11+ Resource Overload
Visiting an 11+ client in Spain recently, I saw this array of Bond, GL and Schofield and Sims books laid out on the bed.
Wow. That's a lot of text books.
This parent is not alone in their Bond-buying obsession. Many mums have remarked that they receive near-daily Amazon packages, ever-hopeful that they will find that elusive, ideal book that will get their child through the 11+ exams. Well, I can't necessarily point you to that single, magical book - but I can certainly give you some guidance through the textbook maze.
Of course, choosing the best resources very much depends on the exam your child is sitting.
Many of the girls who come to us are sitting for the Consortium 11+ - the type of papers shared by South Hampstead High School, Francis Holland, Channing, Godolphin and Latymer and many other independents in London. Similar papers are also set by girls' schools which are outside the official Consortium: NLCS and City, for example.
I would advise parents of such girls that Bond books are useful in the early stages of preparation - say Year 4, and maybe the very start of Year 5 - but they are nowhere near as detailed and analytical as the consortium papers, which tend to include some pretty tangly Maths problems and some 8 and 10 mark questions in the comprehension section. By the middle of Year 5 it's time to move on from Bond. If you can get your hands on it, the 11+ Practice Exercises (English) book by David Hammond - now sadly out of print, and apparently worth £600 to some amazon sellers - is fantastic for really challenging comprehension training and will keep you going for a good while. If it's impossible to get that, Galore Park also have a newer version - English Practice Papers Books 1 and 2 - which is pretty useful, and they sell a huge range of ISEB past papers which are fabulous practice. They also stock the equivalent books for Maths: Maths Practice Exercises by David Hanson (great for consolidation) and Maths Practice Papers Books 1 and 2 (to get the exam muscles going). By Year 6, it's time to focus on the consortium papers themselves; they can all be found online.
Then we come to the poor boys with their increasingly complex system of computer pre-tests and second-round tests. The computer tests are generally much more reasoning-based, with a multiple-choice style. Again, the age-categorised Bond books are great as a long-term warm-up, if you want to get your child practicing reasoning from Y3 onwards. Nearer assessment time, the best resources I have found for preparing are Bond Online (about £5 per month) and GL assessment papers. The ISEB common pre-test is set by GL, so doing plenty of their variety pack papers is a sound idea, whilst Bond Online can help to familiarise students with applying these skills to onscreen tasks. Bond Online also contains some CEM sections: CEM is the exam board which sets the pre-selection tests for certain schools such as Eton, Henrietta Barnett and St. Paul's Girls. These tests are a little less predictable, and in my experience, a little tougher. Bond has created a good range of 'How to...' books and assessment papers designed for CEM prep. So, to summarise: check if the tests your child is sitting are created by GL assessments or Durham CEM, and choose your material accordingly!
My final tip to all parents (and tutors!) is to make full use of the papers available on the net. The past papers from top schools are by far the most challenging and thought-provoking resource available. Schools such as Dulwich, KCS, Highgate, Merchant Taylors', St. Paul's Girls', NLCS, JAGS, Alleyns and others all post their past English and Maths papers on their admissions pages. Manchester Grammar School papers are particularly knotty and useful for teaching. One way for a child to feel truly prepared for exam season is to know that they have already attempted a wide range of differently structured, taxing exams, and have learnt valuable lessons from each of them. They'll be ready for anything. And crucially, the online exam papers are free...
Just a final heads-up: there'll be a new resource on the scene before long, when we launch our Griffin + Bell TV English videos, for those moments when you just need a good tutor to explain a technique or grammar point to you in detail. Watch this space for updates!