Pete Snodden, Pamela Ballantine and Alan Simpson relive sitting the 11-Plus and reveal how they fared
Ahead of the Belfast Telegraph's transfer test practice papers giveaway next week Stephanie Bell asks Pete Snodden, Pamela Ballantine and Alan Simpson a few rather tricky questions of her own.
Anxiety for children and parents is starting to build as the countdown to this year's transfer tests begins. Once again the Belfast Telegraph will be helping to relieve some of the pressure by giving away a selection of papers to help your child prepare.
It is now six years since the scrapping of the 11-Plus led to the current controversial system of academic selection.
With children now facing numerous tests to get into their school of choice, we revisit the time when every child sat a single standard 11-Plus test in the familiar surroundings of their own school.
Three local personalities who survived the exam unscathed and went on to carve out successful careers, share their memories.
They recall what it was like to sit the test, how they prepared for it and what pressure they felt – and of course their all-important test results!
'Some of the girls who passed taunted me because I had failed'
Freelance television journalist Pamela Ballantine (55) lives in Belfast and was stunned when she missed out on the 11-Plus. She says:
I do remember sitting the exam very well. I was good academically, but when we did the test papers I found my brain couldn't cope with the type of question.
My parents got me a tutor who explained it to me and I got it.
I was probably tutored once a week for a few weeks before the exam.
The day before it, we did a mock test and I got 99% so when I did the 11-Plus I came out of it convinced I had passed.
I was absolutely gutted when I found out I had failed.
I remember some of my friends at Richmond Lodge prep who weren't as academically good as me passed.
The day the results came out, I remember my dad opening the envelope and when he told me I had failed I couldn't believe it because I was convinced I had done so well.
Mum and dad handled it very well. I think my parents were more gutted for me than disappointed that I hadn't passed so that helped me to get over it.
It was the first time I had actually failed at something – the headmistress at the school didn't like competition between girls so we didn't have a sports day.
I wasn't very sporty anyway and was useless at rounders and other games so I was always the last to be picked for the teams.
And I think because it was the first time I hadn't done well at something, afterwards I always felt big pressure at exams.
My birthday falls in October and I had points taken off me for being in the older group, while girls whose birthdays were in May or June had points added on.
I remember some of the girls who passed taunted me because I had failed.
Peer pressure can be a horrible thing.
The 11-Plus never really entered my psyche when I was at primary school, it wasn't really promoted at all and the school never pushed you.
My parents were just happy for you to do your best and there was no real pressure.
I think, too, because I had done so well with the test papers they were just convinced I was going to do well and so was I.
It was 1969 when I did it and back then you just knew you were going into big school whether you passed or failed – the only difference was you didn't have to pay for it if you passed.
After first year, we sat qualifying exams and if you passed them and got higher scores than five people who had got the 11-Plus, then your parents didn't have to pay.
I got a higher score than five people who had done the 11-Plus and that made a difference to my parents in that they only had to pay for me to go the first year.
At prep school we had small classes and then in senior school you had the girls who came from across town who were the 11-Plus pupils who had got scholarships and the class sizes almost doubled.
I think these days young people face a massive amount of pressure in everything.
The tests are talked about so much in the Press and on social media and by teachers – I think that puts added pressure on children.
In our day it was just something you did and you just got on with it, but nowadays everything academical is blown up to such an extent that children feel if they don't do well then that's it for the rest of their lives.
I think kids get older, younger now, and have enough pressure just growing up. I don't know what a perfect system is, but I do think there are now too many exams and too much pressure on kids to do well.
At school I was very middle ground and in class it was mostly the top achievers and the people who were struggling who the teachers concentrated on.
To be honest, I think if I didn't do the job I do now, then not one of my old teachers would remember who Pamela Rolston is."
'I was anxious, because I knew its significance'
Cool FM DJ Pete Snodden (34) was born in Bangor where he lives with his wife Julia (34) and their daughter Ivana (3). He says:
My big memory of the 11-Plus is of the big black resource books which had pages and pages of things you had to do like working out the correlation between strings of numbers.
I remember my last summer before P7 when I had to spend the holidays doing these practice books at home.
I was very aware for most of primary school of the importance of the 11-Plus and it was like the old BCG injection you got at school, you knew it had to happen and you dreaded it.
