Passing an 11 Plus exam can be challenging. Data collected in September 2019 reveals that for each of the 164 grammar schools in England, applicant numbers for a batch of 180 seats soared up to, and sometimes beyond, 4000. The high application numbers aren’t the only reason why 11 plus is regarded as one of the most competitive exams across Europe. Taken at the start of Year 5, the preparation phase alone is a tense time for young eleven-year-olds.

The exam defines the final step in transitioning from the sedentary, foundational period of primary education to a more gruelling, application-oriented secondary education. At this stage of your child’s education, stakes are running high. The exam results can have a significant impact on his school life, passing which, gives him a chance to experience the highly competitive education of a grammar school.

Worried? We have a solution!

11 plus can be intimidating but not impossible. Breaking the preparation down into small, achievable steps and techniques can make the journey enjoyable and excelling stress-free.

At Primed Talent, we break 11+ preparation strategies into three Ts: Tips, Tutor and Time. These signify the major areas you need to focus and strategize on for a sure shot chance at excelling in 11+. In this post, we provide our overview of what 11 plus is, and how you can help your child prepare and pass with flying colours.

What exactly is 11 plus? Key Points you should know

What is 11 plus?

11 plus is the collective name for selective entry exams for grammar schools across the UK. Although compulsorily taken by all students until the 1970s, today, the exam is no longer mandatory. However, it continues to be used extensively by all grammar schools and selective independent schools, to gauge and identify academic ability and potential. Nowadays, 11 plus comprises a variety of different tests depending on the type of school your child wishes to attend. Three main categories can be defined as follows:

  • 11 Plus Entrance Tests (State Grammar Schools):
    • 11 Plus exam taken by UK state primary school kids in the first week of September in Year 6 to qualify for selective grammar senior schools.
    • Maximum applications per year.
  • 11 Plus Entrance Tests (Independent/Private Schools):
    • 11 Plus exam taken in the first week of January to gain entry into selective private/independent senior schools
  • 11 Plus Pre Tests:
    • Small age-standardized tests, used by several UK independent senior schools as an initial entry-level assessment, given by students in Year 6 and/or 7.


The exam is usually given in the first or second week of September in Year 6, the last year in a child’s primary education. Thus, if your child is in Year 4 or 5, or even if he has just started Year 3, now is a good time to start thinking about how to prepare effectively.

The entire process, starting from applying to schools in your county or catchment area to being admitted to a school, takes a year. Most schools open their registration process in April or May, while the deadline for signing up for them ends in June. 11 plus examinations are arranged by respective schools in the first two weeks of September, and by the end of October, the results are published, school allocation being announced by March.

As these dates may vary depending on the school, it is best to check each school’s website to stay on track. Better prepared than sorry!

The Importance of your Location/Catchment Area:

The 11+ exam is highly regionalized: the area/county where you live decides the selection of OFSTED verified grammar schools you can apply to. For example, if you live in Bedfordshire and apply to a Grammar School in Buckinghamshire, your child may be allowed to apply, but the preference will inadvertently go to students in the specified catchment area. This may lead to an added disadvantage, considering the competition already. Having said that, your child can still sit for grammar school examinations in multiple counties, depending on the schools’ guidelines.

In many cases, families with kids planning to take the 11 plus examination move to a more suitably located county or catchment, but this must be done before the cut-off dates specified by those schools for such moves. It is quite common for families to relocate from London to Essex and vice versa to satisfy catchment requirements.

Another reason why location matters is because your child’s selection of schools decides the preparation strategy. Each school has its selection criteria and a different exam board to follow. So, while grammar schools in Essex use the CSSE exam board, the ones in Kent and Bexley use the GL board. For instance, Kent, with the largest number of fully selective and partially selective grammar schools, requires applicants to pass three separate GL assessment tests of different durations, while Gloucestershire, with only 7 grammar schools, requires passing two 50 minute CEM assessment tests.

As these examples show, locations have a significant impact on how your child will be studying his material and the subjects and skills he will be tested on.

Exam Boards:

These are the three major 11 plus exam boards:

  • GL
    • The oldest of all boards, GL (Granada Learning) focuses on evaluating a child’s abilities in Maths, English, Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning. The test usually contains both written and multiple-choice questions, and each core skill is tested through a separate paper, emphasising verbal reasoning. CAT 4 is their most widely used assessment test, GL being the most commonly administered exam board across the UK.
    • Average Duration: 45 Minutes
  • CEM
    • CEM (Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring) takes a more rounded approach to evaluation and focuses on assessing a child’s natural capabilities via two papers, Maths + Non-Verbal Reasoning and English + Verbal Reasoning. Though similar to GL, this board focuses a lot more on comprehension and vocabulary and is less predictable.
    • Average Duration: 50 to 60 Minutes
  • CSSE
    • CSSE (Consortium of Selective Schools in Essex) is a more recent addition to the evaluation boards and is currently used by only 10 schools. The exam consists of only two papers: English and Maths.
    • Duration: English (60 +10 minutes for reading), Maths (60 Minutes)

Core Skills/Common Syllabus:

These are four core disciplines tested in 11 plus:

  • English Comprehension
  • Maths
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning/ Spatial Awareness

The inclusion of all or some of these will depend on the exam board or boards a particular school uses. Based on the schools’ guidelines, a single 11 plus exam may require the student to take more than one exam.

Exam Question Format:

There are two main question formats:

  • Standard: Answers are to be written.
  • Multiple-Choice: Answers are to be marked in a separate answer booklet.

It is usually advisable to practise both the question formats rigorously to perform effectively.

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