# Problem Questions

‘Problem questions’ are often the most difficult in 11+ and 13+ Maths papers.

There are several different kinds, but they all have one thing in common: they all ‘hide’ the sums that you have to do.

That means the first thing you have to do is work out the actual calculations you’re being asked for.

Here’s an example from a 10-11+ Bond book that I was going through today with one of my pupils:

What is the nearest number to 1000, but smaller than 1000, into which 38 will divide with no remainder?

He couldn’t answer it, so I told him something I always say in these situations. There are three ways of answering a question in Maths:

1. Use a proper mathematical technique.
2. Use trial and error.
3. Guess!

# Method 1

The first method is usually the most efficient and reliable. In this case, you need to do two calculations:

1. 1000 ÷ 38 (ignoring any remainder)
2. Multiply the answer by 38.

The first step should be done using long division and should give the answer 26.

The second should be done by long multiplication and give the answer 988.

# Method 2

It’s all very well saying you have to use ‘proper’ Maths, but what if you don’t know how to do it? That’s when trial and error comes in handy.

Trial and error just means thinking of a number that you think is ‘about right’ and then adding or subtracting from it if the answer is too low or too high.

In this case, there’s no easy answer, but you might round up 38 to 40, and 40 goes into 1,000 25 times. However, that still leaves a difference of 25 lots of 2, which is 50, so the actual total is only 950. If you add on another 38, you get 988, which is the answer.

# Method 3

If you’re doing a multiple choice paper, the worst mistake in the world is to leave an answer blank. It only takes a second to guess A, B, C, D or E, so it’s worth doing because you’ll always have a 20% chance of getting it right—and that beats zero!

The key is to make sure your guesses are at least possible. For example, if the question asks for a number between 1 and 10, don’t guess 12!

For this question, it isn’t easy to guess, but the answers to a lot of questions at 11+ or 13+ level can be narrowed down quite easily to a common fraction or a single-digit number.

As Sherlock Holmes once told Dr Watson, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth!”

# Quiz

1. Mark is 11 and Julie is 9 years old. If they get £80 pocket money shared according to their ages, how much does each of them get?
2. If a dress costs £240 after VAT at 20% is added on, what is the original price?
3. Candy floss is on sale at £2 for three sticks at Stall A and £2.50 for five sticks at Stall B. Which stall is cheaper per stick?
4. A garden measures 10 x 8 metres in total. There’s a lawn surrounded by a path 1 metre wide around the outside. What’s the area of the grass?
5. If school starts at 9.15am and there are four 45-minute lessons in the morning followed by three lessons of 1 hour 15 minutes in the afternoon with an hour for lunch, what time do the children go home?

# Working out Values from a Pie Chart

This is a typical question from a Dulwich College 11+ Maths paper that asks you to work out various quantities from a pie chart.

To answer questions like this, you have to be comfortable working with fractions and know that there are 360 degrees in a circle.

So how should you start?

The first question asks for the fraction of the school children who liked tennis.

To work this out, you just need to take the following steps:

1. Put the number of degrees showing the tennis segment over 360 to create a fraction.
2. Simplify the fraction.

The number of degrees is 45, so the fraction is 45/360.

The first step to simplifying fractions is to see if the numerator goes into the denominator, which it does in this case: 45/45 = 1 and 360/45 = 8, so the fraction is 1/8 in its lowest terms.

(By the way, for a complete guide to simplifying fractions, just read Working with Fractions.)

The second question asks how many of the children preferred cricket.

To answer this, you should be able to learn a bit from the first question.

To work this out, you just need to take the following steps:

1. Put the number of degrees showing the cricket segment over 360 to create a fraction.
2. Multiply that fraction by the number of school children in the survey, which is 240.

As with the first question, you need to work out the fraction of the children in the survey you’re dealing with.

In this case, it’s 60/360 or 1/6.

To find out the number of children, you just have to multiply by 240, which is 1/6 x 240 = 40.

The final question asks you to estimate (or guess) how many of the children would say their favourite sport was football out of the whole school of 1200 pupils.

To work this out, you just need to take the following steps:

1. Work out the number of degrees taken up by the football segment of the pie chart.
2. Put the number of degrees over 360 to create a fraction.
3. Multiply that fraction by the number of children in the school, which is 1200.

