Tutor View – Richard Gray, founder of Crystal Tuition

Attending a creative writing class and completing a 30-minute homework task once a week can see pupils go from being average KS2 writers to writing at KS3/GCSE level, says founder of Crystal Tuition Richard Gray. 

Name: Richard Gray

Top tips for English: 11-plus creative writing is my specialty and if you head over to my website, I’ve actually got a free 30-minute video on the “SOAP technique.” This is a technique that I pioneered to assist beginners who are unsure of what literary techniques to use. SOAP stands for the following: similes/metaphors, onomatopoeia, alliteration and personification. Ensuring your child uses all of these literary techniques as an absolute minimum is a good place to begin, particularly if your child doesn’t have much experience in story writing or descriptive writing.

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Another tip that I strongly recommend is reading. Reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction will enhance a child’s creative flair but more importantly, it will develop their vocabulary. I tell my students to keep a diary of any new words they come across when they are reading, so this is one of the best ways to develop vocabulary on a consistent basis.

Top tips for maths: I only actually tutor for 11-plus creative writing so I am probably not in the best position to comment on this. However, my general advice would be to ensure your child is very confident with the four operations (+ – × ÷) so that they are quick at mental maths (essential for time management).

Free independent school 11+ exam papers to download

In addition to this, a lot of students find the problem-solving/logic-style questions and multi-step worded problems tricky, so I would advise practising these questions in particular.

Top tips for verbal/non-verbal reasoning: As mentioned before, reading will boost a child’s vocabulary significantly and I’d argue that this is perhaps the most critical element to achieving top marks in the verbal reasoning (VR) exam. Quite a lot of VR exams have topics like synonyms and antonyms, odd one out, fill in the missing letter, so familiarising yourself with these types of questions is really important.

NVR (non-verbal reasoning) is to do with shapes, sequences, patterns, nets and cubes. This is often quite abstract and not taught in the KS1/KS2 syllabus at primary school, hence it is essential for a child to do as much preparation from a wide variety of resources as possible.

My 11+ journey: Sabah Hadi

Also, it is really important to work out whether the exam board of your target school is GL or CEM. These are two distinctively different examination providers and this matters the most for NVR/VR where there are completely different question types. Fortunately, the materials for maths and English are similar regardless of CEM or GL because the content is based on the KS2 syllabus.

Are you now offering online tutoring? Yes, my current classes all take place on Zoom.

How are children responding? The majority of the students have adapted really well and I’m incredibly impressed with how tech-savvy they are! The novelty hasn’t worn off and I make lessons exciting with quizzes, polls and competitions.

My 11+ journey: S.L. Ager

The parents have also commented that they are pleased because it saves them travelling time. I have one client who travels more than an hour from East London to Harrow just to attend my creative writing class, so he was particularly pleased that we’ve all moved online!

When should a child start preparing for the eleven-plus? This is such a difficult question because it depends on a multitude of factors. I know this is probably not the most helpful answer but there are too many factors here! It is hard to give a definitive answer so I’ll provide some general insight.

The factors to consider are as follows: the current ability of the pupil, the competitiveness of the school, the format of the exam, how fast the student can pick up new techniques.

When I successfully passed the 11-plus for Tiffin, I only prepared for just over three months (the 11-plus wasn’t as competitive back then compared to now). Just to give an example now, Queen Elizabeth’s School boys in Barnet has almost 3,000 applicants each year for just 180 places.

I’ll say with confidence that the majority of students spend at least a year preparing for the 11-plus now. It’s too competitive at most top grammar schools to prepare for anything less than a year, unless your child is exceptionally bright. A lot of students now spend two years preparing for the 11-plus as you’ll see most tuition centres offer both a year 4 course and a year 5 course. There’s no point studying earlier than year 4 though because the child will be burnt out. I think year 4 can potentially be too early, but it really depends on the child’s circumstance.

How many hours a week does a child need to study? Again, this is a difficult one to answer because it depends on the factors that I mentioned previously. No disrespect intended towards the grammar schools in Buckinghamshire, but those schools are not comparable to the likes of The Henrietta Barnett School, Queen Elizabeth’s School, Tiffin School/The Tiffin Girls’ School, Wilson’s, Wallington/Nonsuch High School for Girls in terms of sheer applicant numbers.  

I am aware that some students preparing for the grammar schools in Bucks are only studying for say one hour a week tuition and doing about one or two hours a week of homework. In contrast, most of the students that I tutor for the top grammar schools in Kingston and Sutton are doing at least one or two hours a day. There’s a massive difference in competition and standards, so I don’t think you can give a blanket statement of how many hours a child should study each week. Each child has different abilities in any case, so the focus should probably be on the quality of study rather than the quantity.

With regards to creative writing, my classes are 1.5 hours each week (across a 30-week academic calendar) and I only set one 30-minute piece of writing, yet some of my students go from being average KS2 writers to writing at KS3/GCSE level so this supports the notion that the quality of study is more important than the quantity.    

Best materials to use? I would start off with Bond books as Bond is one of the most reputable publishers in the 11-plus industry, and used by the majority of parents who prepare their children for the 11-plus. However, going back to my point about utilising a wide range of resources, I would also recommend the 10-minute tests by CGP as these books are great for time management. First Past the Post also do a really comprehensive set of maths books for worded problems. In terms of creative writing, the most commonly used book is ‘Descriptosaurus’. It is quite pricey, so if budget is an issue, I’d recommend getting an older edition as the content is really similar and just as good as the latest edition.

In my lessons, I only use my own material written by myself since 11-plus creative writing is quite niche. The books and materials on the market right now won’t take students to the level that I aspire to bring them to.

Schools tutored for: As a former Tiffin pupil, it’s great to see that the majority of my clients are aiming for Tiffin School/The Tiffin Girls’ School. Other grammar schools that I cater for in south-west London and Surrey are Wilson’s, Sutton Grammar School, Nonsuch High School for Girls and Wallington. My clients from Harrow tend to aim for The Henrietta Barnett School.

I also tutor for some of the top independent schools. I’ve had notable success at getting boys into Hampton School, King’s College School in Wimbledon, Merchant Taylors’ School, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Kingston Grammar School, Dulwich College, Trinity School and Emanuel School.

Some of the girls that I taught last year got places at St Paul’s Girls’ School, Putney High School, City of London School for Girls, Ibstock Place School, North London Collegiate School, James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS). 

The reviews can be verified on my Facebook page under ‘Crystal Tuition’.

How long have you been a tutor? I got my first tutoring gig when I was at secondary school, so I’ve technically got over ten years of experience but that is from tutoring on and off. I tutored during my time at university to help fund my studies but after I graduated with an economics degree from University College London, I went into the financial industry so did not have time to tutor. I left finance back in 2018 to tutor full-time as education is something that I’ve always been incredibly passionate about. I’ve also got an entrepreneurial streak, so it was inevitable that I’d end up working for myself.

Price of tuition per hour: Classes work out at £30 per hour (currently, my classes are 1.5 hours for £45)

Contact: Crystal Tuition

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