11 PLUS STRESS: HOW TO SUPPORT CHILDREN TAKING THE 11 PLUS EXAM
By Helen Prince
the 11 plus exam in the UK
How can you best support your child’s wellbeing during 11 Plus time? Learn what causes 11 Plus stress, how to spot the signs of too much 11 Plus pressure and the best ways to help your child feel relaxed and confident when taking the 11 Plus exam.
What is the 11 Plus?
The 11 Plus is an optional exam taken by some year 6 pupils (age 10 to 11) in England to determine their academic ability and suitability to attend a grammar school or other selective school from year 7 onwards. Also known as the ‘transfer test’, the 11 Plus exam consists of four elements: English, mathematics, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.
Causes of 11 Plus stress: Why can the 11 Plus be stressful for my child?
As an examination taken to determine academic ability and which schools a child can attend, the outcome of the 11 Plus can feel very important to parents, teachers and children. Preparing for and taking the 11 Plus can be stressful for children due to the following factors:
- External pressure – There can be pressure from parents and schools around achieving a high result in the 11 Plus. This pressure will be felt by children and can manifest as stress and anxiety around taking the exam.
- Financial circumstances – As the 11 Plus is used to determine whether children are eligible for scholarships for fee-based schools, this can cause a lot of pressure for children to score highly, particularly if this is the only option for a child to attend that school due to finances.
- Personal life difficulties – There may be some personal and family issues happening that cause difficulties for children when preparing for the 11 Plus exam. This can make it harder for children to maintain positive mental health in general and will most likely affect their ability to focus on the 11 Plus.
- Negative self-talk – Children absorb a lot from the adults around them, including patterns of self-talk. Negative self-talk can cause a lot of stress and upset, whereas positive self-talk promotes believing in oneself and develops confidence and self-belief.
- Lack of support – If a child is not receiving adequate support to prepare for the 11 Plus from home or school, this can cause stress, as they will feel alone and unsupported in their studying.
- Feeling unprepared – If a child doesn’t know what to expect in the 11 Plus exam, it will be a much more nerve-wracking experience than if they have prepared thoroughly and are familiar with the structure of the test.
- Perfectionism – Having unrealistic expectations of being ‘perfect’ can cause an overwhelming amount of stress.
Signs of 11 Plus stress in your child
When we are stressed, our bodies flood with stress hormones, causing a spike in adrenaline and, often, an increase in anxiety. Whereas low levels of stress can actually help us to concentrate and complete important tasks, when stress becomes too much, it can be damaging to both our mental and physical health.
Knowing some signs of stress to look out for will help you to recognise when your child is under too much 11 Plus pressure, so you can step in and offer support. Here are some of the main 11 Plus stress symptoms to watch out for:
- Anxiety and worrying – Anxiousness and worry are major indicators of 11 Plus stress. Anxiety can present in different ways, as explained in the other symptoms to look out for in this list.
- Disturbed sleep or insomnia – When anxious about an upcoming event or struggling with stress, sleep is one of the first things to suffer. Whether your child is finding it hard to fall asleep, waking up in the night, or waking up still feeling tired, these could all be signs of 11 Plus stress.
- Feeling overwhelmed – A feeling of overwhelm is common when dealing with exam stress, particularly when the outcome of the exam is perceived to be very important and there is a lot of information to learn in the preparation stage.
- Lack of interest in their favourite activities – This is a major sign of low mood, which can be a consequence of too much 11 Plus stress.
- Restlessness – This can present as fidgeting or an inability to sit still. If this is not normal for your child, it could be due to an overwhelming amount of stress.
- Finding it difficult to relax – If your child is struggling to relax or play in their downtime, this could be due to being preoccupied with thoughts or worries about the 11 Plus.
- Withdrawing – Children may withdraw when they feel stressed by things going on in their environment, such as when they’re feeling 11 Plus pressure. This can look like being quieter than usual and less playful, carefree and happy.
Resilience and stress tolerance
Some children may naturally be more able to handle stress, and other children may find it more challenging. Both of these are okay. It’s important to accept wherever your children are at and support them with whatever they need help with.
Resilience is one of the main factors influencing a child’s ability to handle stress. The good news is that resilience can be built and developed, if a child receives the right support.
A great place to start with developing resilience is to create an open and non-judgmental dialogue for children to talk about how they’re feeling, as this gives them space to experience their emotions and know they can get through anything they’re feeling.
Let’s explore some further ways to reduce 11 Plus pressure for your child and build their resilience in the process.
