Independent school tests require a slightly different approach to Grammar school tests - The 11 Plus Journey

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Independent school tests require a slightly different approach to Grammar school tests

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One of the oft-repeated questions related to preparing children for secondary school is the difference between independent and Grammar schools.

When we think of secondary schools in the UK, there is a wide selection of the type of schools that you can choose from. There are local comprehensives, independent schools and Grammar schools.

Independent schools are fee-paying schools although many offer a splatter of scholarships (academic, sports, arts) and bursaries (based on income). The fees vary and it isn’t necessarily right that the higher the fees, the better the school.


Refer to the Good School Guide and the Independent School website to find out which schools offer the expertise you are after. For example, Eton is known to produce high-ranking politicians, polished members of the already polished, higher-class British society. Children from the royal family also invariably find their way there. The school also caters to the less privileged which include those having won scholarships and bursaries.


Other schools such as Haberdashers, Westminster, St Albans, North London Collegiate School, St Pauls and Merchant Taylors are also known for their specialities which you can find out by visiting individual websites.


Grammar schools are (barring a few which are fee-paying schools with Grammar in their names) not fee-paying and provide an ambitious environment which is pro-active in aiming for academic excellence with many schools coming on top of league tables. Both Independent and Grammar schools provide an array of sporting and art facilities, and science and technology labs and expose students to a variety of competitions, quizzes and events that are geared to develop a wholesome personality.


Again, not all Grammar schools are equal, so it is important to check up on the school profiles, speak to parents teachers, and tutors and complete your due diligence before deciding on which schools you may want to send your child to.


The tests for independent schools cover the KS2 curriculum, often stretching the child’s knowledge of English and Maths. Sample test papers are usually available on school websites to give you an idea of what they will be testing the children on. The content of the test papers will slightly differ from Grammar school test papers which may not include, for example, a creative writing section.


Apart from this, there are a few things that you need to be aware of when preparing your child for independent school tests.

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Do it at home or sign up with a tutor

Many do not sign up for tutors but prepare their children at home. Others swear by tutors and it works for them. Just be careful when signing up for tutors. While few are very professional and efficient, it is important that you do your research about them- ask for Terms & Conditions, and testimonials and ask other parents for feedback on their services.


If you are preparing your child yourself, this is possible and you can be successful. However, you will need pointers and some guidance. Do your research so that you are familiar with the subject matter and what might come up in the tests. Online platforms such as Atom Learning help with this and being an AI-driven platform, it will guide your child depending on their performance.


Get 20% off your first month and a 5-day free trial with Atom Learning.  This is your chance to experience what the platform is like and how it could help with test preparation.


Confident, natural conversations

A confident child will impress the examiners and interviewers. Some parents find that they can teach their children confidence through conversations at home, a skill advocated by Kavin Wadhar, creator of the Kidcoach app, a platform that provides questions that inspire parents and families to start and continue conversations. Children need to be stimulated with interesting topics and aspects of life and the Kidcoach app provides this much-needed boost to thinking outside the box, thus ensuring a stream of consciousness as well as a creative thought process. Kavin speaks of preparing kids for interviews in a way that feels natural and not over-rehearsed.


Wide and enriched vocabulary

Another key aspect of preparing for these tests is for children to build and expand their vocabulary with a few words every day and week , something that Jemma, Director of The Education Hotel encourages parents and children to take up. There are several ways of expanding vocabulary and no one way or right way to do it. This is best done by reading a wide genre of books and this involves not just reading but focused reading and what I like to call intentional reading.


A good way to do this is to read together with your child if you can. Then you can ask questions, probe the meanings of words and make this an engaging, well-spent time with your child. Sheena Ager, author of The Cadwaladar Quests series of vocabulary novels also speaks of this frequently and also advocates Five a day vocabulary diet. This is simply collecting five new words in a day and making silly or serious sentences using the words with all the family involved. A wide vocabulary and creative conversations are a good way to consolidate new words and build your child’s work bank, one clink at a time.


Interview skills

As I have mentioned previously, preparing for independent schools is different and similar to Grammar schools. Independent schools have various tests, and rounds of interviews and require children to exhibit a certain confidence, and ability to express themselves vocally as well as academically.


Unlike Grammar school entrance tests, these schools test children via interviews. This requires a little preparation as would any interview, which tutoring agencies and private tutors can help with tips to master interview skills by Jemma Smith, Director of The Education Hotel and Afrosa Ahmed, writer, GP and mindfulness coach. They prepare children for interviews for independent schools.  Afrosa has also written a book ‘A Parents’ Guide To Preparing for Independent School Interviews’ , a best-seller, available on Amazon and Waterstones.


Creative Writing

Creative writing is another important part of the tests and this is something that needs a few years’ worth of practice it will definitely be a valuable skill that can be built upon in later life. This skill is the building block of a child’s secondary school years. With English language and literature subjects mandatory for GCSEs, writing well is a skill that students will need to draw from, time and time again. Again, this is something you can do at home if you rather not enrol your child in creative writing courses, although the good ones such as those by LinkyThinks will help massively with improvement.


Let your child write how he feels after a long day at school. Ask her to write down without thinking of whether her writing is good or not so good. You can also try journaling every day as this is a great way to get into the habit of writing daily, besides being a tool for mindfulness, self-expression and independence of thought.


My Children’s Journal, available on Amazon can be a wonderful tool for this.

Wishing you all the best as you support your child prepare for the tests. These skills are not just for tests but will help your child regardless of whether they take these tests or not. These are life skills and your child will thank you for helping them develop them at an early age.

Written by Sabah Hadi, a mum, writer and learning enthusiast. She is the creator of the The 11+ Journal, available on Amazon. It is a book for children, aged 6 to 12, to help children develop all-round personalities and grow up with the powers of gratitude, expression and self-regulation. She is also founder of The 11 Plus Journey, an educational community
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