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Preparing for the 11+

If you are unfamiliar with the 11+ testing process, read more about selective schools, the different types of test and the process itself.

How to Prepare for the 11+ Tests

Taking tests can be stressful for your child, but detailed planning can help to minimise this.

Although the timings below may seem a long time ahead of the 11+ tests, they suggest a realistic time-frame to make preparation effective and manageable.

1 Year

Confirm which schools you are applying for and check on application closing dates

Talk to your child’s class teacher about their educational strengths and weaknesses. These include:

  • Their expected SATs results
  • Their reading and spelling ages.

1 Year – 9 Months

Begin to prepare for the tests by:

  • Assessing areas of strength and weakness, so that you know which areas to target.
  • Planning your child’s practice to fit in with family routines.
  • Deciding whether you want to employ a tutor to support your child in their learning or work together to produce a programme of practice.
  • Ensuring that the planned work is weighted towards the skills your child will need to practise the most.
  • Thinking about incentives and rewards to make this practice a positive experience.
  • Beginning to prepare for interviews by planning suitable days out (that can provide suitable discussion topics).

3 – 1 Months

  • Try conducting a practice interview.
  • Build in some games and activities to build relevant skills.
  • Rehearse basic maths and spelling at speed, to promote fast recall of information.
  • Go over key skills in your child’s known areas of weakness.

1 Month

Use practice test papers to:

  • Familiarise your child with the test format
  • Provide invaluable practice at answering questions in a limited time period
  • Assess progress and target areas that need further practice.

1 Week

  • Give your child a rest from testing.
  • Plan an educational visit that could act as a talking point in an interview
  • Plan the route and timings for the day of the tests.
  • Check information sent by the school, listing equipment you will need to provide (equipment will need to be taken in a see-through pencil case).
  • Draw up a checklist for the day (an analogue watch is helpful for your child to see how much time they have left in a test).

The Night Before

  • Prepare equipment and clothes.
  • Encourage your child to do something relaxing.
  • Make sure they have an early night.

The Morning of the Tests

  • Go through your checklist.
  • Make sure your child eats breakfast.
  • Leave in good time.
  • Encourage your child to enjoy the challenge and show off what they have learnt..

How to Prepare for an Interview

Many schools base their final selection on how well the applicants perform in an interview.

With the right preparation, your child can use this opportunity to show their potential to be a good member of the school and find out whether they will be happy there.

Discussion Topics

You can help your child prepare for the interview by making a web diagram of things that they could talk about.

If you have recently visited a sports match, museum, National Trust or English Heritage property, these make ideal topics to prepare for discussion.

Rather than asking them to make copious notes, help your child to complete a web diagram on a small index card with questions they may be asked, so that they can quickly refer to it should the right opportunity come up in the interview. For example:

Meeting the Interviewer

With your child, go through these tips on preparing to meet the interviewer:


Calm yourself with these techniques when you are waiting to go into the interview room.

  • Imagine you are holding an eggshell in each hand. This helps to relax your fingers and release tension.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to three, and then breathe out through your mouth at the same pace. Concentrate on your breathing to clear your mind.
  • Do talk to other candidates who are waiting, but don’t pester them for information.
  • Read useful information on posters and notice boards in the room.

Entering the Interview Room

  • Knock before you enter.
  • Say ‘hello’ in a friendly and polite way.
  • Shake hands firmly if the interviewer offers their hand.
  • Wait for the interviewer to indicate a seat before you sit down.

What to Wear

First impressions are important:

  • Find out in advance about the expected dress code. Your child’s current school uniform is usually a suitable option.
  • Make sure that the clothes they will be wearing are clean and ironed and that their shoes are cleaned and fastened securely.
  • Make sure their hair is tidy and any fringe is trimmed in advance. If your child’s hair is long, tie it back.

Creating an Impression

Here are some tips to help your child create a good impression. Go through them together:

Body Language

Interviews test your ability to communicate and body language can help you to do this if you appear relaxed, interested and confident.

Looking Confident

  • Sit in a relaxed way, but don’t slouch.
  • Sit so that your body, including your legs and feet, points towards the interviewer.
  • Don’t put up barriers by crossing your arms in front of you.
  • Smile, but only when appropriate – don’t just grin all the time.

Watch Your Hands

  • Keep your hands away from your face and hair.
  • Don’t touch your nose before you answer a question.
  • Use your hands to express yourself, keeping them folded at other times.

Keeping Eye Contact

  • Look at the interviewer, but don’t stare – remember to blink.
  • Don’t be tempted to look away if they ask a difficult question.
  • Don’t shut your eyes while you think about a question.

Communication Skills

You are more likely to be able to both ask and answer questions if you are prepared. Researching information about the school in advance will help with questions on areas of interest to you such as sports and music. Your research will also make it easier to answer questions put to you.

