Wolfthorn Knight Tuition Lead Practitioner for Mathematics Sunny Garcha on building the confidence of an anxious child and helping prepare them for the 11+ exam

Q: I’m worried about my son’s confidence, especially in maths. He tends to panic during tests and we have the 11+ coming up.  I’m keen to give him extra support without adding unduly to his stress, so what can you suggest?

A: Ask any parent who is going through 11+ preparation with their child, and they will undoubtedly speak of the considerable stress and pressure associated with it.The content, in the most part, is challenging children on mathematics and English and is largely beyond age-expected learning within their schools.

I am often asked, ‘when should my child begin preparation for the 11+?’ The answer is dependent on each child, their development and application to learning. With the mathematical content of the exam, there is a risk of coaching children to successfully answer typical questions associated with say, percentages, area of compound shapes, and so on. As such, they may blindly engage, but do not have strong foundations.

However, if children have a fuller understanding of the subject, it enables them to confront widely varied questions with confidence. Importantly, the learning has a lasting effect that can continue to accelerate in secondary school. For this, children need to have a strong base before entering the final year ahead of the examinations. Another advantage to starting early is that it lifts some of the pressure and allows children to develop and master concepts at their pace.

With English, there is a need to develop reading and writing skills and have a strong vocabulary, again beyond age-expected learning. The design of the 11+ is heavily weighted towards children who are enthusiastic readers. My answer to any parent is to encourage a passion for independent reading at the earliest possible stage.

As a teacher of Mathematics, I have seen children thrive under guidance and prosper without the pressure often attached to exam preparation. Working with children in Years 4 and 5 comes with considerable responsibility but will promote learning far beyond primary school. If the discipline of learning is established early, we – along with the parents – have helped to develop motivated and independent learners.

Another common question is, ‘would one-to-one be more beneficial than group tuition?’ Again, this depends on the individual child, and the closer we are to the exam, the more beneficial this can be. But if tuition has started in a timely manner, say early in Year 4, small group learning mirrors the environment they will face later on in school. Also, children are often inspired by group working – especially when they are with others who are motivated to do well.

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Further reading: Gabbitas answers your education questions