An Overview of The 11 Plus Exam

If you have children around the ages of 8, 9, or 10, you may have stumbled upon conversations about 11 plus exams; but what exactly are they? Well, the 11 plus exam is an entrance examination taken by some children in the United Kingdom as they approach the end of Primary School.  It is an exam taken in Year 6 to gain admission into selective grammar schools in the UK.

In the past, the 11 plus exam had to be sat by all year six students in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to determine if they would be attending a grammar school or a secondary modern. With the advent of comprehensive schools that caters for children of all abilities, the use of 11 plus exams diminished in most areas. Despite this, the 11 plus exam is still readily used across the UK to establish which students gain entry in to the top performing grammar schools in the United Kingdom.

The purpose of the exam is to identify students with relatively high academic potential and offer them secondary education places in grammar schools alongside other of the same calibre. One of the objectives of 11 plus exams is to evaluate children based on a broad range of  intellectual abilities.

First, Let's Talk About The 11 Plus Exam

11 Plus Exam

The form the exam takes is generally dependent on the location of where it is being taken. It generally consists of 4 distinct areas, which are English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. However, some counties examine children on all four elements, while others opt for three or only two of the elements listed.

 To be sure of what the 11 plus exam will entail in a particular region, you will need to speak to the respective schools admissions department who administer the exam. It is not unusual to see that English and Mathematics are the subjects most often dropped for the 11 plus exam. This is because the 11 plus exam was originally designed to help find naturally gifted students rather than the most academically minded.

11 Plus Exam Board

Basically, there are three different 11 plus exam boards, namely CEM, GL Assessment and CSSE. The CEM and GL Assessment are the two main exam boards that are used in virtually all regions where the 11+ is still in use. The CSSE exam is only taken by those children who wish to apply for one of the 10 Grammar schools in the consortium of selective schools in Essex.

CEM style of 11 plus exams

The CEM style of 11 plus exams typically consist of verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and abstract (or non-verbal) reasoning. The exam may be multiple-choice, standard format or a mixture of the two. The exam is usually made up of two papers with a blend of separately timed numerical, verbal and abstract sections.

GL Assessment

On the other hand, the GL style of 11 plus exams consist of these four 11 plus papers: English GL Assessment, Mathematics GL Assessment, Verbal Reasoning GL Assessment, and Non-verbal Reasoning GL Assessment. The format of these papers do vary from region to region, along with the allocated time set for each respective paper.

CSSE 11+

Finally, the CSSE style of 11 plus exams usually consist of two tests which include English Language and Mathematics. The CSSE English test contains a creative writing section that lasts for around 60 minutes, with 10 minutes of reading time. The CSSE Mathematics paper lasts for 60 minutes in total. Each paper in English and Mathematics constitutes towards 50% of the total overall score.

What Does The Exam Test?

The 11 plus exams are usually made up of four sections and each section aims to test something unique in students. This is explained in greater detail below:

  • Verbal Reasoning

This paper tries to test the ability of students in solving word problems and their grasp of English grammar and vocabulary. This is done by presenting students with text and asking them to solve problems. The questions are about following sequences and solving problems that are associated with words and text. To pass this section of the exam, children will require a good grasp of English grammar and possess an extensive vocabulary. The best strategy to excel on this paper is to engage in plenty of verbal reasoning practice either through books or online. have some outstanding online timed 11 plus verbal reasoning tests for this.

  • Non-verbal Reasoning

This test examines how well students can solve pictorial problems. This is done by presenting students with pictures and diagrams and asking them to solve various problems that are associated with them. To pass this section, students will require high competence in spatial awareness and mathematical thinking.

  • Mathematics

This tests students’ mental mathematics, mathematical concept skills and how well they can solve multi-step problems under timed conditions. The paper examines all mathematical content learnt in Primary School and often beyond in Key Stage 3. The papers are sometimes compared to GCSE Foundation Level. To pass this section, students will require excellent mathematical skills, knowledge of core concepts and repetitive practice of 11 plus maths exam questions.

  • English

This paper tests the creative writing and comprehension skills of students. Students need to be able to plan, structure and write a piece of work in an engaging and compelling manner. The paper examines the National Curriculum in Primary School and often beyond into Key Stage 3. These papers are also compared as being equivalent to completing a GCSE Foundation Level paper. To pass this section, students need to possess excellent creative writing skills and knowledge of how to effectively and correctly answer comprehension questions.


When And Where Does The 11 Plus Examination Take Place?

It is very unlikely that children will sit the 11 plus exam in one of their classrooms at school. It is more than likely that they will be asked to take it at a central location such as a local grammar school.

The actual day of the 11 plus test differs from region to region. However, it often takes place early on in the autumn term in September. There is usually an opportunity to take the 11 plus test at a later date if your child is booked for an 11 plus test elsewhere or is unfortunate to encounter a close bereavement in the family.

