The Inside Track on Exam Preparation

In the coming year, many children will be preparing for SATS, senior school entrance exams or the 11 plus. It may seem too early to talk about teaching children of primary school age how to prepare for exams, but this is a skill they can hone, refine and use throughout their entire education (and even in their working lives) and it can definitely help them feel less overwhelmed by the concept of being tested. Claire Winter gets some advice from tutors on preparing primary school children for exams.

Make a Plan

Once you know the date of your child’s exam, make sure you mark it on the calendar and think about what kind of preparation it would be appropriate for them to do. Most exams include maths and English and some contain elements of verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Would worksheets from your child’s school, online resources or verbal or non-verbal reasoning practice papers be helpful? You needn’t make a big deal about the preparation with your child but you do need to create some time for them to do it. Allocate certain times in the week to go over different topics, to prepare and build their confidence and to go over any problem areas they may have. At the same time, balance is so important, so don’t overdo it. Make sure your child continues with their extra-curricular activities and has lots of fun too.


Lucy Parsons, ( author of The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take says, “My top tip for any exam is to do past papers and to get the child taking the exam to mark their work themselves, using the mark scheme. This way they understand what the examiners are really looking for and can start to spot what’s a good answer and where they will need to improve.” You can find out more about Lucy at Another tip is to get your child to set a timer while doing the exam, so they get used to working under time pressure.

Do your Research

Make sure you are up to date on the 11 plus format that your county or area is using. Selective independent schools set their own 11 plus exams, so find out from each school what the format will be so you can tailor your child’s preparation accordingly. Often tutors local to the school you are applying for or your child’s own current school will have detailed knowledge about its entrance exam. Chris from says, “Probably the most important point about preparing for the 11 plus is to realise that, not only does the format vary over the 36 local authority areas in England but it also tends to change every few years. So parents with a child who took the 11 plus a couple of years ago may not realise their younger child needs to use different materials. I update my website every year with the current 11 plus format for each of the 163 grammar schools in England.”

Know the Syllabus

Education Consultant, Paul Anderson from says it vital to have in-depth knowledge about the exam. “Our number one tip for exam success is knowing what is included in the syllabus for the particular exam you are studying for. Once you know the syllabus, you can evaluate your child’s knowledge and see where the gaps are.”

Talk about what you have Learned

In terms of information retention, it’s helpful for your child to verbally recap what they have learned. Paul from Tutor Doctor says, “Do not underestimate the value of verbal revision. Just half an hour articulating what they know to teachers, friends, and family is a fantastic opportunity for children to test themselves.”

Short Sharp Bursts

Make sure your child takes a break when they are doing exam preparation. Primary school children may find it hard to sustain concentration for longer than 30 minutes without a break. It’s important not to schedule too many preparation sessions in one day –  one or two would be the appropriate maximum for this age group on a weekend or school holiday day, but less if they are also managing homework. Otherwise your child will become stressed and it’s much harder for them to learn under pressure.

Stay Calm

Do your best to instil in your child the importance of staying calm and coping with any obstacles they face while sitting their exam. Teach them to leave challenging questions and come back to them once they have answered easier ones. Suggest that they look at the questions before they read a passage or text, so they know what to look for when they are reading the text.

Taking entrance and 11plus exams can be stressful for some children. Try to ensure they get enough sleep and eat well. It also helps if learning can be fun.  You can play games, colour code their work and even produce short videos about topics they find hard to learn.

It’s also vital to praise your child’s effort in preparing for their exam, regardless of whether they pass or do well. Children need to understand that all you expect of them is for them to do try their hardest and that no one exam that they take in their life will ever be the key to success, failure or happiness.


By Claire Winter

This article has been provided by Families® Magazine, a free local magazine for parents and carers of children ages 0 to 12. Families® helps you get the best out of local family life, so find your nearest magazine here  and don’t forget to pick up a copy!

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