know that sermons used to be timed by a sandglass. An hour glass was placed upon the pulpit. The whole congregation could see the preacher speeding up his delivery as time ran out.

Archimedes developed a number system that he felt capable of counting the number of grains of sand which could be fitted into the universe. We know that he was a great educator - and he produced a large number of theorems that have delighted mathematicians, and some school children, for many many years.

Suppose an 11+ question read:

An hour glass holds a large number of grains of sand. Using the number system developed by Archimedes (the myriad is 10 000 and a myriad myriad is 100 000 000 - but you know that already), how many grains of sand would you need for a verbal reasoning test lasting 50 minutes?

So well done to that mum mentioned earlier. It would have been easier for her to have bought a watch for five pounds - but think of the fun she, and her daughter, had watching the sands of time flow by.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Class Genius

In every class there is always a class genius. This is the person, boy or girl who simply knows everything. The genius knows how to do division of fractions, the length of a football field and how to remain calm under pressure.

When I was at school the `Class Genius’ was Peter Drybrough. Peter was able to do chemistry and this was a great help to all of us.

We had a remarkably pleasant chemistry teacher. He was a young man, as I recall, and he always started the day cheerfully and happily. As the morning went on he became more morose and grumpy.

He collapsed in front of a class one day at about eleven o’clock. Not in front of us I am sorry to say – but we knew all about it. It ensured that in his back room there was a still where he made pure alcohol.

Every class knew that the teacher made frequent trips into his back room over the course of the morning. The chemistry results in the school were not very high in any event. After our teacher had been carried away we were left with no one who could teach chemistry.

Peter, however, knew everything. Is that just not true of all of the genius class? Peter gave some of us help with our chemistry as the examinations grew closer. We did not, however, do all the practicals.

In today’s world we can feel completely sure that no teacher, tutor or parent would ever fall victim to the demon drink. If something did, by chance, go wrong – who could we turn to with a few weeks to go to an examination?

It is simple really, provide as many materials and aids as you can find. Develop a timetable; look for where you can help. If you meet a topic that is really hard just say: `I am sorry, I don’t know – but I know someone who does.’ That gives you a breathing space to phone a friend. Some one will know. You can then go back to your child with the correct answer – and feel good about yourself at the same time.

When the eleven plus examinations are over you can turn to the search engine of your computer and type in the all powerful words: `How do I build a still in my home?’

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Spoon Feeding

For many years teachers have been critical of teaching methods that spoon feed children. It seems that there is, however, a perception, among some, that the more often a teacher or a tutor has a child sitting in front of them, the more the child will learn.

Some teachers have had outstanding results with children who have followed independent study programs. The theory is that the more independent the child is, and the more responsibility the child assumes for examination preparation, the more likely the child is to do well in an examination.

What you hope is that children, who have followed a course of designed instruction, and have had the time to engage in independent study, will do better in tests.

The term spoon feeding in Eleven Plus terms could be defined as providing children with answers and information without allowing time for independent thought. But spoon feeding is also implies supplying information in an oversimplified manner.

We sometimes need to remember to walk away once a child knows what to do. All your child may need, at times, is a little space for problem solving and independent thought. In the examination you will not be sitting beside your child with a spoon in your hand. You did that when they were ten months old - not ten years old.

Unless you challenge your child you may find that you land up offering your child the heritage of a wooden spoon rather than the golden spoon your child so richly deserves.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Traffic Question

We will start with Question 23 on the 2004 verbal reasoning paper.

What do humps, cushions and tables have in common?

a) Speed calming devices
b) Speed humps
c) Traffic calming
d) Necessary evil
e) Challenge to driving ingenuity
f) All of the above.

Question 36 on the 2005 English paper.

With special reference to traffic calming, define the following:


We know that humps, and their cousins, slow down emergency vehicles, we have heard that the humps cause pollution by extra emissions as people speed up between the humps, we have heard stories about subsidence caused by vibrations. We know too that there is not much evidence to support the claim that speed humps save lives and accidents.

You are naturally wondering why speed humps are the `flavour of the day’. Yesterday, being Sunday, we had a 15 strong family gathering in a pub in Ealing in London. There was family from Spain and various far flung parts of England.