11 Plus Exam For Independents Schools

There are many parents trying hard to get their children into both grammar schools and independent schools. The skills required at core level are very similar; a child that can do well in the grammar school tests is sure to do well in the tests for independent schools. Independent school tests are generally regarded as being easier.

With that being said, the 11 plus exam for independent schools can tend to be a little different than that of grammar schools. So it is advisable to visit the independent school websites to get an flavour of to how different it actually is and how to best prepare your child in the correct manner.

Does Your Child Have To Take The 11 Plus Exam?

No, the 11 plus exam is not a compulsory exam for all Year 6 students in the United Kingdom. It is entirely up to you to decide if you want to submit an application to a grammar school or an independent school for your child.

There may be cases which exist in some regions whereby if your child attends a Local Authority Primary School in a county or metropolitan borough that still has grammar schools, they will be automatically registered for the 11 plus exam. In this case, you may have to opt-out if you do not want your child to sit the 11+ exam.

Which Children Should Take The 11 Plus Exam?

In the United Kingdom, there are state grammar schools that cater for the most academic students in a particular county. Therefore, any child considering going for the 11 plus exam has to be academically very bright. If you want your child to participate in any grammar school entrance exams this year, they must take and pass the 11 plus exam 2020.

How Do You Know If The 11 Plus Is Right For Your Child?

The 11 plus exam is administered to identify the most academically-able children to gain entry into grammar schools or independent schools.

If you want to be confident in knowing if a grammar school is the right pick for your child, you may need to consider the following questions.

  • Is your child academically gifted?
  • Does your child have results that are above average in their SATs, CATs, PIEs, PIMSs, or whatever system your child’s primary School uses?
  • Does your child’s teacher think your child has what it takes to pass to the exam?
  • Are your child’s school reports always above average?

Schools That Use The 11 Plus Exam

There are now around 164 Grammar Schools remaining in England that use the 11 plus exam for selecting students. The 11 plus exam was officially discontinued in Northern Ireland in 2008. Despite this, there are still several ex grammar schools that are using the 11 plus exam to select children by ability. This move has, however, created considerable political controversy.

Independent schools also adopt the use of 11 plus exams as a mode of testing to decide which students to admit. This is quite the norm for most independent schools in the country.

Counties That Still Use The 11 Plus

The 11 plus exam is still being used in the following counties that have state-funded grammar schools. In alphabetical order, they include Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Medway, Shropshire, Trafford, Wiltshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Yorkshire.

What Score Do You Need To Pass The 11 Plus Exam?

There is no straightforward answer to this question. However, it is somewhat simpler for grammar schools because each region has its own pass mark. The pass mark is standardised, depending on various factors. These factors include the age of the child and the difficulty of the paper. Having said that, the approximate pass mark for grammar schools is generally between 75 and 85 percent.

For independent schools, their pass mark is dependent on school policy. Some schools don’t always base entry purely on an 11 plus mark. They consider other things. Furthermore, the school governs itself, they often look at things such as academic potential, the way the child might fit into the school and potential cohort.

Most schools, however, have very high pass marks. Therefore, if you want your child to obtain a pass mark for this year, you must start your 11+ prep for 2020 as soon as possible. Passing the 11+ exam is often stressful and daunting; that is why it is advisable to complete as many 11 plus practice papers as possible during preparation.

When Do The Results Of The 11 Plus Exam Come Out?

Most schools often release the results of the 11 plus examinations in mid-October. This affords parents ample time to make formal applications or in the case of where a child has not done well, make an appeal. The grammar schools have created a process for appeals while the appeals decision for independent schools is discretionary.

The exam results are also released at this time as it is thought of being the fairest way of handing results to parents and alleviating the stress of waiting around for their child’s outcome; this enables parents to plan effectively for their child’s future.

It also takes into account the fact that some children could almost be a year younger than others when they take the test. For instance, a child born on August 31st this year could be at a disadvantage to a child born on September 1st the year before.

This is why if two children with a year age difference obtain the same raw score in their test, the final score of the youngest will be higher than the final score of the oldest to make up for their age difference.

Competition in The 11 Plus Exam

Competition in The 11 Plus Exam

The competition for 11+ entry varies from region to region, depending on provision and demand. In some areas, there might be ten or twenty times the applicants as there are available places, in other areas, there may be available places that are twice as many as the number of applicants.

In most regions, it is safe to say that competition is rife, so parents naturally try and give their children an extra edge by preparing them for the exam in some way or another. The preparation to gain an edge, however, ranges from doing practice papers before the real exam or going through a full course involving tutors and tuition centres.

To Wrap It Up

If you are considering sending your child to a grammar school or an independent school, then this article will provide you with a surface level understanding and overview of all you need to know about the 11 plus exam system.

If you require further information or require outstanding 11 plus test practice for your child, you can visit They have some of the best 11 plus exam resources and online test practice available on the 11 plus market.


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