My 11+ journey: Sabah Hadi

How do you get a place at Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet? Sabah Hadi managed it twice and also set up a social media page to help others do the same.

What were your child’s target schools? Our target schools for our oldest child was a long list of schools – basically wherever he had a chance to get a place. It may sound strange but because we didn’t know about how secondary schools work and about the 11-plus tests, we were finding our way in the dark. We looked at league tables, visited various schools – Wilson’s in the south, Queen Elizabeth’s School in the north and many other schools in between.
What school did they go to in the end? Both our children are at Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet and we are very satisfied with our choice.
Did you ever get access to your child’s CAT scores? Our children did not sit for CAT although now that I think about it, maybe they should have.

My 11+ journey: S.L. Ager

Tutor View: Danielle Baron
How was your child performing at their primary school in relation to their peers? Were they at a state or independent primary school? They were at a state school, which wasn’t remarkable in any way. They were in top sets but we kept a close eye on how they were performing constantly.

Why did you decide to have your child apply to a grammar school? Various reasons, some of which were more compelling than others. Yes, my husband and I looked at the data of university admissions, league table positions but I think the underlying thought was the environment of academically-driven schools. Most kids in high-performing grammars are focussed, academically-inclined and have copious amount of aspiration.

We wanted to give our children that environment and the mindset which makes one always work towards a goal.

How did you prepare your child for the 11-plus? Both our children went to AE, a well-known tuition centre for 11-plus preparation. They were in a class of 10 to 15 kids. The tuition centre has a good track record. Back in the day it was pretty hard to get a place in it. It didn’t have a test but was simply highly sought-after.

They gave lots of work, especially in the summer where my children spent four hours every day finishing the workbooks given to them. It was a very structured approach and lots of work but we were happy and satisfied not just by the work but also the outcome.

If you prepared your child yourself, what books did you use? Our kids were tutored but I did work with them at home as well, on top of the tutoring. I used to print out sheets on topics which they needed to work on. For example, they needed extra practice in comprehension, which meant I bought a few books and made them do it in addition to the books they had done.

Free independent school 11+ exam papers to download

How much time a day or a week did your child spend on 11-plus preparation before year 4, in year 4 and in year 5? For my older child, it was very little in year 4. We did a few Bond books. I wish I knew what to do in year 4 for him because it became a little too much work for him in year 5.

For my younger one, we were prepared, at least comparatively more and he finished all the age-appropriate Bond books. In year 5 they spent about 10- 11 hours on an average every week.

11-plus advice from tutors

How many minutes a day did your child read? I would say an hour every day, it could have been more. Definitely more than the time they spend reading now, which I am trying to better.
Did your child still attend extra-curricular activities during their 11-plus preparation? They both were much taken with football so they went to their weekly football clubs on Saturdays. They also enrolled in at least two after-school clubs ranging from sewing, Taekwondo and weekly religious classes.

I think we stopped these extra-curricular activities somewhere around June when there was simply too little time.

Do you have any hints on fitting in 11-plus preparation around school, work and family life? Always have a timetable and allow time for extra-curricular activities and social time and just parent-child time.

Keep the work to an hour every day and focus on quality work over quantity. Plus spend time with your children speaking to them about their goals and concerns. My husband and I took turns to do this.

Did you allow your child access to electronic devices in year 4 and 5? 
They used to watch cartoons in Youtube so they had access to electronic devices for an hour or two in the evenings.
Did your child attend a mock exam? They attended mocks arranged by their tuition centre. We also arranged for two or three mock tests from other 11-plus providers. 11plusdiy and Chuckra were our choice.

Mocks were important in that they gave a real-time experience of the tests. So good for exam techniques and a rehearsal for the big day.

Did your child attend a summer course? Did that help? My eldest took a summer course in creative writing as this was needed for the second
round of Sutton schools.

It was an intense 10-day course with loads of work to do daily. I think it helped him but I wish it was not so intense. We didn’t enrol the younger one for a summer course as he wasn’t taking tests which had creative writing section.

What would you have done differently, if you had your time again? Not much to be honest as we got the results we were after. However, I think I would have tried to de-stress myself and my children and not be so worried. The lack of guidance also added to the stress.

Did you ever feel the pressures of 11-plus preparation were too much for your child? What did you do to alleviate the stress? We took our children for a coffee and their favourite dessert regularly. We had family discussions around the topic of working hard and smart but also the fact that no matter what the outcome, the work they put in would help them in their future life.

We went for a short break when my second child was taking the tests. We did what we thought was right at that time.
Did you have other parents you could talk to about the 11-plus process? We had few friends who went through the 11 plus and even fewer family. I spoke to as many parents as I could trying to make out the difference between a grammar school and a comprehensive. It was difficult as there were not many around us or in the primary school who went through the process.

Where did you seek advice on the 11-plus process? I asked other parents at my children’s school, which by the way were very few. It was around then that I set up the 11 plus Journey page. A few years later, I created the 11 plus Journey group, which helped me with my second child’s preparation as the community grew and like-minded people guided me through the process the second time.

Tapping the social network for 11-plus advice

I am happy that we can continue to give back to the community by being a platform where parents and carers can get guidance and support during this very important turn in a child’s and indeed, a family’s life.

What is your key piece advice on 11-plus preparation for other parents? To have a mind-set of aspiration and motivation is key in the 11-plus process. There will be times when you think if all this work is going nowhere. Parents and carers should keep the real goal in mind when they go through the process. Try to enjoy the journey and the end- goal will be the fruit.

How to get into a top grammar school

The most important thing is that the 11-plus journey is a good time to establish a routine, good work ethic, accountability, discipline and the right mindset – all things which will help in secondary school education and indeed throughout life. Good habits can be set for life during this period.
Was it all worth it?
Absolutely. No regrets.

About Sabah Hadi: A mum of two boys, Sabah has also worked in the IT industry and as a freelance writer. She hopes to go back to full-time writing very soon. She is also the founder of the 11 plus Journey Facebook page and group and the 11 plus Journey blog.

She may be contacted at:

Would you like to share your 11+ experience? Please write to answering the questions above. We pay £20 for those of a sufficient standard to publish plus £5 for a photograph.

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