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All you need to know about the 11 plus exam

As a parent, navigating through the 11 Plus exam preparation can be challenging. How can you help your child prepare? When is the exam? What is the exam content? What is the 11 plus exam format? We have written this 11 Plus exam guide for parents to answer these questions and more.

What is the 11+ exam?

The Eleven Plus exam is a selective entrance examination for secondary schools, used by 164 Grammar Schools and by many private schools.
The 11 plus exam is used to identify and select the most academically-able children. Depending of the school and the area, the 11 plus test exam is at the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6.

The exam type and format depend on the location of your chosen grammar school. However, exam boards can sometimes vary between schools in the same area. It is important to check with your chosen grammar school what exam board will be used on the date of the 11 plus exam.

The Secondary Transfer Test (11 plus exam) evaluates a child’s potential and ability to think through and solve problems in three categories:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Numerical
  • and Non-Verbal Reasoning

CEM and GL: What do I need to know?

There are two main test providers for the 11+ exam: CEM (Durham University) and GL Assessment.

GL Assessment is used in Buckinghamshire Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland, Wiltshire.

CEM Assessment is used in Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Devon, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton.

Grammar Schools consistently perform well in secondary school league tables. They only admit a relatively small number of students compared to the country as a whole. Places in grammar schools are highly sought after (More than 100,000 children sit the 11 Plus exam every year in England competing for approximately 15,000 places).

The only way to secure a place is for your child to attain a high enough mark in the Eleven plus selection test.
For a list of private grammar schools press here

Timeline for 11 plus exam

The date of the 11 plus exam (or Secondary Transfer test) varies from county to county to area.

Most 11 plus exams for grammar schools are in September and October, with a few schools having the test in July, before the summer holidays.

However, independent schools may set their tests during other times of the year.

It is important to check with your chosen grammar school or private school the dates of the entrance exam 18 months before the entrance in year 7.

The practice Test

Children will take a Practice Test a few days before the 11 plus exam. The 11 plus Practice Test familiarise children with the different types /styles of questions.

The Practice Test looks the same as the Secondary Transfer Test and has the same instructions. Children sit the two multiple-choice Practice Test papers in test conditions. Both practice tests are timed, with instructions given via an audio soundtrack.

The 2 Practice Test papers are shorter than the 11+ exam and take about 35 minutes each. They will not be marked or sent home. The purpose of the Practice Test is not to see how well the children have done but to give them a good opportunity to prepare themselves for the 11 plus exam.

The Eleven Plus Test

The Secondary Transfer Test (or Eleven plus exam) is normally taken a few days after the practice test. There are two Test papers in the 11+ exam. Each paper is about 45 minutes long (60 minutes including the introduction and examples), with instructions given via an audio soundtrack.

11 plus exam results

You will receive your child’s 11 plus exam result letters mid October.

You will have to send your Common Application Form to your local education authority by the 31st October.

GL and CEM 11 Plus Test Format and Subjects


The 11 plus exam is separated into tests / sections that are usually between 20 and 60 minutes in length, and is a rigorous test of academic aptitude..

Unless a candidate is exceptional, there is often a significant element of time pressure in the tests, which most 10-11 year olds will not be used to. Practice helps a great deal.

Both types of 11 plus exam (CEM 11+ and GL assessment) contain 2 parts, each with multiple-choice questions and a separate answer sheet. The tests are marked by an automated marking machine, so it is important to mark the answer in a manner suitable for machine reading. (see instruction here)

The content and structure of the 11+ exam varies between different areas of the country, but it will generally focus on a combination of the following four subjects:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Non-verbal reasoning

The content of the English and maths tests tend to follow the National Curriculum. However, verbal and non-verbal reasoning are not part of the curriculum in state primary schools.

How to prepare for the 11 Plus exam

Preparing your child for the 11+ can be daunting, but there are many things that you can do to help your child:

  • Find out about the 11+ in your area, by contacting your local authority
  • Start as early as possible. Success in 11+ tests depends on academic preparation and exam techniques. It is common practice to start developing your child’s subject knowledge and skills from Year 4 and to introduce the practice of exam techniques and time management in Year 5.
  • Ensure that your child does the school homework
  • Ensure that your child is can work independently, quietly and uninterrupted by noise or distractions.
  • Help your child read with understanding. For example ask the meaning of certain words and question what is happening in the passage.
  • Encourage your child to solve problems and to look for words in dictionary.
  • Create a preparation plan for your child and work the plan – You can check here for our preparation plan for your child. Each plan should include the following activities:
    • Assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Use our assessment (here) to identify which subjects your child struggles with and needs additional practice with.
    • Practice and revise. Little and often is the key to preparing for the eleven plus exam. Children have much lower concentration levels than adults, so it’s better to have regular, short practice than infrequent long ones. See here revision schedule
    • Agree and develop a realistic schedule with your child and focus on specific areas during each lesson.
    • Keep the revision and practice fun and engaging and ensure that your child doesn’t become bored.
    • Schedule in exam practice – Your child will benefit from regular mock exams practice. These mock tests develop confidence in working under time pressure.
  • Work through a structure revision/ practice curriculum like my 11.plus materials.
  • Use practice exam papers to familiarise your child with the structure of the exam. 11 Plus Practice Exam Papers help your child to familiarise the different types of Eleven plus questions and also help with time management.
  • My11.plus supplies a range of 11 Plus practice papers, covering every subject.

You can more information on 11 plus exam preparation, motivation, reading recommendation, regular practice, mock exams for GL and CEM and much more in our blog section.

FAQ

Does my child have to take the 11+ Exam?

No. The 11+ is not a compulsory test and it is completely up to you to decide if you want your child to apply to a grammar school.

However, in some counties (Buckinghamshire, for example), children are automatically registered for the 11+. You need to opt out if you don’t want your child to sit the exam. If you’re unsure about what the registration process is in your area, check your local authority website.

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