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Next-generation tutoring for the 11+

The 11+ has marked a turning point in children’s education for almost 80 years. But while the central premise of the so-called ‘transfer test’ has remained the same, it has evolved significantly over the decades – accelerated in recent years by COVID-19.


At Figtree, our dedicated 11+ team has supported children on their way to leading independent and grammar schools, including St Paul’s and Queen Elizabeth’s. As the post-pandemic dust begins to settle, we spoke to our School Entrance Director, and one of our 11+ specialists to find out what families should be focusing on now.


Academic Director, tutor and lead assessor, Rishi, has been working with Figtree for many years. While he remains focused on our families, he has also become a valuable source of support for Figtree team members, acting as a mentor and running a number of our in-house training programmes. 


One such tutor benefitting from Rishi’s guidance is Dween – new to the Figtree team but an experienced, multidisciplinary tutor, with a six-year track record specialising in the 7+ and 11+. As Dween explains, “I started working with Figtree at the beginning of the academic year, and felt part of the team almost overnight. Everyone is clearly passionate about their work, and there’s an excellent support system in place.” 


Meet our 11+ A-team 

We hope Dween’s experiences reflect the overall Figtree approach, which Rishi describes as bespoke, compassionate and rigorous. “It’s bespoke, as in we ensure each student is helped in a way that takes into account their unique personality and learning style. Compassionate because we recognise that learning is student centred and you do best when you are enjoying your work. And rigorous because we’re open and clear about the goals that need to be reached in order to be successful.”


So how has the pandemic changed the game?

Like most areas of education, the 11+ still reflects the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Rishi explains: “Many schools no longer hold their own exam days, instead asking students to complete the ISEB Pre-Test at their current school. There’s been a shift towards cognitive ability testing (CAT) and away from traditional papers, with more emphasis on interviews and internal CAT tests. 

“We’re also seeing less written comprehension and more multiple-choice questions, with many more schools involving critical thinking as part of the assessment. Having said that, the landscape is constantly shifting and traditional, paper-based exams in English, maths and reasoning still play a big part.”

For Figtree, it means continually adapting and evolving the support available. “We’ve made certain our tutors are prepared for the full suite of testing protocols, whether that’s online, cognitive or written, and we’re always reviewing the training we offer” Rishi adds.

So how are tutors adapting to a testing environment in flux? “The principle I always follow is to understand the student’s needs,” explains Dween. “I don’t have a generic process – everyone is different and has their own targets. So it’s important that I go into a new lesson with a mindset that is malleable, based on the student I am with.”

And how has Dween managed to stay on top of the changing requirements? “Figtree has been great in providing resources and 11+ training seminars. It’s been one of the most valuable aspects for me, and I really benefit from the constant support and feeling of connection with the wider team.”


How to get the best start

With a complex and unfamiliar landscape to navigate, many students begin their 11+ journey with an assessment. As our lead assessor, Rishi explains what this involves: “An assessment offers a snapshot of a student at a given moment in their schooling, with a view towards what will be needed to get them ready for an entrance exam, as well as providing honest guidance on which schools are within reach. 

“A typical assessment would take four hours of face-to-face time (with regular breaks and often split over two sessions) and would involve working through written and multiple-choice comprehensions, creative writing tasks, foundational and applied maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

“It’s not a test and we work hard to ensure students don’t feel pressured. Instead, it’s an exploration of their current and future potential – a way to gain a clear insight into any gaps, and how to address these. At the end of the process, we typically have a long conversation with the parents and provide a detailed written report.”

Assessments are really only the beginning of the journey, and for Dween, the results are just another day in the learning process. “An assessment shouldn’t define a student, so I always recommend continuing tuition, slowly tapering down before they start school. I think preparing a student solely for an exam can give the wrong message, so we aim to give students a sense of continuation following the exam.”


What should parents be focusing on now?

The 11+ is becoming more competitive every year, as schools are increasingly over-subscribed and more parents opt into the process. For Rishi, that means “students will need to go beyond their existing syllabus and maintain a high level of extra work in order to succeed.” 

There is a lot of added pressure. But as Dween explains, it’s important not to over-prepare children: “This can add too much stress to the system, which will ultimately have a negative impact on final exams. Instead, parents can focus on timing – finding engaging and creative ways to question children. Get them to think on the spot, for example with a 30-second mental maths challenge. More often than not, the students I see are all very talented. They just need to be nurtured into answering what they already know under timed conditions. That’s why it can really help to make the idea of dealing with pressure a fun exercise. So come exam time, they will be ready to go.”

As the Figtree team continues to grow, we asked Rishi what his advice to Dween would be. “Be honest at all times with the student and the parent, never over-promise and always encourage” he answered. And for Dween, his final piece of advice goes to his 11+ students: “Have fun. Take the 11+ as an opportunity to learn new, fun ideas which aren’t usually taught in school. When I was 10 years old, I looked forward to my 11+ sessions because they challenged me creatively – helping me enjoy education in new ways, and sparking my interest in other areas too.”

For more information on our 11+ assessments, or for help with ongoing tuition, please get in touch with the team.

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