To work out the number of degrees, it’s easier if you spot that the first half of the pie chart is composed of just football and tennis.

There are 180 degrees in total for that half, so taking away 45 degrees for the tennis-lovers gives you 135 degrees.

This works out at a fraction of 135/360 or 3/8.

Now, we only have data for the 240 children who’ve been surveyed, but that’s why we’re being asked to estimate the answer.

We have to assume that the other kids at school share the same preferences as the ones in the survey.

If we do that, all we need to do is multiply 3/8 by 1200 to get 3/8 x 1200 = 450.

And that’s it…!

# Explaining Humour

One of the things that children taking Common Entrance exams at either 11+ or 13+ find most difficult to explain is humour. Here’s a quick guide to various different types with explanations, examples and a short quiz at the end.

## Slapstick Comedy or Farce

This is a type of physical comedy that relies on the fact that we find it funny when other people hurt themselves. It’s called ‘Schadenfreude’ in German, and it really shouldn’t be funny…but it is!

Example: A man slips on a banana skin and falls over.

This is any joke that’s told with a very matter-of-fact tone.

Example: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport’.”
The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul, by Douglas Adams

## Self-deprecation

This means putting oneself down in a self-mocking way.

Example: “If a book about failures doesn’t sell, is it a success?”
Jerry Seinfeld

## Toilet and Bodily Humour

What we do in the toilet or in the bedroom has given rise to a LOT of jokes over the years…

Example: “It’s just a penis, right? Probably no worse for you than smoking.”
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris

## Puns, Wit and Wordplay

These are jokes based on double meanings or a play on words.

Example: “If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”
The Code of the Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse

## Epigrams

An epigram is just a saying, and some sayings can be very funny – whether deliberately or not!

Example: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
Yogi Berra

## Dark Humour

Dark humour is usually about death or the gloomier aspects of life.

Example: I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.”
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, by Bill Bryson

## Sarcasm and Irony

Sarcasm is saying exactly the opposite of what you mean, but irony is much richer and more popular because the meaning for the reader can be anything from the literal truth of the statement to its exact opposite. It’s up to you…

Example: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

## Innuendo

Finding a rude double meaning in a word or phrase is called innuendo.

“‘Swing Set Needs Home,'” I said.
“‘Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home,'” he said.
“‘Lonely, Vaguely Pedophilic Swing Set Seeks the Butts of Children,'” I said.”
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

## Tongue-in-cheek

This expression just means the writer or speaker is being insincere in an ironic and/or mocking way.

Example: “In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

## Exaggeration and Hyperbole

Exaggeration can lead to a powerful punchline in a joke because it relies on shocking the reader with something unexpected.

Example: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”
A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean

## Parody and Mockery

Pretending to write in a certain style or copying the format of a particular writer or type of text can be done humorously – although the implied criticism may be affectionate.

Example: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

## Satire

This is making fun of something usually in religion, politics or current affairs.

Example: “They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.”
The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett

## The Surreal

‘Surreal’ just means absurd, nightmarish or like a fantasy.

Example: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

## Character Humour

Like a lot of sit-coms this form of humour relies on the personality of the characters. Things are funny because they are so typical of a certain type of person – often a stereotype.

Example: “As a boy, I wanted to be a train.”
Machine Man, by Max Barry

## Observational

A lot of stand-up comedy is based on observational humour, which means simply picking up on the typical habits of people in the world around us. We laugh because we recognise the behaviour and often the reason for it.

Example: “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
Matilda, by Roald Dahl

## Insults

The shock value of an insult lends itself to humour.

Example: Two whales walk into a bar. The first whale says to the other, “WOOOOOO. WEEEEEEEEOOOOO. WEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOO.” The second whale says, “Shut up Steve, you’re drunk.”

## Awkward Situations

If a situation is particularly cringeworthy or awkward, then it will often generate nervous laughter.

Example: “I don’t know how other men feel about their wives walking out on them, but I helped mine pack.”
Breaking Up, by Bill Manville

## Blue or Off-colour Jokes

Using rude words or swear words has the shock value that can generate humour.

Example: “If this typewriter can’t do it, then f*** it, it can’t be done.”
Still Life With Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins

## Sample Questions

How would you explain the humour in these lines?

