How to Pass the CSSE in Essex


Grammar schools across Essex use the CSSE 11+ tests to gauge whether students merit entry. The narrow margin between success and failure will determine where your child continues their education; so, these exams are important. With that in mind, here are four simple steps to help you and your child in the build-up to the big day. 

Step 1: Learn the Curriculum

Two things determine success in any examination. These are underlying knowledge of the subject at hand and test techniques. Without either of these, your child’s chances of passing are much lower.

So, preparing for the CSSE 11+ begins long before the test itself. You have to ensure that your child has understood everything relevant to the test in English and Maths. Going over past work is the easiest way to brush up on both.

There are other things to consider, too. Here’s a brief point by point guide of the other basics your child will need to know:

  • Their grammar. Good grammar is the difference between good and excellent writing. Poor grammar can hold back a child with a great talent for reading and writing, so go over the basics before the exam. Cover nouns, adjectives and verbs, tenses, prepositions and adverbs. 
  • Test vocabulary. Math questions in exams can be worded in ways your child may not be familiar with. Have your child practise ‘translating’ the question into a mathematical notation to see if they understand this vocabulary correctly.
  • Being comfortable with unfamiliar words. Your child may encounter one or two foreign words in the text that accompanies the English paper. Please read with your child and gauge how they react to words that they don’t know. 

But to ensure success, these steps are just the beginning.

Step 2: Find Past Papers

When prepping for any test, past papers are the key. This rule applies to the 11-plus as much as it applies to higher education. You also don’t have to rely on your child’s teacher to dig some up for you. 

The CSSE themselves host several past examination papers on their website. These papers are available to all for free as PDF downloads. There are examples for both Maths and English, including the continuous writing English paper too. The most recent papers have yet to be uploaded at the time of writing, but the fundamental test is still the same. Better yet, alongside the past papers, the mark schemes are uploaded too. 

Giving these papers a once-over will help your child’s confidence because they let you know exactly what’s coming. You can also use them in several other ways, each of which will give your child an advantage when test day rolls around. 

But to truly take advantage of this online resource, you should have your child sit a mock test. You don’t have to be serious and strict because the idea is to gauge your child’s test-readiness. 

Step 3: Learn to Manage Nerves

Examinations aren’t entirely fair. Some of the best and brightest will fail exams because of nerves because they’re easily distracted or because of sheer bad luck. Everyone has a story of someone they knew who sat a test even though a pet passed away, for example. 

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet figured out a better way to test aptitude for schooling, but we have to work within the system we live in. So, a big part of passing any exam will always be exam technique—married, of course, with knowledge of the relevant subject. 

The main issue that people experience in exams, both children and adults, is nerves. The exam date looms for weeks beforehand, and then when your child is finally there, it can feel overwhelming. Managing these nerves can be the difference between passing and failing. Here are a few tips on helping your child manage their stress:

  • Acknowledging the feeling. Pretending that the feeling isn’t there is a sure-fire way to make it worse. Talk with your child about the nerves they feel in a test, and see if you can think of ways to overcome it together.
  • Breathing techniques. Breathing deeply and slowly will help anyone relax in almost any context. In a test, taking just thirty seconds every once in a while to breathe slowly can be a good grounding exercise that stops nerves from setting in.
  • Keeping a lucky charm. Something as simple as a lucky bracelet or necklace can give your child the confidence they need to see through the test.

To explore managing stress in more detail would require a far longer article–but these three tips are a good start.

Step 4: Learn to Manage Time

The next issue people have with exams is timing. At first, when there is still more than an hour on the clock, your child may feel like they have plenty of time. But when there are only ten minutes left, but there are still three big questions to answer, that’s when the panic sets in! 

Because time management and panic are linked, learning the stress-management techniques above will help your child in this regard. But they would also benefit from learning more about time management. 

There are several key skills your child can work on in the context of a mock test:

  • How to manage nerves when they arise
  • How to figure out which questions should be saved until last
  • How to figure out which questions to prioritise when short of time

Talking through the problem is a good idea. Ask your child how they feel when they’re short of time. Try to come up with coping strategies together which could help your child through such a complex feeling. 

Other than that, try not to put too much pressure on your child. Making them dread the big day will only make your child miss out on their potential.