How to reduce 11 Plus pressure for your child
These tips will help you to create a supportive home environment for your child to reduce any 11 Plus stress they may be experiencing:
- Build positive self-talk – Teach children to be their own biggest cheerleaders! This is one of the best ways to build resilience and unshakeable self-confidence in your child. Repeating positive affirmations together, such as ‘I am capable’, ‘I am clever’, ‘I am successful’ and ‘I am worthy’, each morning and night will massively boost your child’s self-esteem.
- Reassure children that they are worthy – Telling children that they’re worthy no matter what they achieve in the 11 Plus exam is perhaps the most important point on this list. You can still encourage children to do their best and put effort into preparing for the exam, at the same time as reassuring them that you love them just the same no matter what they achieve. This will help to break the connection between attributing self-worth to academic success, ensuring children know that they are worthy and valuable regardless of their result. This may seem obvious to you, but sometimes 11 Plus pressure can make children feel like they will not be worthy if they don’t succeed.
- Allow children to make mistakes – It’s important to teach children about the value of making mistaking and learning from them. Let children know that we all fail at certain times and that this is normal and okay. This will help to reassure children that they don’t need to be ‘perfect’ all the time (and that this is actually impossible)! Children will then feel reassured about making mistakes in their 11 Plus mock exams and learning from them for the actual test.
- Don’t compare your child to anyone else – It’s important that children do not feel like they are being compared to anyone else in terms of achievement in the 11 Plus exam, be it friends, siblings, family members, neighbours, or anyone else. Let them shine as their own unique selves!
- Slow and steady 11 Plus exam preparation – Rather than rushing through mock exam papers at the last minute, it’s much better to start preparing for the 11 Plus early on by going through each topic gradually. You can encourage children to read each day to help develop a wide vocabulary, which is one of the most important areas for 11 Plus preparation.
- Make learning fun – The more fun the learning is, the less pressure children will feel. Make preparing for the 11 Plus fun by reading together, doing some colourful worksheets, or playing some vocab games. Using an entertaining, educational and enjoyable 11 Plus app is a brilliant way to engage children in preparing for the 11 Plus.
11 Plus stress reminders for parents
Looking after your own wellbeing is as important as looking after your child’s wellbeing. This is true throughout the whole year, but can be particularly pertinent around 11 Plus time. The stresses and worries that can come with taking the 11 Plus affects both parents and children.
As a parent, you can only give to your child whatever you give to yourself. Even if you may not consciously realise it, looking after yourself has a direct positive impact on your child. That’s because the more you take care of yourself, the more you can show up for your child.
Children also model your behaviour, so they will learn from your self-care and wellbeing habits. Do you remember that when you’re on a plane, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting your child? Wellbeing works in much the same way.
Building in some time each day to relax is a great way to start boosting your self-care, such as doing a mindfulness meditation, going for a nature walk, taking a bath, or whichever way you prefer to relax. Let’s take a look through some further relaxation tips, perfect for both children and parents, to help with reducing 11 Plus stress.
Relaxation tips for 11 Plus stress
Here are our top self-care and wellbeing tips to help calm 11 Plus anxiety:
- Regular walks or other exercise – Walking in nature is a brilliant way to relax and refresh. Doing some exercise, such as playing sports or even dancing around at home, is a perfect study break!
- Ensure your child is getting enough rest – Children can reach their potential and perform best when they are feeling relaxed and rested. We recommend setting a certain bedtime and avoiding studying too close to bedtime.
- Healthy study snacks – Making sure your child eats healthy and nutritional food and drinks enough water is key. Treats are also important and can be great motivation – everything in moderation!
- Create a nighttime routine – Relaxing before bedtime is key to maintaining a healthy sleep pattern. For example, you can sing a lullaby or read a story together.
- Make a study plan with regular breaks – Creating a study plan with scheduled times for 11 Plus preparation will help both you and your child feel on track and relaxed.
- Try mindfulness exercises – Mindfulness exercises can help children feel calm and centred. We recommend following meditation videos, doing some yoga, trying breathing exercises and making time for some mindfulness colouring.
Further mental health support for children
If feelings of stress or anxiety are becoming overwhelming and your child requires extra mental health and wellbeing support, there are people and organisations that can help. Here are some available mental health charities and support services:
Set your child up for 11 Plus success
We wish your child the best of luck with the 11 Plus exam. If you’d like to explore a helpful and fun way for your child to build the vocabulary needed for the 11 Plus at home, we invite you to take a look at our ChatterStars 11 Plus vocabulary app. Designed to support your child to boost their vocabulary, develop their confidence and have fun while learning, the ChatterStars app is the perfect study solution for the 11 Plus.
Planning for 11 plus success
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ChatterStars 11+ vocabulary app can support you to boost your child’s vocabulary – the best predictor of future success