In my school, Bangor Central Primary, the tradition was that you sat the 11-Plus in the assembly hall. But my year was the first that the parents asked the school if the children could sit it in their classrooms where they had done the practice papers so that it would be a bit more familiar to us.
The school agreed and I remember there were curtains and large pieces of material hung over the walls so that we could not see the work we had done during the year.
All the focus was on what school you would go to.
I was aware of the significance of it and that the likelihood would be that I would not be going on to my new school with people I had been with through primary.
Because I was an only child my mum wanted me to go to a mixed school with girls and boys and so they brought me to Regent House in Newtownards to see it. I walked in and didn't like it.
They also brought me to Sullivan Upper in Holywood to have a look, but I didn't want to go there either.
Then they brought me to Inst – Belfast Academical Institution – and though beforehand I didn't even know where it was or anything about it, after visiting it I knew immediately that's where I wanted to go.
Although it wasn't mixed with boys and girls, mum was just happy that I had found somewhere I liked.
On the day of the exam I was very nervous. I was a very nervous child anyway, which is ironic given the job I am doing now.
One of the teachers told my parents that they had never seen a child so anxious going into the exam. It think it was because I knew the significance of it.
The grading was always changing, but when I did it the grades were 1, 2 3 and 4 with 1 being the top mark.
I got a grade 2 which I was really happy with and which I had worked hard for. What surprised me was that some of the people who had been top of the class didn't do so well and just seemed to go to pieces on the day.
These were people who were very gifted and very good at exams, and who were coming to the process with the impression that they didn't have to do much to get through it.
I really pity the children now who are put in the awkward position of having to sit so many papers to get into the schools of their choice.
It's very unfair on the kids and the parents.
Our education record is one of the best in the UK so why tamper with that? Life is competitive and it doesn't matter what anyone says, you will be competing for jobs and for most things in life.
I think to have the 11-Plus at that early stage is good and it is something that has to be done."
'I had my eye on the Coleraine Inst blazer'
Once the proud recipient of Northern Ireland's Most Stylish Man Award, broadcaster Alan Simpson, who lives in Portstewart, had a different motive from most of his peers for wanting to pass the 11-Plus. He says:
I did the 11-Plus at Millburn Primary School in Coleraine and my teacher was Mrs Smith.
I desperately wanted to pass the 11-Plus for a very good reason. I had a fashionable eye even at an early age and there was nothing I wanted more than to be able to wear the bright summer blazer of Coleraine Inst – Coleraine Academical Institution.
It was something of a boating blazer with navy, red and white stripes and I was very jealous when I saw people around Coleraine wearing one.
At the time I had to wear a purple V-neck jumper and a purple and yellow striped tie which I didn't like very much. I had an eye for style even then.
But there was no pressure whatsoever to pass the 11-Plus. Millburn was a great school and you just did the exam with what they taught you; there was no extra work or tutoring.
It was a case of do your best and see how you get on. My mum was happy that I passed but there was no pressure at home, either.
When I got my 11-Plus what mattered to me was that I would now be able to wear the Coleraine Inst blazer which was brilliant. Even today when I see it I think it is very stylish.
The 11-Plus was the only system I knew and it was a good system.
I can't really say much about how things are today as I have no experience of it.
Things evolve and change and you have to do what you have to do.
I loved Millburn. I was there for just four years after we moved from Strabane.
One of many fond memories is when one of the teachers, Joel Harper, made me school goal-keeper which was very good because I got to wear Number 1 on my back.
The only reason I was chosen was because I was the tallest boy in school. Still, I went on to have very good memories of Coleraine Inst too."
Free Transfer Test practice papers
Schools are already hard at work preparing children for this year's transfer tests and parents will also want to do everything they can to ensure their children perform to the best of their ability.
Starting next week, the Belfast Telegraph will be giving away free Transfer Test practice booklets to help parents build-up their child's confidence and skill ahead of the exams in November and December.
There will be six booklets in total to collect on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, September 10-12 and the following week on September 17-19.
As well as invaluable advice for parents, each booklet contains practice questions on literacy and numeracy for both the AQE/CEA and multiple choice GL exams.
The six booklets will allow children to become familiar with the type of questions they are likely to face during assessment and will enable them to complete tests without pressure and in the comfort of a home environment.