I followed a carefully and lovingly restored VW crawl over humps (a block across the road), cushions (a blip in the road) and a table (an area over an intersection). We all know that the engine in a VW is in the rear. The exhaust pipes enjoy a low suspension. The car had to drop down to walking speed to pass over some of the humps and cushions. A line of fifteen cars built up behind the stately progress of the powder blue VW. (Driven by a member of our family.)

So when you are driving with your child, extending vocabulary and coping with traffic, try to discuss calmly, and rationally, the difference and merits of humps, cushions and tables.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

11+ Questions

Back in 1983 a Mr William Walker discovered an enormous claw bone in a Surrey clay pit. It was called Baryonyx Walkeri and was the first carnivorous dinosaur to be discovered in England. The claws were about a foot long.

It was not just a lucky find. Finding the dinosaur was a result of hard work and thought. Having a dinosaur named after you mans that your name will live on for a long as records last.

After all the hard work you and your family have done wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a type of verbal reasoning question named after you? Take your child’s first name and your surname as the description of the type of verbal reasoning question.

For example we know that the letters alpha (α) and beta (β) are the names of the first two letters of the classical Greek alphabet. So we could call a new type of 11+ question The Alpha Beta question.

Doing verbal reasoning exercises we sometimes have to put letters in order. Sometimes into alphabetical order.

We will now invent our own reasoning question (called the (First Name : Surname):

Take the following words, translate them, and write the ensuing words in English in order.

Je voudrais manger des escargots.

All you need is a bit of translation, some common sense - and are they not fantastic with garlic?

Saturday, November 18, 2006


One of our local Grammar Schools is a widely recognised language centre. As well as the more usual `European’ languages the school offers courses in a number of languages.

I always enjoy the serenity of the 11+ Verbal Reasoning questions that start:

Gerry and Conner learn Japanese and French,
Connor and Kai learn French and German.
Matthew and William learn Japanese and Chinese.

Answer the following questions:

31 Who learns Japanese but not Chinese?
32 Who learns Japanese but not German?
33 Which languages does Gillian not learn?
34 Which languages does Andrew not learn?
35 Which languages does Harry not learn?
36 Who learns the most languages?

Surely this makes this school an exciting prospect for children to attend? Naturally the school is high in any of the league tables of academic excellence and it also offers boys the opportunity of learning a wide range of exciting languages.

Actually there are two boys who learn three languages. Surely this will be a great advantage to them in the years ahead?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Car Games

I was asked today about what verbally based games could be played in the car while travelling backwards and forwards to school.

The first game that sprang to mind was the old favourite: `I went to the shops and bought …. ‘.

The starting player says: `I went to that shops and bought an apple.’

The player says: `I went to the shops and bought an apple and some bread.’

Each player then adds a new word.

If a player forgets the sequence or fails to add a letter then he or she has to drop out until the game starts again.

I then thought of tongue twisters. I have no idea what so ever what this has to do with 11+ verbal reasoning papers if you have to say very quickly:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

I do know, however, that you will entertain your ten year old with:

I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit.

If however you start with this Tongue Twister as a basis - you can always try to substitute words:

If one doctor doctors another doctor,
does the doctor who doctors the doctor
doctor the doctor the way the doctor
he is doctoring doctors?
Or does he doctor the doctor the way
the doctor who doctors doctors?

Please let me know your suggestions.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wait a moment. It will come to me.

Compilers of crosswords take heart from their understanding of human nature. It is easier to reach for a pencil and attempt a crossword in the morning than go to the local gym. Crossword addicts maintain, however, that they are exposing their brains to a mind gym.

I suppose the `best’ pleasure obtained from completing a cross word is in satisfaction in over coming a challenge. The will probably always be one or two clues that hold you up - but the fierce enjoyment of completing the crossword more than makes up for the frustration of not being able to give the solution immediately.

Verbal reasoning exercises also call for the ability to solve word problems. I can not see however the satisfaction of completing a number of verbal reasoning questions can compete with the joy of filling in the final letters so that you just know that you have completed the grid.

In a crossword every clue has to have some form of a definition. This means that the answer has to be unique. We have all worked through verbal reasoning exercises where occasionally there have been more than one answer. This gives real pleasure to all concerned - particularly when the answer book has a range of answers.