Think about why you would like to go to the school, based on the information you have found out. It is important to be clear about your own views when talking about the school with the interviewer.

Avoiding Yes/No Answers

  • Treat every question as an opportunity to tell the interviewer something about yourself.
  • Try adding an example to your answer, or qualify it. For example, ‘No, but…’, ‘Yes, although I sometimes…’

Answering and Asking Questions

  • If you’re asked about an area of weakness, explain how you’ve tried to improve.
  • If you’re asked a factual question and don’t know the answer, say so.
  • If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be repeated or ask for an explanation.
  • Ask questions that show you have already found out something about the school and would like to hear more details than your research has provided.

Interview Practice

Good interview technique is a skill and, like all other skills, can improve with practice.

Familiarity can reduce anxiety, and if your child has experience of how to deal with the interview experience they stand more chance of putting themselves across positively and confidently.

Preparing a Mock Interview

When your child feels confident in the preparations you have been through, consider preparing a mock interview so that they can experience the situation in advance. You could conduct this yourself or consider asking a good friend who your child knows well and feels confident with.


The aim is to make this a positive experience to build your child’s confidence, but it should also simulate the situation they are likely to encounter, so the setting is important.

Choose a room that you are sure will be undisturbed for the 15–20 minutes you will need. Set the room out so there is somewhere for you to sit and go through your notes without your child seeing them and somewhere for your child to sit.

There does not need to be a desk unless you feel more comfortable having somewhere to write.


Prepare an interview checklist, like the one below, to help you mark your child’s performance.

You can share it with your should ahead of the mock interview, so that they understand the structure of the interview. That way, they can concentrate on what they have to say, rather than on what they have to do.

Make it clear to your child that you expect them to act as they would do in the real interview situation. For example, knocking before entering, greeting the interviewer and introducing themselves, as well as answering and responding positively to the questions.

Explain that you will be marking them on all aspects of the interview at the end and that you will go through the marks together so that you can talk about where they could improve.

Topics for Discussion

Prepare a topic for discussion to form the main theme of the interview.

Choose a subject that you feel could be challenging but will enable your child to express their views. Do not simply choose a subject you know your child will have particular knowledge about as this will not be realistic practice for them.

The following opening sentences may give you some ideas:

  • ‘I am interested in hearing about what you would like to do with your life.’
  • ‘I’d like you to tell me about your personal heroes and heroines.’
  • ‘I’d like you to tell me about your current school.’
  • ‘People often joke about what they’d do if they ruled the world, but if you did, what would you do?’
  • ‘If you could choose, when and where would you prefer to live?’

Do not share the topic with your child before beginning the interview.

Range of Questions

Consider and prepare a range of questions that fall into two categories:

A. Questions that are open-ended and expect an explained response.

B. Questions that could allow one-word answers but your child should be able to answer more fully without prompting.

Here are some examples of category A and B questions based on the discussion topic ‘I’d like you to tell me about your personal heroes and heroines.’

Category A

  • What do you think makes a hero or heroine? Give examples.
  • What makes you say that?
  • What do you think makes [your child’s hero/heroine] a hero/heroine?
  • If you had the power, how would you reward [your child’s hero/heroine]?

Category B

  • Do you think it’s possible to be a hero or heroine in everyday life?
  • Have you ever met a hero or heroine?
  • Do you think you have ever behaved in a heroic way?
  • Do you think heroes and heroines are always well-liked and happy?

Example Interview Checklist

Prepare a checklist that gives structure to the interview and is relevant to your discussion topic.

Section A: Behaviour, Demeanour and Body Language

  • Knocks on door. [1 mark]
  • Waits to be told to sit. [1 mark]
  • Is calm, relaxed, does not fidget. [1–5 marks]
  • ‘Open’ body language – body pointing towards interviewer; not hunched with arms crossed in front. [1–5 marks]
  • Is polite and friendly. [1–5 marks]
  • Is enthusiastic. [1–5 marks]
  • Remains calm under pressure. [1–5 marks]

Section B: Interview Responses / Content

  • Gives a full response to both Category A and Category B, for example…
    Q: Do you think it’s possible to be a hero or heroine in everyday life?
    A: Yes, look at firemen, for example. [1–5 marks]

  • Gives reasons for opinions, for example…
    Q: What do you think makes [child’s hero/heroine] heroic?
    A: Well, she stood up for what she believed in, and she didn’t worry about what might happen to her. [1–5 marks]

  • Listens to the questions and gives relevant and thoughtful replies, for example…
    Q: Do you think heroes and heroines are always well-liked and happy? 5
    A: Not always – Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, but she was a heroine to some people. [1–5 marks]

  • Uses appropriate language (no slang, expletives, etc.) and expressive vocabulary (e.g. ‘interesting’/‘exciting’, not ‘nice’); understands any difficult words used by the interviewer. [1–5 marks]