As you approach the final stages of the 11+ exam, you might start to notice an increase in nerves for both you and your child. Whilst your child might not have said outright ‘I’m nervous’, you might have noticed them being a bit tetchier or less enthusiastic about the exam than they’ve been before.

As exam day approaches, it’s really important that you help your child manage their nerves, not just because it will help them do better on the day itself, but because it’s teaching them important skills about how to handle the process of revising for and sitting exams. Right now, the 11+ might feel like the be all and end all, but in reality it’s just the first of many formal exams your child will take during their education. Helping your child feel confident and positive about their ability to sit the 11+ and deal with any nerves that may arise will give them a great foundation for those future exams.

In the run up to the exam, nerves often come from two sources:

  1. The atmosphere at home
  2. Worries about the exam itself

The atmosphere at home

We know that the 11+ can be a difficult time for many families, with some very important decisions resting on the outcome of the exam.

However, as a parent, it’s really important for you to try and prevent your own anxieties about the exam transferring to your child. Make sure you keep the atmosphere at home conducive to keeping your child calm by:

  • Avoiding talking constantly about the 11+ and your child’s secondary school options
  • Praising your child for the effort that they’re putting in and reminding them that you’ll be proud of them regardless of how they do in the exam
  • Making sure that your child has regular time off, where they get a complete break from all things exam-related

Worries about the exam itself

For many children, the 11+ exam will be their first experience of a formal exam in a large examination hall surrounded by lots of other children.

This ‘fear of the unknown’ can start to worry children, especially as the exam get closers, so here are some ways to combat these worries at home:

  • Do mock exams – not only does this improve subject knowledge and timing, but it can also help your child prepare mentally for the exam by getting them used to working in silence. You could even do your best invigilator impression and walk past them whilst they’re working so that they learn to cope with that distraction.
  • Role play – even if you don’t go the whole hog and act things out, talking about different scenarios and what might happen will help your child prepare for what to do. Key things to cover: what to do if they need to go to the toilet, what to do if they feel unwell, how to cope if there are children crying before or during the exam.
  • Exam habits – encouraging your child to develop a routine before going into an exam not only helps them prepare practically for the exam, it can give them something familiar to hold on to when they’re in the unfamiliar environment of the exam room.

Exam day

Minimise nerves on the day itself by:

  • Packing up everything they’ll need the night before
  • Eating a nutritious (but normal!) breakfast
  • Giving yourself plenty of time for the journey
  • On the way to the test, asking your child to tell you their exam routine
  • Reminding them that they have done lots of practice papers and are used to the format of the exam they’re taking, they’ve put in all the hard work and now they just need to show what they can do
  • Wishing them luck!

Dealing with the post-exam limbo

Immediately after the exam, most children (and parents!) feel happy and relieved to have finished the exam, although some may feel upset if they don’t feel that it went to plan.

In both cases, it’s important to quickly review what happened. Were there any questions that were particularly tough (important if they’ve got another 11+ exam coming up)? Were there any disruptions in exam room, e.g. a fire alarm (important if you end up in the appeals process)? However, you don’t want to get caught in the trap of doing a ‘post-mortem’ where you both pick apart what happened and feel increasingly negative about the exam. Have something fun planned for you and your child to do together so that you both get out of the 11+ headspace.

After an initial reduction, some families find stress levels starting to rise again as they wait for results. Here are some ideas for how you can deal with post-exam stress:

  • Make a plan with your child for what will happen if they pass the 11+ and a plan for if they don’t. Focusing on the positives of both plans will help your child (and you!) feel as though you’re in a win-win situation. Getting your child involved in the creation of these plans will help them feel empowered, not simply that they’re just waiting passively for the results of the 11+.
  • Although you should make time to discuss any worries or concerns your child might have about the 11+, generally, you should try and reduce the amount you discuss the subject. Instead, focus on helping your child enjoy their final year of primary school. Ask your child if there’s anything they’d particularly like to do before they leave their current school, or take a look at the National Trust’s popular 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾.

We hope these tips make it easier for you to manage the emotional side of the 11+ exam. If you have any advice you’d like to share, please let us know over on Facebook.


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