Once the verbal reasoning tests are over, turning to crosswords may give pleasure and stimulation to young minds for many years to come. The great benefit of a crossword is that it can be cast aside - and then picked up when the mood strikes. We are not quite sure why the brain is sometimes able to solve a problem if there has been a delay or period of incubation.

So when you are working on a verbal reasoning paper, and the answer is not immediately apparent, be reasonably confident that you may be able to solve the problem a little later on.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Random Thoughts

I took my child to an 11+ tutor
Hoping she’d change him from iron into pewter.

The tutor shook her head and said with a sigh,
`Your son’s verbal ability just makes me cry.

Are you sure you want to continue the fight?
He really is trying with all of his might.

The examination date is much too near.
I won’t make a difference at all I fear.

Just go on line and download some work,
At least a few exercises won’t make him berserk.

As the date of the exam is getting quite near
Remove from your mind all thoughts of fear.

Don’t throw him into a bottomless pool,
Just dream of a place at a good modern school.’

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Every Mother's Prize

I have just met a mum who was angry and cross.
Her child’s teacher had created a feeling of loss.

She would not recommend a place at the nearest grammar school,
The results weren’t good enough and she wouldn’t break the rule.

The Teacher had said, `Don’t put the grammar school first,
With too much pressure your daughter’s head will burst.’

Now last year’s teacher had said: `Go for grammar,
Your daughter’s so bright she won’t need a crammer.’

This then is a dilemma our Mum has to face,
How can she get her daughter her desired school place?

There is no easy answer to a problem of this size
As grammar school entry is every mother’s prize.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Matter of Style

Over the weekend I enjoyed reading a boy’s writing.

He planned his work confidently and wrote a rather sensible three paragraphs - just what was asked for.

One aspect of his work stood out. He used an ampersand. The ampersand (&) has been used for at least two thousand years. Why should this symbol stand out on a page - and why not use it in some types of written work?

The origins of the term are shrouded in history. Some writers think that it was Tiro who used a form of shorthand to write down Cicero’s speeches.

Today the ampersand is used in around two hundred different languages. If there is the universal adoption of the term, why should it usage be restricted?

Should the boy lose marks? Should it be commented on?

We know that an ampersand can be used in a headlines like: `Books & The Eleven Plus‘.
It can be used in a official name of a company: `White & White’.

The ampersand should not be used in the text of a passage. `The boy took his sword & his helmet off,’ is simply not acceptable.

We know that 2 + 2 makes 4. A fact. The use of an ampersand, however, is a matter of style. If `style’ is worth 5 marks, how many marks should be deducted for an unruly `ampersand’?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Matter of Taste

Back in the mid 18th Century a man called Etienne Silhouette became France’s finance minister. I always remember his name because of my art teacher. In my final art examination he, Mr Morgan Davies, offered me a final evaluation of 13%. This was possibly the lowest mark of the year.

At the time I was sure his judgement was in-correct. I had tried to draw a silhouette - and instead of filling the head in with solid paint - as in the definition of the word - had I tried to do many dabs of colour, rather in the style of Pissarro. Mr Morgan Davies did not like the linking of the two styles and thought that I was a remarkably poor artist.

All those years ago Mr Silhouette, who you recall was the Finance Minister, had tried to cut the salaries of the courtiers and their staff. This had made him rather unpopular. After he had been sacked he made portraits by using cheap black paper cut outs. His work became popular and spread to England. We now use the term in a variety of ways.

I thought of these events today when an able and highly literate boy had completed his well presented written assignment. It was beautifully planned and carefully written. He had used a remarkably wide range of words and I simply enjoyed reading his work.

In the margin he had crafted an exquisitely executed silhouette. The essay title, however, had not asked for the illustration. The boy was simply expressing another of his many talents.

Should I have argued against the silhouette - and thus possibly diminishing his pleasure and pride in his work? Was a quiet word more appropriate, pointing out that while the drawing had offered me more insight into his skills, it may not have excited an examiner in the same way.

Creativity is an art and a science. We all know what happens to unpopular Finance Ministers. What should happen to a gifted boy? Do we sack him or praise him?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Unexpected 11+ Results

We know a girl who has had Standardised Scores over 120 all the years of her school life.
Suddenly her marks dropped in one test at school to 115.