1. “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
2. “There’s a door,” he whispered.
“Where does it go?”
“It stays where it is, I think,” said Rincewind.
Eric, by Terry Pratchett
3. “It’s not because I want to make out with her.”
“Hold on.”
He grabbed a pencil and scrawled excitedly at the paper as if he’d just made a mathematical breakthrough and then looked back up at me.
“I just did some calculations, and I’ve been able to determine that you’re full of s**t.”
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
4. “I came from a real tough neighborhood. Once a guy pulled a knife on me. I knew he wasn’t a professional: the knife had butter on it.”
Rodney Dangerfield
5. “A word to the wise ain’t necessary. It’s the stupid ones who need advice.”
Bill Cosby
6. “To win back my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I wouldn’t do – except take exercise, get up early or be a useful member of the community.”
A Woman of No Importance, by Oscar Wilde
7. “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major, it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction, he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
8. “Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”
Jingo, by Terry Pratchett
9. “There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
The Code of the Woosters, by PG Wodehouse
10. “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by CS Lewis
11. “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
12. “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
Dorothy Parker
13. “For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
14. “For the better part of my childhood, my professional aspirations were simple – I wanted to be an intergalactic princess.”
Seven Up, by Janet Evanovich
15. “It wasn’t until I had become engaged to Miss Piano that I began avoiding her.”
Into Your Tent I’ll Creep, by Peter De Vries
16. “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

# Creating Off-the-shelf Characters

Common entrance exams have a time limit. If they didn’t, they’d be a lot easier! If you want to save time and improve your story, one thing you can do is to prepare three ‘off-the-shelf’ characters that you can choose from.

You can work on them beforehand, improving them and memorising them as you go. By the time the exam comes around, it’ll be easy to dash off 8-10 lines about one of your favourite characters without having to spend any time inventing or perfecting them.

Here’s what you need to do.

The first thing to say is that you need your characters to be a little out of the ordinary. Most pupils writing stories tend to write about themselves. In other words, 10-year-old boys living in London tend to write stories about 10-year-old boys living in London!

Now, that’s all very well, and the story might still get a good mark, but what you want to try and do is stand out from the crowd. Why not write a story about an 18-year-old intern at a shark research institute in the Maldives?!

To decide which one you’d rather write about, you just have to ask yourself which one you’d rather read about. One thing you can do to make sure your characters are special is to give them all what I call a ‘speciality’ or USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

It might be a superpower such as X-ray vision or mind-reading, or it might be a special skill such as diving or surfing, or it might be a fascinating back-story such as being descended from the Russian royal family or William Shakespeare – whatever it is, it’s a great way to make your characters – and therefore your stories – just that little bit more interesting.

Secondly, you should also make sure all your characters are different. Try to cover all the bases so that you have one you can use for just about any story. That means having heroes that are male and female, old and young with different looks, personalities and nationalities.

For instance, Clara might be the 18-year-old intern at a shark research institute in the Maldives, Pedro might be the 35-year-old Mexican spy during the Texas Revolution of 1835-6 and Kurt might be the 60-year-old Swiss inventor who lives in a laboratory buried deep under the Matterhorn! Who knows? It’s entirely up to you.

Thirdly, creating an off-the-shelf character is a great way to force yourself to use ‘wow words’ and literary techniques such as metaphors and similes. You may have learned what a simile is, but it’s very easy to forget to use them in your stories, so why not describe one of your heroes as having ‘eyes as dark as a murderer’s soul’?

If you use the same characters with similar descriptions over and over again, it’ll become second nature to ‘show off’ your knowledge, and you can do the same with your vocabulary. Again, why say that someone is ‘big’ when you can say he is ‘athletic’, ‘brawny’ or ‘muscular’?

Fourthly, try to stick to what you know. If you’ve never even ridden on a horse, it’s going to be quite tough to write a story about a jockey!

Alternatively, if you’ve regularly been to a particular place on holiday or met someone you found especially interesting, then use what you know to create your characters and their backgrounds. It’s always easier to describe places if you’ve actually been there, and it’s easier to describe people if you know someone similar.

So what goes into creating off-the-shelf characters? The answer is that you have to try and paint a complete picture. It has to cover every major aspect of their lives – even if you can’t remember all the details when you come to write the story. I’d start by using the following categories:

• Name
• Age
• Job or education
• Looks
• Home
• Friends and family
• Personality
• USP (or speciality)

Names are sometimes hard to decide on, so you might want to leave this one to last, but you just need to make sure it’s appropriate to the sort of character you’re creating. It wouldn’t be very convincing to have a Japanese scientist called Emily!

