The 11 plus journey builds vital life skills

Sabah Hadi
January 17, 2021

Challenging. Long-winded. Stressful. Bewildering. Monotonous.

Just a few words used to describe the 11 plus journey. Let’s throw in another word...Perspective.

What if I told you that you can take this one or two year year long process to build foundations for strong and important life skills? Yes, that’s exactly what you can do!

There’s no denying that the 11 plus preparation can be all of those things mentioned earlier but if you focus on what your child can gain through this process, it will change the way you look at it. Indeed, you can and should enjoy the process of learning new life skills. As your child navigates this process of preparing for and choosing a secondary school(s), they can learn effective communication, teamwork, resilience, time management, mindfulness and more.



There’s a lot said about the importance of teamwork in the corporate world and how imperative it is to an effective and dynamic part of a team. But did you know, your child can start to learn this now? Even with the virtual job environment that we find ourselves in because of the Covid pandemic, teamwork is just as, if not more, essential to the success of a project. The 11 plus project is the perfect one to start your kid on this. The family is a team and each member needs to contribute to this project. For example, discuss ideas of the schools they are interested in, what they like or dislike about the school, conduct an in-depth research into the history, results, reputation of the school and so on.

 ‘’If you take out the team in teamwork, it’s just work. Now who wants that?’’- Mathew Wooding Stover


For a team to deliver a successful project, communication between all members is vital. Let your child express themselves, ask their opinion on why they want to go to a particular school, what is it about the school that excites them, what do they want to pursue as a career - all of which will have a bearing on the choice of school. Keep conversations open and focus on solving problems.

For example, my son was passionate about football and was insisting on a school which offered the sport. The school we wanted our son to go to did not offer football but was a consistent winner in league table position, was reputed for its sixth form and ticked all the boxes. After discussing for hours and days, exploring options, we finally agreed on a football club that my son would enrol in and attend every weekend. This worked out for all and taught my son that there is always a solution to a problem.

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky


When a child expresses himself, it makes them think about themselves, their needs and desires, their goals in life. These opportunities that you give your child as parents and careers will lead to them become creative and spark their original thought process.

It is a skill that will lay the foundation for creativity in all things that they do. It will force them to think about themselves, focus on what they want out of their secondary school and may be even want they want out of life. It may even, with consistent effort, become a life habit. And we all need creative ways to solve life’s problems!

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”- Stacia Tauscher


When you give your child a chance to think for themselves and listen to what he has to say, it gives them agency. You will see a surge in their confidence levels, knowing that their opinion is heard and valued. It is a great way to instil responsibility as well as accountability. When we feel responsible for a task, we feel accountable towards it and the preparation for the 11 plus tests is a wonderful opportunity for this.

When my son was taking the 11 plus tests, we sat down together and made a plan on how to tackle the workload. We timetabled our tasks, and agreed on the number of hours he would spend on his work. We also discussed the review time and when we would pencil it in. Things went pretty smoothly as he knew that it wasn’t all work and he had a say in how much work he was going to do and when. Don’t forget to schedule in play! It will keep things light and he will look forward to work AND play.


Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.” - Ernest Dimnet



This will be a long journey, arduous even, so how can you make sure you stick to the plan and not give up hope? It can be easy to throw up your hands in the air and believe me, there are multiple times when you and your child will feel this way. Resilience is a great sounding word to utter, but how hard is it to practise? Not as easy as saying it surely, but with the right support and long-term vision, resilience can be learnt. Let your child experience being uncomfortable, let him throw tantrums. After all, the work required for these tests is not easy. Take a deep breath when they get a basic maths problem wrong or write a story that makes no sense. Be there when it happens and encourage him to try again. Change the time, pick another day but have another go or two or three.

Resist the urge to solve his problem or dictate the story. Ask him questions, prod him and before long, he will attempt the problem, fill the page with an interesting tale. Give him another way of looking at it and you will see the happiness shine in his face when he overcomes that difficult problem or that empty page on which he has to write his creative writing passage. Stick to it a little longer and teach your child to do the same.

‘’Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” - Oprah Winfrey


Adversity is our life companion, as we adults can testify. There maybe really tough days when families navigate personal issues along with overload of work for the tests. This may lead to anxiety and when left unchecked, can become dangerous. You can help your child – and yourself - to decrease anxiety or the fear of failure by a simple technique that is called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is to pay attention to the present moment and accept it for what it is. This will teach your child to hone his focus on the task at hand. This can be learned by focusing on short mindfulness exercises. A simple exercise is to practise deep breathing, where you focus on your breath- taking it in and breathing it out. Or by simply focusing on mindful seeing or hearing - where you focus on an object in front of you and give it your full attention. There are many easy mindfulness exercises online, which you can do with your child- at home or outside.


 “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” - Winnie the Pooh

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Practical takeaways

Here’s a simple checklist of a few things you can do and help lay the foundation of important life skills


  • Sit down with your child and draw up a list of schools that she is interested in. (Fosters independence)
  • Ask your child her plans for the future and how her secondary school choice can help with this. (Encourages communication and agency)
  • Play vocabulary game where one family member asks the synonym of a word and another gets a point for answering it right. (Builds teamwork)
  • When a child gets a problem or question wrong, discuss on what went wrong, give her options - could it have been because you added the numbers instead of subtracting them. (Builds resilience)
  • Play a ‘How do I feel when I close my eyes’ mindfulness exercise. Let your child express what she feels when she closes her eyes, what she is thinking at that moment, how does it make her feel when she has her eyes closed. (Teaches mindfulness)


These are just some of the life skills that you can help your child to build as you go through the 11 plus Journey. There are multiple places where you can find help and support online, including in facebook groups and communities like The 11 plus journey.

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Written by
Sabah Hadi

Sabah Hadi is a mum, writer, learning enthusiast and founder of The 11 plus Journey, an educational community. Having successfully navigated the process with her two boys she now gives tirelessly back to the 11 plus community through her facebook group.

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