Perfect Your Child’s Exam Technique With These 5 Vital Tips

When it comes to the 11+, exam technique is critical.  Children must move quickly from question to question with accuracy and diligence.  Looking for clues in the questions and understanding the phrasing of each question help them move on quickly and clinically with confidence that they tackle the next question.  Here, we break down all our tips for approaching questions and implementing habits that simplify even the most challenging questions.


**Finding Keywords in the Question Format**



The 11+ examination uses multiple choice for subjects including Maths, English, and spatial reasoning sections. Understanding the format is crucial for success. Each question’s phrasing includes clues to help locate answers. Often, these keywords provide valuable hints about the correct answer.

For English comprehension, carefully understand simple grammar terms, such as the subject (noun doing the verb) and the object (noun that has the verb done to it), that help understand what the question wants you to find.  Quite often, just looking for a mix of these words can help children locate the answer to the question in the text. Look for words like “not,” “expect,” “always,” or “never,” as they can completely change the meaning of a statement.

In maths, translating word problems into number sentences can help simplify questions with lots of information and offer direction and reassurance when students use their working out. Verbs will often have a parallel meaning in maths.  For example, if packets of crisps are £1 each and we have five packets of crisps, we can use ‘each’ as a sign that we must multiply the number of crisps by its price.   Understanding keywords like ‘average’, ‘difference’, ‘product’ and ‘sum’ can fill in the gaps in a question and by singling out essential words and instructions, children will better grasp what they need to do to find the answer.

If your child struggles to identify or apply keywords effectively, we recommend increasing their daily reading to 30 minutes. We don’t need to tell you why that’s important, but fewer than 3/10 students aged 8 – 18 claim they read daily.  This simple habit, often overlooked, can significantly enhance their exam performance. It’s not just about the words they read but the speed at which they assimilate information, their concentration levels, and their exposure to new vocabulary. Plus, it’s a great way to foster a love for reading!



**Elimination Technique**



When confronted with challenging questions, a universal exam technique that can be applied across subjects is the elimination method. Start by ruling out clearly incorrect options based on the information at hand. In non-verbal reasoning, for instance, one must scrutinise each aspect of the question, eliminating answers one by one until only the correct one remains. This approach can also be used in English, Maths, and Verbal Reasoning by identifying hints within the question or context to help eliminate unlikely choices. This systematic approach narrows down the options, making it easier to make an educated guess if necessary.



**Strategic Guessing**




Sometimes, you might need help finding the exact answer, even by finding all the keywords or doing all the work. In such cases, educated or strategic guessing can be helpful. Consider which options seem most plausible based on your knowledge or intuition. Sometimes, it can be as simple as focusing on a word in the question. Remember, educated guesses can increase your chances of selecting the correct answer. If you don’t answer a question, there’s a 100% chance of getting it wrong, but guessing usually leaves >20% of getting it right!




For example: 243 x 74 =

A. 17,982    B. 16,456    C. 972    D. 23,793   E. 100,322

This may seem hard at first, but remember you have the answer in front of you.  If we multiply the last numbers ‘3’ and ‘4’ to get ‘12’, we know the answer must end in a ‘2’.  Looking over the answers, we can see the answers ending in a ‘2’ leave A, C and E.  If we guessed here, we’d have a 1/3 chance, but we can see that C is too small. E is too big (200×100 = 20,000), so that leaves the only plausible answer as A. By working out the most straightforward part of a question, we can have a much easier time getting this right, rather than using up a lot of time to figure out the exact answer. This is one of the most critical aspects of exam methodology and requires a lot of practice and intuition to get it right.




**Show Working Out**




There’s a famous saying from quantum physicist David J. Griffiths that it’s easier to dig a hole with a spade than a screwdriver… obvious, right?

Yet, that’s how it can look when my students don’t use their working out to solve complex Maths or NVR problems.  They know the tools required to get a question correct and yet choose not to use them as they think it’ll be quicker not to. This nearly always leads to silly mistakes, low assimilation of understanding and low recall to get the question right again.  Luckily, working out helps children answer questions quicker and improves their brain’s cognitive function.  Their working out is a roadmap for their tutor, themselves, and their parents to better understand how they process a question and prove that they can consistently correct it.

And you don’t need to be a quantum mechanic to understand that!




**Time Management**




Effective time management is essential in multiple-choice exams. The average time per question in the entrance exams ranges from 30 – 45 seconds, depending on the section. Children must allocate a specific amount of time to each section and stick to it. If they get stuck on a difficult question, they shouldn’t dwell on it too long. Move to more straightforward questions and return to the challenging ones if time permits. Prioritise answering all questions within the allotted time.  When completing a paper, make sure your child times themselves for how long it takes to complete each section.  Measure this against future papers to see if they can improve their timekeeping.

If they’re still struggling, challenge them to look at each question individually on a paper in 30 to 60-second intervals.  Using this at the end of a revision session can help solidify understanding and instil confidence if they’ve been able to grasp a new concept quickly.  Finding ways to turn revision into game-based learning whilst remaining conscious of the time demands can act as a way of active learning. See our blog on different study methods and revision ideas here.




REMEMBER: Every question is worth one mark. Don’t worry if your child can’t find the answer to every question. Spending three minutes on one question isn’t as efficient as spending three minutes on three questions. Prioritise the most straightforward questions so you can have all the time you need to unpack the more complex questions later on!


Success in multiple-choice exams for children and the 11+ requires understanding the format, strategic guessing, elimination techniques, attention to keywords, and effective time management. By incorporating these strategies into your exam technique, you can confidently approach the test and improve your chances of achieving a favourable outcome. Remember, practice makes perfect, but so do our expert tutors.  Consider booking your child in for some 1-to-1 sessions or one of our mock exam run-through sessions to give your child the benefit of guided learning for their next exam.