Everything you Need to Know About the 11-plus Exam

Our 11-plus experts answer some of the most common questions about the 11-plus entrance exam.

What is the 11-plus exam?

The 11-plus is designed to discover a child’s suitability for an academically challenging education. It focuses on the core KS2 primary curriculum in English and maths and may also include reasoning tests which are designed to recognise a child’s potential rather than just their current knowledge.

What age do children sit the 11-plus exam?

The 11-plus test is in the Autumn of Year 6 meaning that children are between 10-11 years old when they sit the exam. 

💡 Did you know 🤔

England and Northern Ireland are the only countries in the UK where state run grammar Schools can still be found. The last grammar school in Wales closed in 1998 whilst the last grammar schools in Scotland were abolished between 1960s and 1980s. 

What is the difference between the grammar 11-plus exam and the Common Entrance 11-plus?

Common Entrance 11+ is set by the ISEB (Independent Schools Examinations Board) for Year 6 students hoping to gain entry into independent secondary schools. 

Whereas the 11+ that most people are familiar with refers to the test Year 6 students take to gain entry into state run grammar schools. 

Is the grammar 11+ harder than the Common Entrance 11+?

Both versions cover similar topics at the same level, however the pass mark for grammar schools may be significantly higher than that of the Common Entrance 11-plus.

The different versions of the 11-plus exam:

What is the GL Assessment?

Both versions cover similar topics at the same level, however the pass mark for grammar schools may be significantly higher than that of the Common Entrance 11-plus.

What is the Kent 11-plus test?

Used by a number of grammar schools in the Kent country, this test is set by GL Assessment. The Kent test consists of two multiple choice papers, one testing English and maths and the other which examines verbal and non-verbal reasoning. 

What is the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) 11-plus?

Built from a bank of pre-written questions, the CEM 11-plus tests usually contain multiple choice questions for maths and English as well as a reasoning section. 

What is the CSSE exam?

This version of the 11-plus is used by 10 grammar schools found in the Essex area. Students taking the CSSE 11-plus are required to take English, verbal reasoning and maths papers.The English section is slightly more challenging consisting of a comprehension text as well as a writing section and the maths paper is said to be moderately more difficult. 

What is the ISEB 11-plus?

A test used by hundreds of independent senior schools, the ISEB runs both 11+ and 13+ Common Entrance exams. These tests involve English, maths as well as a science section.

What is included in the 11-plus exam?

Whilst the 11-plus varies across English and Northern Ireland, in general it focuses on the core skills gained in the Key Stage 2 (primary school) syllabus. The 11-plus typically consists of English and maths papers as well as verbal and non verbal reasoning sections. 

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11-plus Maths paper

There are 4 different types of the 11-plus Maths exam. Typically the maths exam is a multiple-choice test, however, the Independent School Maths exam is a written answer paper. If you are unsure about which format your child’s 11-plus paper will be, make sure to get in contact with your child’s school.

The test follows the syllabus of the National Curriculum and covers the fundamental topics taught in Year 5-6. Children sitting the 11-plus exam will complete a one-hour paper following the guidelines of the National Curriculum, without a calculator.

⭐Top Tip: Go beyond lessons taught in Year5/6

Many schools encourage pupils to go beyond their studies as 11-plus exams might include slightly more advanced questions than their current knowledge level. Find a common entrance tutor to get ahead of the game.

What topics are included in the 11-plus Maths paper?

  • Algebra
  • Addition
  • Measurement
  • Division
  • Number and place value
  • Multiplication
  • Ratio
  • Proportion
  • Geometry
  • Fractions
  • Percentages
  • Statistics
  • Subtraction
  • Decimals

11-plus English paper

The English section of the 11-plus is composed of a reading and writing section, in which the child’s understanding of poetry and prose will be examined. Whatever version of the 11-plus exam your child takes, the topics are the same.

What topics are included in the 11-plus English paper?

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Creative Writing
  • Comprehension
  • Literacy
  • Vocabulary

Pupils are also expected to demonstrate knowledge of the following concepts: Antonyms, Synonyms, Homonyms, Compound words and Word groups.

⭐Top Tip: Find exemplar past papers and answers to practice with

A great way to help your child improve their reading and writing skills is to practise and compare to exemplar answers. Download your free 11-plus papers, questions and answers right by submitting your email below.

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11-plus Verbal Reasoning paper

Despite Verbal Reasoning being a huge component of the 11-plus tests, it is not taught in most schools. Verbal reasoning is a test of skill rather than learned knowledge — which can be one of the more challenging aspects of the 11-plus.

