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Friday, October 24, 2008

Understanding Eleven Plus Questions

At a certain stage on our second Eleven Plus course we encourage the children to work together in pairs or a small group for around twenty minutes.

We present a number of problems – and inform the children that the problems represent the final two questions on a demanding eleven plus examination paper. To understand the relevance of this exercise we need to understand the social conditions the children have been working in. On course the children have been exposed to a number of Eleven Plus mathematics questions. The answers are not obvious and the solutions sometimes demand at least two or three working stages.

Because the children are on a pre Eleven Plus course we should be able to take it for granted that at least one of the parents will have used words like: “Do your best, and don’t worry.” It is difficult to imagine any parents saying: “Get in there and beat every other child.” Equally, few parents will say: “If you see another child who is stuck, then slow down and give them as much help as you can.”

Children from different schools and backgrounds readily work together on this problem solving exercise. Some of the questions are not typical eleven plus questions. After all we are trying to give the children confidence in tacking new types of problems and engage in a very different approach to that found in the traditional Eleven Plus papers.

We try not to offer questions like this:

185 (141) 97
89 ( ) 103

In this case the answer is found by adding the numbers outside the brackets and halving the result.

Some questions can be answered with logic:

A portion of the floor of a bathroom is to be covered with 36 tiles arranged in a grid 9 by 4. The decorator only wants back and white tiles.

There can be no straight rows (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) of three adjacent white tiles. What is the smallest number of black tiles that are needed?

Naturally a question like this can not appear in an actual Eleven Plus paper for one reason or another. Children on an Eleven Plus course can, however, enjoy some social interplay while they try to solve the problem.

In a charged situation like the one described it is likely that any last minutes words of advice from a well meaning parent are forgotten. The glory of the hunt for a logical solution will cause the blood to pound and the heartbeat to rise. The children immediately throw out all restraint and challenge each other. The spirit of competition holds sway – but co-operation is also paramount.

Why do we present the children with really difficult questions? We know that many children spend too much time trying to answer a question when they have not read the question carefully. The main idea of the children work in a small group is to try to help them understand just how much time is spent trying to answer a question – when they have not read the question fully.

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