She fell from ` dead cert’ to `boarder line’. Just a few short weeks to the 11+ examinations.
What can be done?

More lessons? More papers? More work? A severe talking too?

These solutions are all too simplistic. We need to be bolder and it looks as if a revival of the ducking stool may help to find the answer.

The ducking stool was used years ago for women who did too much scolding. A scold was a woman who argued and quarrelled too much. She was tried by her peers, often the neighbours, and then simply dumped in water until she cried for peace.

The reason for the drop in marks, it transpired, was quite simple. This was a school test.

There had been a little happening in the playground and our super able girl had been involved. The tears and the recriminations had been enough to put her off. She had begun the examination feeling upset and put upon.

So we can’t blame her school ,we can’t blame her parents, we can’t blame the girl’s friends, we can’t even blame the blameless girl.

We can only hope for a right royal ducking for the senseless bully. Will this solve the problem? Possibly not but all of us may feel better!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Problem Solving Skills

Are children who are good at verbal and non verbal reasoning tests likely to be good at solving complex problems?

Are children who pass the eleven plus more likely to be able to solve problems better than children who did not attempt the examination? The answer is quite simply that it depends on the problem.

Coping with the logistics of 150 guests at a wedding, along with the ceremony, the dresses, the bridesmaids, the in-laws as well as the immediate family demands problem solving skills far beyond the requirements of a mere 11+ examination.

An actuary is a member of a profession that requires strong problem solving skills. An actuary deals with risk and uncertainly. Naturally there will be many different types of actuary. One kind of actuary will be one involved in the insurance business. It will be the actuary who will suggest the insurance premium that is needed before a wedding to cover the photographer, the food, the venue and the thousand and one other possible areas of misfortune.

Who then will be better at solving problems? On the day it will certainly be the bride. If there is a problem that has a financial implication it will be the insurance company guided by the actuary.

Could one become a bride without passing the eleven plus? Of course. The fact that the actuary has had to go to university does not necessarily mean that the actuary is better at solving practical problems that are complex in nature.

I am pretty certain that there must be actuaries who never did pass the eleven plus. These actuaries would not have needed to struggle with verbal and non verbal reasoning papers. They would, no doubt, have developed their problem solving skills in other ways.

Does anyone know if you can claim for the best man forgetting the rings?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Matter of Taste

We had a vast `two family’ roast vegetable dish over the weekend. A similar dish over the summer had segments of nasturtium thrown in for seasoning.

Our family has divided opinions over the nasturtium. My wife thinks upon it as a weed. I have to beg for a segment of the garden. When the plant gets too big towards the end of summer it can only be hacked at and severely reduced.

The strange thing about the nasturtium is that it flourishes in poor soil. No self respecting nasturtium plant likes an abundance of fertiliser. It does not like to be over watered. It just likes to be left alone.

Every now and again we see television shows with bright young children engaging in the act of a spelling test. In some eleven plus examinations, as some parents know, the ability to identify spelling, grammar and punctuation errors is tested.

A syllabus is prepared for GCSE and `A’ level examinations. What happens if a syllabus is prepared for 11+ English examinations? Suppose the 11+ examiner is an acknowledged authority on the Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe?

We will be able to teach words like nasturtium. To me the word sounds and looks nice. A sort of `feel good’ factor word.

A word like trifoliate should also be easy to teach as it means with three leaflets.

The spelling of a world like `saprophyte’ would be more difficult. It would, however, be easy to remember the meaning as a plant lacking in pigment and feeding entirely on decaying matter.

While I would be quite content to throw a nasturtium into a meal I must admit I would think twice about using a saprophyte in a favoured dish. Examiners must have the same feeling about some words.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

11+ Harmony

A couple entered one of our local parks last Sunday. Their five year old son drifted in behind them. The man and women were walking about five feet apart. The woman was white faced and very angry. The man was smiling and conciliatory. I just had the feeling he had done something wrong. Both parents were carrying a mobile phone.

Their son addressed them as `Mum’ and `Dad’ respectively. I presumed, therefore, that he was their son. Both parents were able to smile and talk pleasantly with their son. They just had some unfinished business with each other.

