Tutor View: Nick Dale, Putney and online

Nick Dale started tutoring for the 11-plus in 2009 after reading an article in The Daily Telegraph titled: 10 ways to beat the recession. Tutoring over 500 students, including a member of Qatari royal family, he has accumulated a database of 2,000 past exam papers.

Name: Nick Dale

Top tips for maths: The best way I’ve found to teach maths is to ask pupils to do a past paper and then go through it during the following lesson. That way, I can mark their work and fill in any gaps in their knowledge. However, it’s also possible to focus on a particular topic for a few weeks if necessary, for example, ratios or long division.

Top tips for English: I’ve developed a five-step method for both comprehensions and stories. For comprehensions, it’s this:

  1. Read the text
  2. Read the questions
  3. Read the text again
  4. Answer the questions
  5. Check the answers

For writing stories, it’s this:

  1. Choose a title
  2. Brainstorm for ideas
  3. Create a story mountain (with introduction, build-up, problem, solution and ending)
  4. Write the story
  5. Check it

You can find full instructions in these two articles on my website:

Remember the Iceberg!

Story Mountains

I also ask all my English pupils to keep a vocabulary book in which they write down any new words they come across (either in our lessons, at school or at home or anywhere else) together with their meanings, if need be.

I’ll then give them a vocabulary test every few weeks. They can cross off whichever words they can spell and define properly, which can build a sense of achievement. I’ll then ask them to tell me a familiar story using as many words as possible from the test. 

That helps to move words from their “passive” to their “active” vocabulary – they’re no longer just words they understand when they read them but words they can actually use themselves.

Top tips for verbal/non-verbal reasoning: One useful tool for both subjects is to work by process of elimination. The questions can get quite complicated sometimes, so it’s important to go through all the options step-by-step. If you cross off the answers that can’t be right as you go along, you’ll eventually be left with the right answer – or at least a choice of two. Having a logical and systematic approach is crucial in these two subjects.

In verbal reasoning, I often see children pick an answer just because they happen to know the word – even if they know it doesn’t have the right meaning – rather than using logic to work out the right answer – even if it’s a word they don’t know.

Are you now offering online tutoring? Yes, I’ve taught 93 pupils online, and online tutoring has made up far more than half my workload for over a year now. I use Bitpaper for my electronic whiteboard and either Skype, Facetime or Bramble for the video call.

How are children responding? If children are too young, it’s difficult to teach them basic skills such as the column method, but at 11-plus level, the only real problem comes from the occasional dodgy internet connection!

When should a child start preparing for the 11-plus? The earlier the better! In fact, most pupils wait until the September before the exams in January. That’s when I get my biggest boost in terms of pupil numbers. If you want to get a head start on your child’s competitors, though, you might want to start a few months earlier.

How many hours a week does a child need to study? Most clients ask for an hour a week or, occasionally two hours a week if we’re going to do two subjects such as English and maths. In addition, homework for each subject might last around 30-60 minutes a week. I’ll generally ask pupils to do either a comprehension, a story or a maths, verbal reasoning or non-verbal reasoning paper for their homework and then mark it during the following lesson. If they have any problems, we’ll usually go over the topic and do a few practice questions until they’re happy with it.

Best materials to use: A lot of parents use Bond books, but they tend to be a bit easier than past papers such as those set by ISEB (let alone those set by “hard” schools such as Sevenoaks or Dulwich). The English Bond books also don’t have any composition questions, and they have more grammar questions and definitions than your typical past paper. That’s why I use past papers and try to “fill in the gaps”. One particular problem is that some schools don’t make any attempt to synchronise their syllabus with the requirements of the 11-plus exam, so some children might come across questions that they haven’t even been taught how to do! That’s just one reason why booking a few private lessons can be very helpful. I’ve also written dozens of articles on common English and maths topics, and I have a database of over 2,000 past papers on my website, so it’s very easy to download and/or print out whatever’s needed.

Schools tutored for: I’ve helped pupils get offers from dozens of different schools at 11-plus, including Aldenham School, Alleyn’s School, Bancroft’s School, Belmont School, Benenden School, City of London School, Emanuel School, Epsom College, Francis Holland School Regent’s Park, Hampton School, The Harrodian School, Highgate School, Ibstock Place School, Immanuel College, James Allen’s Girls School (JAGS), Jewish Free School (JFS), Kew House School, Latymer Upper School, Notting Hill and Ealing High School, Queen’s Gate School, Radnor House, Reed’s School, Royal Grammar School Guildford, St James Senior Boys’ School, St John’s School, Stowe School, Streatham & Clapham High School, University College School (UCS), Westminster Under School (WUS) and Wimbledon High School.

How long have you been a tutor? I started in 2009 when I happened to read an article in The Daily Telegraph called “10 ways to beat the recession.” I’ve now given private lessons to 545 students of all ages, including a member of the Qatari royal family and many with dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism, ADHD and other special educational needs. I’ve taught verbal and non-verbal reasoning to 67 pupils, maths to 286 and English to 389. That includes 56 trainee teachers and 296 school entry candidates, mostly at 11-plus and 13-plus level, some of whom have won places at schools such as Eton, St Paul’s and Winchester. I’ve also carried out residential assignments in Belarus, Greece, Hong Kong, Kenya, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.

Price of tuition per hour: £70

Website: https://nickdale.me/

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