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Will COVID make exams easier or harder for 11+ candidates?

This has not been the easiest year for 11 Plus preparation. COVID didn't just close the schools and disrupt the flow of learning; isolation and lockdown put incredible pressure on families and reduced the opportunity to work with tutors and other private learning providers. The financial impact of the pandemic has affected many parents' emotions and concentration, as well as their bank balances. All things considered, there has rarely been a more challenging year to receive the support, encouragement and time commitment from your school, tutor and parents. Yet, despite this reality, the exams are upon us.

11 Plus pass marks are peer-lead. There is no set pass mark or score that needs to be achieved, the benchmark is set by the other children who sit the exam that year, with the top X% achieving offers. In a particularly strong year, pass marks could be unusually high, in a less competitive year, you may find the pass mark drops considerably.

What do we expect from this year?

In truth, it is very difficult to say. Pass marks will probably be slightly lower, because children have had less time and fewer resources when preparing. However, this isn't necessarily good news.

Most Grammar Schools will advise that you not revise or prepare in any particular way for their entrance exams, including tuition. Instead, the general advice is that you should be comfortable that if your child is the right level of capability for the school then they will probably pass the exam. There is some truth to this. On the one hand if you need to achieve a drastic uplift in your son or daughter's academic capabilities, they probably won't be happy or comfortable in the school even if they do secure a place (which is unlikely). On the other hand, the oft-evangelised idea that 11 Plus entrance exams only contain question types and content that occurs naturally in Key Stage 2, is at best optimistic, at worst mis-leading. Most of the topics and subjects tested will be taught at some point in primary education, but often in Year 6 after the entrance exam has been sat. Very few children will have a complete grasp of these subjects in Year 5.

It would not be unreasonable to expect that many children this year have learned less at school and had fewer resources in their preparation for entrance exams, despite the vast amount of time thrust upon them. This may result in those children for whom that extra structure and support may have led to success, instead failing to achieve the pass mark set by the select and rare child whose personal interests and home pursuits leave them ready to pass without much or any revision. For the Grammar School purist this is a win - the very purpose of the Grammar system is to find a home for these exceptional children, not for those who need preparation - for the parents and children concerned, it clearly would not be.

To the purists it may be fair to ask the value of effort as a commodity. Are the leaders in history those who landed there by chance, or those who fought to get there?

Whatever the outcome, we wish you all the best of luck as your key date approaches.


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