I was only in their orbit for about ten seconds - and did not see them again for some time. In fact the next time I saw them was around sixty minutes later when they left the park hand in hand. The woman’s face was glowing and relaxed. The five year was still skipping. All was well in the world.

I was standing by my car and chanced to hear the following snippet as the mother relayed a telephone conversation to her husband:

`She has reached 89% on the paper!’

`Please tell her well done!’

`You are never going to believe this, but she has turned the oven on too so our meal will be ready as soon as we get back.’

`That’s wonderful, I am so pleased, but - what was the answer to number 37?’

`What was the answer to number thirty seven?’


`She says that I was right.’

`I am sorry, I will never doubt you again.’

Question 37:
A window in a girl’s bedroom measures 1 m by 1.5 m. If she wants her new curtains to have an extra 300cms in length, how much curtain material does she have to buy?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

11+ Tessellations

I wonder just how much correlation there is between learning to play chess at an early age and passing the 11+ examinations. Children learn about tessellations, for example, from very early days in the infant school. Tessellations certainly `come up’ on some 11+ papers. We too know that a tessellation is `the careful juxtaposition of shapes into a pattern'.

A knight steps one square horizontally or vertically and then two squares perpendicular to the previous part of the move. Place a knight on a chess board and tessellations will jump out at the onlooker.

Once the young chess prodigy has learnt the concept that a knight can ignore any pieces in its path then imagination and planning can be brought to the fore. A knight can jump directly to the destination square. The knight can rest on the destination square or it can capture an enemy piece. The knight can attack and defend - or it can brood in a corner and wait for events to unfold.

Imagine how the depth of interest in chess would grow if children were asked questions about possible outcomes of moves. An attraction to chess would stimulate a wealth of socially acceptable activities.

We know that while chess requires the ability to plan moves - it also needs the player to remember moves in attack and defence. The `Queens Pawn Opening Gambit’ is taught to all beginners in its execution and defence. Adult Education class throughout the country would gain unparalleled popularity as parents stream in to learn more about chess.

Verbal reasoning books would need to be rewritten.

Question 35 would read: `The king is under attack from the enemy knight. Checkmate is in store. Which squares can the king move to?'

Monday, November 06, 2006

How long for each question?

Solving problems takes some thought.

If the 11+ examiner makes all the questions achievable to bright children then all of them will pass the examination. The examiner has to think of some way of setting problems that can be solved - but only after some thought. When the family sit down to solve some obscure verbal or non verbal reasoning question there is the combined power of a number of minds bearing down on a problem.

Some questions just take time to solve. The words `lets sleep on it’ are not uttered by chance.

The brain has the capacity to think about a problem long after the moment has passed.

An eleven plus examination requires a problem to be solved in a short time. It is possible to come back to a problem - but once again the time available is limited. A child who answers all the questions correctly - but does not finish the paper - may achieve a pass mark ahead of a child who completes the paper and then goes back over the harder questions.

One way to reduce this perceived unfairness could be to set a section of harder multiple choice question where two marks could be awarded for a correct answer. Questions1 - 55 would then be worth one mark - but Questions 56 to 70 would be worth two marks.

You could then teach your child to spend 25 minutes on Question 1 - 50 and 15 minutes on Questions 56 to 70. Or should it be fifteen minutes on Questions 1 - 15 leaving 25 minutes to answer the rather more difficult questions?

Remember bright parents are more likely to make bright children! Some one will solve this problem for us.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Feeling Good on the Day.

One of the `rules’ of doing well in examinations is to feel refreshed on the day.

If your child is feeling tired on the day of the examination then it is likely that you have allowed your child to do too much. (How parents like to feel blamed for everything!)

In the closing stages it is probably best, for example, to only do part of a paper a day after coming home from school . In the last few days before the examination look through sections where there have been problems. Discuss solutions - encourage recall and problem solving.

Unless you are very, very fortunate, and you are supremely confident of your child’s ability, try to avoid saying: `Of course you will pass.’ Sometimes temper a statement of this magnitude with a softer approach: `Just do you best - we know that you will do your best to pass.’

Unfortunately the gift of passing a child through an eleven plus examination does not lie in a parent’s hands.

Too much work on too many papers, at the last minute, can interfere with your child’s ability to do a slightly different set of questions. Over the whole spectrum of an eleven plus examination, with between two and four papers, a number of questions will rely on problem solving skills.

