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CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING FOR THE 11+ AND 13+

Is your child ready for the important changes coming to the 11+ or 13+ entrance exams process? Every year, we are asked by parents how the exam process has changed compared to previous years. And there are always changes!

Like all educational establishments, independent schools tweak and adapt their entrance exams. Changes might include content, timing, method of testing (whether online, multiple choice or a traditional style paper) and whether to use an adaptive style of online testing where the questions get harder or easier in response to a child’s answers. The focus of individual and group interviews has also evolved, with many schools developing assessment days, with opportunities for potential candidates to mix and collaborate with others whilst their interactions are observed. A vast range of experiences and types of assessment inform these schools’ decision-making processes, and this year is no exception. And many children sitting the 11+ or 13+ in 2022-23 will experience an obvious new ingredient in the exams: the extension and application of problem solving, analysis and critical thinking skills.

The biggest players in this change are the 11+ London Consortium Schools, a group of 14 girls’ schools: Channing, Francis Holland (Regents Park and Sloane Square), Godolphin and Latymer, More House, Northwood College, Notting Hill and Ealing High, Queens College, Queen’s Gate, South Hampstead High, St Augustine’s Priory, St Helen’s, St James Senior Girls and St Margaret’s in Hampstead.

These schools are introducing a Problem Solving and Analysis component to their exams, from December 2022. The 11+ London Consortium website states ‘The Problem-Solving section ‘tests the ability of candidates to use words and numbers to solve multi-step problems’ whereas the analysis section allows candidates to ‘use information from a variety of different sources to answers questions. The information provided will be given to them in a range of different formats and they may have to look at several different sources simultaneously to answer questions.’ They also state that familiarisation materials will be available on the website from the Autumn term.

However, it is not just these girls’ schools who have taken the lead. Many other independent schools such as Merchant Taylors already have their own General Paper, Whitgift have a Critical Thinking exam, and Lady Eleanor Holles will also assess problem solving. Even if a school appears to be testing purely English and maths, or a combination of subjects including non-verbal reasoning and verbal reasoning, they will be looking for evidence of critical thinking. It is highly likely that – hidden amongst the questions – there will be opportunities to solve problems, use logic and show critical thinking skills, where application, rather than knowledge is the key.

The need for expert, bespoke support

At JK Educate, our skilled tutors always prepare children for whatever the entrance exams throw at them. Thorough training of tutors and regular monitoring of students’ work ensures that each child has the right resources to support them for the specific schools they are aiming for, and sufficient opportunities to practice and extend these crucial skills. The market is flooded with educational resources promising to help with entrance exams, but many are disappointing and don’t provide sufficient challenge and extension. Our tutors are using a wide range of high-quality resources from trusted providers to help support students with the exam changes ahead and instil a sense of confidence in facing them.

Changing the style of questions is not a new concept, but at JK we pride ourselves on having a holistic approach and supporting every child to aspire to meet their potential. We also know how vital it is that children are learning essential skills such as developing a growth mindset, learning to be more resilient and determined, persevering when an answer isn’t instantly obvious, and seeing a challenge as motivating and something exciting to work towards.

To conclude, the entrance exam process ensures that schools select students that ‘fit’ their ethos and academic expectations, whilst also considering how a child can contribute and play an active part in school life. We support and encourage schools in creating the right type of filter to accurately select and positively support the decision-making process. The role of a tutor is not to get a child into a school which is wrong for them, it is simply to prepare them for the right one, where they can perform to their very best on the exam day, and then ultimately be happy there and reach their full potential.

How we can help

Our 13+ and 11+ tutors are working with students to develop their critical thinking as part of their exam preparations, but for a real boost to learning in this area, we also offer face-to-face workshop sessions with our critical thinking expert. Individual sessions are available at any time, with group workshop sessions also being scheduled. Our first group workshop in October 2023 was a great success and children gave us great feedback: ‘I liked how interactive the teacher was by making us part of the teaching’ and ‘I enjoyed learning all the ways to do questions that usually I would just skip.’

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