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Friday, April 29, 2011

A Higher Eleven Plus Examination

Eleven plus children learn more than how to do verbal and non verbal reasoning exercises and mathematics. The children learn a little more about themselves. They learn, for example, that the limitations of their immediate memory can be overcome by constant revision and consolidation. They also learn how to solve a range of problems.

The eleven plus examination is, thankfully, more than learning strings of nonsense syllables – yet some exercises must seem to be rather too `fey’ to be useful. We expect children, for example, to be able to make sense of: `Happble uponed herete dooreta.’ Every bright eleven plus child will be able to tell you immediately is, `Happy opened the door.’ Your child will be able to tell you that the nonsense syllables build up into a sentence – and that we can easily identify the subject, the verb and the object.

If researchers from the world of psycholinguistics were let loose on the content of some eleven plus questions we may find a different type of question evolve. When we are teaching some verbal reasoning questions we sometimes ask the child to try to identify the root or roots of the word. The meaning of the word or phrase then becomes part an associative structure – and this sometimes can lead to recoding or re-evaluation.

The able eleven plus child could then be encouraged to look at new ideas and develop new strategies for dealing with complex problems. One of our eleven plus boys has been doing very well in lessons and was outstanding on the recent Easter Eleven Plus Course. Offering him yet another eleven plus paper to do seemed to be a rather retrograde step. He welcomed the chance of sitting the Edexcel GCSE Foundation Mathematics Specimen paper in his lesson. He reached 86% - and enjoyed the tussle with a few new and unfamiliar questions. He is just ten years old with an easy `C’ grade in his mathematics. It looks as if he could easily reach a higher grade if the lessons worked on Higher GCSE mathematics rather than 11+ mathematics.

The eleven plus examination should not seek to dampen the competitive nature of the very bright children – and it should not appear to be a stiff and mechanical exercise.

We prepare some children for schools where a Standardised score of over 130 is required – and many of these children achieve full marks or scores of 140 in the actual examination. It is almost as if we need a two tier approach to the eleven plus. The first would be an examination that could be enjoyed by the top 25% of the population. The Higher Eleven Plus would be taken by children who find the whole eleven plus an exercise rather than a journey.

A revised and expanded eleven plus where questions looked at language acquisition and the development of more abstract concepts may save some children the tedium of: `If ABC means 123 what does DEF signify?’

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