We can anticipate that some questions will be asking for a form of analysis. Other questions may be asking for evaluation.

A tired, irritable, overworked child will struggle to analyse and evaluate. In just the same way: `Of course you will pass,’ will hardly be music in a weary child’s ears.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Please Mum, I need a drink.

There are strange ways that superstitions arise. Some must arise from actual events and others from more fanciful and imaginative musings.

The Marula tree has a fruit which is high in Vitamin C. The fruit is used jelly and jams - as well as potent base for an alcoholic drink. When the fruit falls into the water it can ferment and become a potent drink.

Elephants, so the legend goes, have been known to imbibe a little too much and then stagger away from the tree. There is sometimes great damage to fields and crops. Can you imagine the sight of these huge animals wandering aimlessly as they try to come to terms with the effect of the alcoholic stimulation? The problem is that an elephant drinks around 150 litres a day. They would need to drink vast quantities of fermented marula juice before it would affect their bodies.

We do sometimes need to remind children to drink - because they can feel dehydrated so quickly - and we don’t want that to happen in the middle of the examination. Remind your child that while an adult is encouraged to drink around two litres a day on a `detox’ diet a child walking towards an examination needs much less.

Oh - one more useful fact - baboons too like to eat the marula fruit. They grab great handfuls and literally stuff their mouths.

Very few parents in the leafy suburbs of England, however, will be faced by elephants, marula trees and baboons.

The modern parent has to cope with different pressures. The next time the family is shopping in one of the major supermarkets keep a close watch on your `pre examination’ child. If you see an intelligent head bent over a selection of jam jars be very careful.

There may be a myth circulating among Year 6 children about the virtues of marula based jam. Preserve the myth - it may actually help on the day. Suggest to your child that a couple of mouthfuls of water before an examination may help.

As a parent all you need to do is simply forget to put a few marula seeds or nuts into the `examination lunch box’.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

11+ Fears

I have heard that when a woman wants to get married her steps take her unerringly past bridal shops and jewellers. The posture a woman adopts as she looks into the window is unmistakable. She is half leaning forward and half leaning back. She leans forward to become caught up in the excitement of the chase and withdraws as she thinks of the consequences.

Your ten year old approaching eleven plus examinations will feel similar emotions. May I suggest the `drive past’ approach?

This means on a quiet Sunday morning driving past the schools of your choice. Stop well away from the zig zag lines and wonder up towards the gates. Gaze wistfully in and dream together of passing through the hallowed gates. Invite your ten year old to think what it would be like to step through the open gates. Have a little day dream too of how you think you will feel as you wait to collect your loved one after the first day of school.

Stop off for a well earned croissant before embarking on your next tour. Repeat the exercise as you work your way through all the schools on your list.

Think too of a mere six to seven year’s time when your seventeen year old will be driving YOUR car to school - and dreaming about university and life after school. Be reassured that you will regain ownership of your car when the young one has actually left home. Lean forward to embrace the future - and plan carefully for the worst.

Is that not the intent of a pre-nuptial agreement?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

11+ Results

11+ results usually come through the post. Often the children are at school so mum and dad have to sit through much of the morning and part of the afternoon before they know the results.
The letter sits silently on the table until the family gathers to read the news.

I know of some parents who take the results to school and open the 11+ envelope in the car. If all is well that is a proud moment to share but if there is a problem ……

Please think about the postman as he carries the letter to you. We know of postmen being bitten by dogs. There can not be many postmen, however, who have been eaten by a shark.

Tin Can Island is a remote island in the Tongan group. Letters were dropped into the sea in sealed containers and the postman swam out to collect the mail. One day the postman was eaten by a shark.

The islanders then supplied a canoe to collect the mail. I feel sure by now that technology has transformed the postman’s lot in Tonga. It probably won’t be long before technology strikes 11+ results here too!

What is going to happen when the 11+ results are sent by email? Do you put your email address so that you can be the first hear the results - or do you put your child’s email so that the 11+ results can be delivered to your child on their own phone at school? Is it your responsibility to charge your child’s phone or should a ten year old be able to remember?

All the Tongan had to do was to remember to look out for sharks. At least you will not have the same problem.