Collect as many previous papers as you can. The more you have, the better you will be at detecting patterns. On A4 paper, make a grid. Divide the top horizontally into years – as many as you have past papers for plus one for the year you will take the 11 plus exams. Divide the lefthand vertical into as many topic areas as relevant based on your examination of the syllabus and previous exam papers. Do this with caution and only after you have thoroughly familiarized yourself with the exam themes. Allow for any topic coupling, as examiners occasionally want to link one topic with another. If you have a dozen old papers and a specific linkage has only shown once, you are usually safe to disregard it. However, if it has occurred three or four times, it must be reduced.

So you now have a vast number of cells, each of which is related to a different year and topic. Put a checkmark in each cell that corresponds to the year in which a specific issue was discussed. If there is a pattern, as they’re almost always is, you will notice it quickly. The relative frequency with which the various topics are brought up will now be clear.

Examiners are not conducting a similar exercise to establish the structure of the following 11 plus exams they set. They may be unaware of the types of patterns we’re discussing. On the other hand, Examiners have a mental schedule of the relative relevance of specific themes and a sense of what has lately been chosen.

Use the extra column on the right-hand side, which corresponds to the year you will take the exam, to indicate the topic areas that appear most likely to appear this time. These are the ones that require additional attention. The other elements must also be addressed, but your estimates require special care and attention.

Such a pattern may not appear to emerge in some examinations. But it frequently does. In any event, it is worth the effort commitment to finding out, and whether it does or does not, it would be unwise not to examine as many old publications as possible. It would be best to look at how the questions are framed, how they are separated and sometimes even subdivided, and whether any additional criteria are imposed, such as papers divided into multiple portions with different lengths of time allotted for each and so on.

Overall, many students appear to accept the limits of an examination system as a barbed-wire fence over which they have no control. However, the preceding may only provide you with a pair of wire cutters.

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