Age is fairly easy to decide. Just make sure your three characters are different – and not too close to your own age!

Job or education goes a long way to pigeon-holing someone. You can tell a lot from what someone does for a living or what they are doing in school or at university. You can include as much or as little detail as you like, but the minimum is probably the name and location of the school or college and what your characters’ favourite subjects are. You never know when it might come in handy!

Looks includes hair, eye colour, build, skin colour and favourite clothes. The more you describe your heroes’ looks, the easier it’ll be for the reader to imagine them.

Home can again be as detailed as you like, but the more specific the better. It’s easier to imagine the captain of a nuclear submarine patrolling under the North Pole than someone simply ‘living in London’…

Friends and family are important to most people, and it’s no different for the heroes of your stories. We don’t need to know the names of all their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, but we at least need to know who they live with and who their best friends are.

Personality covers many things, but it should show what your characters are ‘like’ and what their interests are. Again, you don’t have to go into enormous depth, but it’s good to introduce the reader to qualities that might be needed later on in the story, such as athleticism or an ability to sail a boat.

USP (or speciality) covers anything that makes a character worth reading about. One of the reasons Superman is so popular is his superpowers: his ability to fly, his X-ray vision and the fact that he’s invulnerable. His greatest weakness is also important: Kryptonite. It’s the same for your characters. What can they do that most people can’t? What qualities can they show off in your stories? What will make them people we admire, respect and even love?

If you wanted to make Superman one of your off-the-shelf characters, this is what your notes might look like:

• Name: Superman (or Clark Kent, Kal-El, The Man of Steel, The Last Son of Krypton, The Man of Tomorrow)
• Age: Early 20s (when he first appears)
• Job or education: News reporter at The Daily Planet in Metropolis
• Looks: Tall, with a muscular physique, dark-haired, blue eyes
• Home: Krypton, then the Kents’ farm in Smallville, Kansas, then Metropolis (or a fictionalised New York), where he lives in a rented apartment
• Friends and family: Jor-El and Lara (biological parents)/Jonathan and Martha Kent (adoptive parents), Lois Lane (colleague, best friend, girlfriend), Jimmy Olsen (colleague), Perry White (boss as editor of The Daily Planet)
• Personality: Noble, honest, caring, gentle, resolute, decisive
• USP (or speciality): Superpowers, including invulnerability, super strength, X-ray vision, super hearing, longevity, freezing breath, ability to fly (but vulnerable to Kryptonite!)

Once you’ve created the notes for your three characters, you can write a paragraph of 8-10 lines about each of them. This is your chance to create something that you can easily slot into any of your stories, so use the past tense and stick to what the characters are like, not what they’re doing. That will be different in each story, so you don’t want to tie yourself down.

Here’s an example using Superman again:

Clark Kent led a double life. He wasn’t happy about it, but he needed his secret identity so that no-one would find out who he really was. He might have been a mild-mannered reporter for The Daily Planet with a crush on his partner, Lois Lane, but he was also a crime-fighting superhero: he was Kal-El, Superman and The Man of Steel all rolled into one!

His secret was that he’d actually been born on Krypton and sent to Earth as a baby to protect him from the destruction of his home planet. He’d been found by a childless couple living on a farm in Smallville, Kansas, and Jonathan and Martha Kent had adopted him as their own.

They didn’t know where he’d come from, but they’d provided him with a loving home as they watched him grow into a blue-eyed, dark-haired, athletic young man with a passion for ‘truth, justice and the American way’.

And they soon realised he was special when they saw him lifting a tractor with one hand…! He was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
“Look! Up in the sky!”
“It’s a bird!”
“It’s a plane!”
“It’s Superman!”

Try using your characters for stories you’re asked to write by your English teacher (or tutor, if you have one). The more often you use them, the better they’ll get as you change things you don’t like about them, bring in new ideas and polish the wording.

## Next Steps

Try to create three off-the-shelf characters. Make them different ages, male and female and from different parts of the world. Start with the notes and then create a paragraph of 8-10 lines for each one in the past tense, ready to drop into any story…