Tutor View: Fatima Mirza, Mentor Studio, South Wimbledon

Confidence in maths is key, and the subject is a big determiner at most of the top London schools, says tutor Fatima Mirza. On reading, don’t try to force Harry Potter – not every child is or will be interested in specific books, and that is okay.

Top tips for maths: Strong foundations help build on maths skills. Times tables should be mastered early on; games with rewards for speed and accuracy work on very competitive children, especially boys. I teach simple ways of learning these skills, e.g. 5 6 7 8- consecutive string of numbers: 7×8=56, one of the first questions asked at King’s College School interview at 7-plus/8-plus.

Confidence in maths is key, and the subject is a big determiner at most of the top London schools, be it for 7-plus, 8-plus, 11-plus or 13-plus. In addition, it is imperative to learn concepts before working through exam papers. A lot of people start with Bond Assessment tests, and teach the topics as they go along. Personally, I find this method counter-productive, as some children get flustered by coming across an unknown topic. I prefer to teach the topics and administer unit tests, before moving to papers.

Top tips for English: Reading is key to success, for any entrance exam, including the 11-plus. That being said, children who master exam technique, specifically for grammar schools, without building on their reading skills, find they struggle once at secondary school, and hence resort to further tutoring to keep up.

I find so many parents go over and beyond maths knowledge from an early age, that by the time the 11-plus draws nearer, children are maths genii, however, English has been ignored to a great extent. Hence, it takes much more effort to learn comprehension techniques and creative writing which have been overlooked for very long. Reading builds not only on vocabulary, but SPaG and creative writing. 

How to get into a top grammar school

Which grammar schools have out of catchment places?

Meaningful and engaging activities can be used to aid students to learn about language in context. Both language and vocabulary is best acquired through reading and writing rather than discrete grammar exercises.

Encouraging children to read leads to greater exposure and learning, that reinforces the instinctive knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation.
If your child is not keen on reading, ignore reading lists and find them an article, comics, any reading material on the subject of their interest.

I myself tried for years to get my son to read avidly using different reading lists, until at last it dawned upon me that he was not interested in the subjects; it was self-identity and immigration that piqued his interest.

Hence, he thoroughly enjoyed Varjak Paw, Front-Desk, Boy at the Back of the Class, Ice-Candy Man, etc. Don’t try to force Harry Potter, etc – not every child is or will be interested in specific books, and that is okay.

For English, I advise my students to use a dictionary as a last resort, as this ingrains in them an attribute to read for meaning, rather than relying on a dictionary when facing a new word. Ninety five percent of the time, they are able to decode the definition of a new word without the use of dictionary. This is a most helpful tool for comprehension/verbal reasoning questions.

Top tips for verbal/non-verbal reasoning: I highly recommend puzzles and crosswords to build interest in reasoning skills. The Week Junior is a brilliant resource both for reading as well as enjoyment, as it has a great puzzles page covering number puzzles, number towers, word searches, etc. Also, Sudoku and Train tracks are brilliant resources to tap into. In addition, Lego and building blocks are a superb  to help in visualisation needed for non-verbal reasoning. Children who are observant of environments around themselves do much better with understanding bird’s eye views, etc. 

For verbal reasoning, I always ask my students to read the entire question and try make sense of it in context. In addition, process of elimination is extremely useful for both verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. Being able to identify different parts of speech to answer vocabulary questions is a very handy tip

Are you now offering online tutoring? Yes, I offer 1:1 online sessions, as well as my online group lessons which are very popular.

How are children responding? Extremely well, especially ones who were not as mature in person.

When should a child start preparing for the 11-plus? Ideally year 4, with two summers (most productive time) to work through, however have very successfully helped prepare students joining in August before exams!

How many hours a week does a child need to study? Varies from child to child. That being said, a child needs a healthy childhood, hence less is more – they need to enjoy what they do. Most effective learning, comes from reading as mentioned.

Best materials to use (and why are these effective)? I highly recommend the Galore Park books as well as Atom Learning (ideal for ISEB Common Entrance Pre-tests), which has an element of challenge built into the system (badges, etc). That being said, it is wise to vary the formats and use a wider range of materials, not restricted to a few publishers. 

I have created my own resources that I have put together over years of practise. Most significant are my creative writing packs which have helped many boys succeed at the sought-after London schools. As most of the queries I get are for the top London boys’ schools, I know the exact materials the schools use for their interviews, which I help prepare for later in the year.

Schools tutored for: Westminster, Eton, St Paul’s, King’s College, Whitgift, Hampton, Dulwich, Latymer Grammar, Sutton Grammars, City, Highgate, Wimbledon High School, Putney High, Surbiton High, QE, Merchant Taylor’s, Habs, Eaton House, and many others. 

How long have you been a tutor? I taught at universities in the US from 2005-7) and have been tutoring since 2013. I prepared my own children for Westminster Under School, where they are thriving.

Price of tuition per hour: Online summer groups are offered at a mere £15/hour. Regular group sessions (3-5 pupils) are charged at £40/hour and 1:1 starts at £90/hour.

Website: http://www.mentorstudio.co.uk

Email: info@mentorstudio.co.uk

Facebook page: Facebook.com/MentorStudioUK

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