In this section of the 11-plus test, children are given 80 questions which evaluate a student’s ability to think constructively by reframing the concepts. Essentially, verbal reasoning is the idea of thinking without words. This allows the examiner to evaluate the ability of the student to think constructively around their vocabulary.

⭐ Top Tip: Vocabulary

Your child should be aware of key concepts like antonyms and synonyms, and understand how to describe a word without using the original one. For students to be successful at this stage of the 11-plus, pupils should have a wide vocabulary (of approximately 2000 words).

What topics are included in the verbal reasoning section?

  • Process verbal information (Comprehension)
  • Apply logical thinking and problem solving
  • Determine word meaning
  • Follow written instructions
  • Find a letter to complete two other words
  • Solve codes based on letters and numbers
  • Spell accurately
  • Identify letter sequences

⭐ Top Tip: Read!

Children who are widely read perform better at this stage of the 11-plus. Try to encourage reading as a hobby or include 30-minutes of daily reading into their routine. For examples of what books are best to help with the 11-plus test, speak to one of our 11+ experts.

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11-plus Non-Verbal Reasoning paper

Put simply, Non-Verbal Reasoning tests your child's ability to process graphic and pictorial information, as well as their spatial awareness (how objects related to each other in space). 
Students are given 40 minutes to complete 4 sections. Each section contains 20 questions giving students 10 minutes to spend on each section. ‍

There are two different formats:

1.) Standard format is where answers are written directly onto the test paper.

2.) Multiple-choice format where students are given a separate booklet for their answers.

⭐ Top Tip: Learn outside of school

Non-verbal reasoning is another lesson not specifically taught in schools. Students should take time to practice this section to ensure they are prepared ahead of their 11-plus exam.

What is included on the 11-plus non-verbal reasoning paper?

  • Problem-solving
  • Logical thinking
  • Ability to follow patterns and rules
  • Application of maths skills (specifically rotation, reflection and symmetry)
  • Ability to work systematically

How do I apply for a place at a grammar school?

You need to apply through your local education department.

What is the grammar school appeals process?

You can always appeal a decision not to admit your child to a grammar school. If you believe the rejection of a place for your child is unjustified or if you think your child underperformed in the 11-plus exam you can start an appeal procedure. This involves submitting evidence and attending an interview with the chosen school. 

How to win a grammar school appeal?

You will need convincing evidence to persuade the grammar school admissions department that your child would significantly benefit from attending the school. Grammar schools are typically oversubscribed and prioritise those who:

  • Pass the 11+
  • Who have a brother or sister at the school already
  • From a particular faith or religion
  • Live close to the school (within certain catchment areas)
  • Went to a prestigious primary school

This is not to say you should avoid the appeals process if you feel that your child has a valid reason and case for attending the grammar school in question.

How can I support my child with their 11-plus exam?

Firstly, make sure you check what format your child’s 11-plus will take. There are many different formats, which changes what your child does and doesn’t need to learn. 
The 11-plus is generally consistent in the topics that are covered.

However, the format may differ slightly depending on the school your child is applying to and where you live. The two main exam boards for the 11+ exam are the CEM (Durham University) and GL Assessment. 

Like all exams, practice makes perfect. Make sure you start preparing well in advance of the 11-plus exam to allow your child to build up their confidence in their skills, giving them plenty of time to engage with practice papers, perfect their time management and refine their exam technique..

⭐ Top Tip: Find a private 11+tutor

If your child is struggling with any aspects of the 11-plus, or would like some additional support prior to the exam, we provide experienced 11-plus tutors who are well versed in coaching pupils to perform to the best of their ability on exam day. To ensure your child secures a place at the secondary school of their choice, explore our range of experienced 11-plus tutors here.

11+ Tutors Near Me?

Looking for an “11+ tutor near me” has never been easier than with Tutor House. We specialise in Common Entrance Tuition for 7-plus, 11-plus and 13-plus exams, helping children study for the common entrance exams. Our tutors are DBS-checked and personally interviewed to ensure your child gets the best support they deserve. 

As an online learning platform, we can provide you with expert tutors near you across the UK. We save you the time and hassle of finding a tutor by bringing them to your door. Your child can learn online or in-person to study for the common entrance tests, all from the comfort of your own home.

Our tutors will ensure that pupils are able to work independently and can rise to new challenges that will stretch them academically. We aim to build on and further develop skills.
Tutor House offers a ‘preparation for interview’ session and further information will be provided on request.

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