A few years ago we were assured that a new test being used in Gloucestershire schools would make the eleven plus tutorproof, that all the money being made from work books would disappear, and we would have a test that required the very minimum of preparation. Oh, how things have changed, with more resources than ever gracing the shelves of WH Smith and Waterstones, and tuition as rampant as ever.
Since arriving in Gloucestershire in 2011, I have often heard people hark back to the days of an eleven plus without tuition; where no preparation was taking place at all. Whilst this may have been true for some, please excuse me if I sound a little sceptical: I have eleven plus publications from1957, re-printed in 1967 and 1971!
I have them because they were bought for me aged 10! Meanwhile, my mother, a teacher for thirty years herself, reliably informs me that she spent many nights preparing her younger sister for the eleven plus - demanding that she memorise capitals and countries and could spell some ridiculous words. Her sister is now 80. Perhaps preparation was not taking place in other homes, or perhaps, which I consider more likely, people are more open about it today.
I feel whatever the case, it is natural that parents wish the very best in opportunities for their children, be it playing music, participating in ballet recitals, or sport. Many will go to great lengths to support their futures in whatever way they feel most likely to succeed. Teaching a child away from the classroom either by a parent or another, is as old as time, and unlikely to ever disappear.
Expect the Unexpected!
What are we to make of that?
It is fair to say that many an eleven plus tutor will tell their students to expect the unexpected in the eleven plus exam. "But why?" you ask. "My child has been working diligently for the past year to secure a place at a Gloucestershire grammar school, surely the test itself will be pretty much the same?"
The answer here is that it probably will be for the most part. The Familiarisation Paper available from gloucestershire.gov.uk is the only sample available from the Centre for Education Monitoring at Durham University - the publishers of the elevenplus test used here. It reminds us that the test will be composed of comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, mathematical reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. Publishing companies have used this, alongside anecdotal evidence about previous CEM exam content, to draw up what they consider to be the best estimate of the content of the actual exam.
"So, why the concern about different content?"
The previous publisher of the eleven plus in gloucestershire was GL Assessment. It was very formulaic with a specific number of question types and similar vocabulary arising year upon year. Therefore with a great deal of tuition and practise, even those of moderate ability were able to achieve high scores. The intention of the present publisher is to provide a test that does not need excess preparation and in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past it attempts to design tests that cannot be 'crammed' for in this way. The guidelines it provides are very broad, and there is no guarantee that question types in the sample paper will appear in the same way in the actual eleven plus. For instance, the sample paper does not expect candidates to attempt three dimensional shape questions (beyond using cubes) in non-verbal reasoning, yet three dimensional questions have been asked in CEM tests in some counties. Similarly, 'reading' is a very broad term. Perhaps some kind of map reading or speed reading will be asked for?
One thing is for sure, the publishers do not wish to set a test that is so disturbingly different from anything before it, that they are faced with hundreds of complaints about classes full of crying children. However, they do want to be fair to those that have not had the opportunity to learn and practice as much as others.
Is it likely that the actual test will be so different from Mock and Practice Tests that they are rendered obsolete? We think not. It is far more likely that the vast majority of the test will adhere to what is expected; but children should be made aware that unusual questions can crop up. I like to tell children I have worked with that any unexpected question type can work in their favour- even if they can't get the answer. As long as they are aware it might happen, and they are able to 'keep a cool head', they are in a better position than if they were unprepared and more easily distressed upon finding it.
You wouldn't take a driving test without road experience (and hopefully plenty of it), but you couldn't expect to know exactly what road experience you might encounter on the day of the test; as with driving, it is best to be prepared!