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Common areas of difficulty on the 11 plus exam

By Atom | Jun 8, 2023, 4:12 PM

Girl concentrating and writing on paper

If you're preparing for your child to take the 11 plus, it's helpful to know exactly what to expect. Atom's exam prep experts share five of the most challenging subtopics on the 11 plus, as well as tips for tackling them.

These areas are notorious for costing children marks, so we recommend starting preparation early and ensuring your child builds knowledge and confidence in these areas.

1. Maths: algebra

Algebra is covered in Year 6 as part of the national curriculum. Your child will be taught to:

  • Use simple formulae

  • Generate and describe linear number sequences

  • Express missing number problems algebraically

  • Find pairs of numbers that satisfy an equation with two unknown numbers

But as 11 plus exams happen at the start of Year 6, your child is unlikely to have spent much, if any, time on algebra in the classroom yet. During Year 5, it’s a good idea to help your child gain a firm understanding of key algebra subtopics at home, followed by exploring learning beyond the foundations of algebra.

As a bonus, this will give them a head start in a topic that will form an increasing part of the maths curriculum they’ll encounter at secondary school, up to GCSE and beyond.

An algebra practice question on Atom Nucleus An algebra practice question on Atom Nucleus

Atom top tips

  • For Atom Nucleus subscribers, we recommend using Custom Practices to begin introducing algebra from the middle of Year 5.

  • Make the most of the Lesson Library where your child can watch recordings of lessons on algebra and equations. Seeing the steps a teacher takes to solve a problem will help your child consolidate their learning.

Explore free lessons

Free 11 plus maths practice paper

  • 50 questions in 50 minutes

  • Mirrors the content and format of standard GL grammar school exams

  • Answer key and parents' guide

Download now
11 plus maths practice paper

2. Non-verbal reasoning: following folds

The ability to solve non-verbal reasoning questions like the one below come naturally to some people. However, for many, it is a topic that can prevent them from gaining a top score. Children can sometimes be tripped up if they are unfamiliar with this style of question, so introducing your child to spatial reasoning practice early is key. Just like learning to tie your shoelaces, practice makes perfect – once the logic clicks, it will make sense.

A following folds practice question on Atom Nucleus A following folds practice question on Atom Nucleus

Atom top tips

One way to introduce your child to ‘following folds’ is to get a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors, and follow the instructions to make the pattern that is being described. This will help your child create a mental representation of how the shapes move and interact. Once they understand the method, repetition will help them build confidence.

The practice questions on Atom Nucleus include engaging videos, help sheets and friendly explanations to support your child to develop a secure understanding of non-verbal reasoning topics.

A following folds visualisation on Atom Nucleus A following folds visualisation on Atom Nucleus

3. English reading comprehension: inference

When it comes to comprehension, ‘inference’ tends to be among the trickiest subtopics. It requires students to form conclusions based on contextual evidence from the text, like in the example below.

An inference practice question on Atom Nucleus An inference practice question on Atom Nucleus

Atom top tips

A great way to boost your child's inference skills is by encouraging them to read widely. Reading a variety of types of text for pleasure will broaden their vocabulary and enhance their analytical thinking. Get tips and free resources for engaging your child with reading here.

When reading together, a fun way to build inference skills is to play ‘prediction’ and ‘storytelling’ games. At the end of a chapter get your child to write down a prediction of what is going to happen next. Another version of this game is to write an alternative ending to a story!

We also recommend students join the fun Comprehension Challenge Live Lessons (or watch the recordings in the Lesson Library) to build both inference and deduction skills.

Comprehension challenge live lessons on Atom Comprehension lessons in the Lesson Library on Atom Nucleus

4. Maths: worded problems

Worded problems are infamous for costing children marks on 11 plus maths papers. Often, the last sentence switches what you think the question is asking you, like in the example below.

A maths worded problem on Atom Nucleus A maths worded problem on Atom Nucleus

To build confidence with solving worded problems, have your child complete practice questions in this style, then talk through their answers together. Ask them to explain their thought process to you. Over time, your child will become comfortable with converting worded questions into numerical sums.

Encourage your child to always take the time to read the question carefully, and it will become habit. This will make them less likely to be caught out by surprising wording in the real exam – and more likely to pick up marks where most of their peers are dropping them.

Atom top tips

For Atom Nucleus subscribers, we recommend setting regular Custom Practices in the 'Weights and Measures' subtopic of maths. This will present your child with time, speed and money questions which are often displayed as worded problems.

Setting a custom practice in Weights and Measures

Once your child has completed each activity, go through the transcript together, reflecting on any corrections and what they would do differently next time. If your child spots that they didn’t read the question properly, they are far less likely to make the same mistake in the real exam!

Custom practice transcript

5. Non-verbal reasoning: nets and cubes

Another of non-verbal reasoning’s stickiest areas, questions involving nets and cubes continue to prove one of the areas that children struggle with most.

On the 11 plus, your child is likely to see two types of nets and cubes questions:

  • Identify which cube can be formed from the given net

  • Identify which net would form the given cube

A nets and cubes practice question on Atom Nucleus A nets and cubes practice question on Atom Nucleus

Atom top tips

The key is to help your child gain a solid understanding of how the 2D nets translate to 3D cubes. Helping your child begin to visualise the nets and cubes as real-world entities will aid tremendously in their ability to answer the questions. Giving your child a real-life object like a dice or Rubik's Cube is a helpful way to support their visualisation when practising this subtopic.

The nets and cubes practice questions on Atom Nucleus have visualisations to help your child gain a solid understanding of how the 2D nets translate to 3D cubes.

Nets and cubes.gif A nets and cubes visualisation on Atom Nucleus

We also recommend watching the 11 Plus Non-Verbal Reasoning: Nets and Cubes Live Lesson recording. Your child will learn all about the dud rule, opposite rule and orientation rule. Combined, these rules will help your child face any nets and cubes questions that may come up on the 11 plus!

We can help

Your child can practise all these topics and more on Atom Nucleus, the all-in-one 11 plus preparation platform. Start your free trial of Atom Nucleus today and discover how smart online learning can empower your child to excel in the 11 plus.

Looking for more tips and resources for preparing for grammar school exams? Check out the complete 11 plus preparation guide below:

The ultimate 11 plus guide

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