A Guide to the 11 Plus

What is the 11 Plus exam?

The 11+ Exam, which governs admission to various types of secondary schools, has been one of the key points in a many children’s lives for more than 40 years. It comprises of papers on literacy, numeracy, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Whether your child is frantically preparing for their 11 Plus next month or is starting a more leisurely journey towards the exam, here are some helpful tips to help your child excel in their 11+. If you are searching for a 11 Plus tutor for your child, we can introduce you to the highest calibre of private tutors in as little as 48 hours.

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1. When to apply for the 11 Plus exam

Registration typically closes in November before the exam in January. Students can be registered once they are in Year 5. Each school is slightly different, so we recommend that you check the admissions information on their websites carefully.

2. When to start preparation for the 11 Plus

We usually recommend 12 to 18 months of gentle preparation for the 11 plus exam, starting in the Autumn or Spring term of Year 5. However, this really depends on your child and their current attainment levels. Your son or daughter may only need a few hours of exam practice, and a confidence boost, or if there are any deeper learning gaps, or significant obstacles to learning due to severe lack of confidence in a specific subject or a Specific Learning Difficult, they might need several months of regular weekly tuition. The good news is that any support focused on the 11+ will pay dividends for your child’s schoolwork.

3. How to prepare your child for 11 Plus English

The 11+ English paper can be challenging for most adults, let alone 10-year-olds. It involves composition and comprehension that requires them to be confident about ‘writing from the heart’. In our experience, this is where many children, particularly boys, lose marks. An excellent way to improve verbal dexterity is to tell, or read, your child a story and then talk about it afterwards. Ask them to describe what happened and explain how it made them feel. As well as helping them to unlock their emotions, effective story-telling brings a satisfying increase in marks.

In Literacy you should focus on the core skills of verbal and non-verbal reasoning and essay composition, encouraging the child to unleash their full creativity and to curtail it in when necessary. For comprehension, ensure that children understand the meaning of different question terms, such as ‘describe’ and ‘explain’. As for all exams, understanding what the questions means is half the battle.


4. How to prepare your child for 11 Plus Maths

It is important for your child to understand the core concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and for them to apply this knowledge under pressure, particularly in problem solving type questions. You should also go over their times tables regularly using games, cards, posters or songs – whichever methods best engage your child. For Numeracy, parents often spend time revising the core concepts of multiplication, division, subtraction and addition before moving on to the more challenging questions. Many children are perfectly able to handle the complex areas as soon as they are grounded in the basics.

5. How to prepare your child for 11 Plus Verbal Reasoning

Some people believe these papers test innate ability and therefore cannot be coached. However, it is vital to provide opportunities for practice, which can easily be done by using the extensive verbal and non-verbal reasoning books on sale. There is no magic to it, but if the child has not seen these types of questions before the exam, they are likely to be thrown.


6. How to prepare your child for 11 Plus Non Verbal Reasoning

Again, practice makes perfect. The very best approach is to work with your child on past papers which can be bought from Waterstones or online from Galore Park. Both verbal and non verbal reasoning are far less important than the maths and english parts of the 11 Plus but they can be confidence-wrecking when children do not understand them. You are essentially trying to help your children see patterns in a series of shapes, spaces and patterns – something that does not come naturally to many parents. Children are given about half an hour to complete the test and so it is important that they are well practiced in time management and exam technique.

7. What score do you need to pass the 11 plus?

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question. Grammar schools are a little simpler as, although every region has its own pass mark, the pass marks are standardised depending on different factors, including age of the child and difficulty of the paper. As an approximate figure, it’s usual for a child to need to score 80-85%.

For independent schools the answer is far more complicated. The schools themselves don’t always base entry purely on an 11 plus mark, they take many things into consideration such as academic potential, the way the child might fit into the school and potential cohort. As the schools govern themselves, there is no universal pass grade either, many just describe potential students as doing ‘well’, or that the test discover academic potential rather than current academic progress.

Focusing on an overall score won’t necessarily increase the chance of your child ‘passing’ the 11 plus, instead the focus also needs to be on their all-around presentation, school references, and academics.

8. Should I limit the use of technology during breaks?

Phones and iPads can prove to be an easy distraction between lessons. It is not good for your child to switch from making ‘brain and pen’ connections to computer games because both activities stimulate different parts of the brain. Your child will need to perfect the management of calm retrieval of data. They also need time to absorb information and some downtime to process the work they have completed and to let the information sink in. This is best done if breaks involve a walk or some other exercise.


9. Are mock exams useful?

To help reduce your child’s anxiety before their 11+ exams, one of the best things to do is a mock exam. We introduce private tutors who can organise these mock exams and, in fact, make them fun for your child. Alternatively, you could organise your own by hiring a hall or going to a house that is unfamiliar to your child with a group of other children to take a mock test. Keep things formal, give timings and ensure everyone works in silence. The aim is to help children prepare for what happens in the exam setting. After their mock exam, work through their papers identifying the strengths and weaknesses. Bear in mind that mark schemes can be hard to understand and may need expert interpretation. Sometimes a composition piece might look good and be spelled and punctuated correctly, but has nevertheless failed to answer the question properly.

10. When do the 11 Plus results come out?

Most schools release the 11 Plus results mid-October in order to give parents plenty of time to make formal applications. If your child doesn’t do as well as you expected, you can appeal. Grammar schools have an established process for this. For independent schools, the decision is entirely discretionary. Generally, you are more likely to succeed if you have the support of your child’s head teacher to confirm that the poor performance on the exam day was unexpected. If this doesn’t work, try to stay calm, accept the result and praise your child for all of their hard work. There are plenty of other schools that will be a good fit for your child and with the support of an education consultant, you can get them back on the road to academic success and emotional well-being.


11. 11 Plus Exam Papers

For the 11 Plus, your child will need to focus on exam technique and preparation. We recommend Galore Park as a great source of ISEB past papers with which to practice. You need to find out what exams your child will be taking; does the school have their own exam, or do they use the ISEB papers (Independent Schools Examinations Board)?  For instance, London schools such as Francis Holland and Godolphin & Latymer are part of the London Consortium, who have their own exam, which has been created and claims to be ‘un-coachable’ (a much debated term). The first place to start is the school website, as some do post past papers.

Unfortunately, many schools adopt a ‘one test fits all’ methodology, which can fail to take into account the wide variations in development level displayed by children at this relatively young age. A private tutor will even out these differences in developmental level and can help improve results dramatically.

Every tutor we introduce has experience of 11 plus exams and the majority have helped to prepare children for the UK’s leading schools, including St Paul’s School, St Paul’s Girls’ School, City of London and Westminster Cathedral Choir School. If you are searching for a 11 plus tutor for your child, please call one of our tuition consultants today.

12. Remember to Reduce Anxiety

With so much riding on the results of the 11 Plus, most parents are quite nervous, as are school heads. It is vital that you don’t convey this to your child. Try to be relaxed and detached. Don’t push, just give gentle encouragement and explain that exams are not the be all and end all. Help your child to de-stress by making sure they take regular breaks. Tired children can easily get frustrated and will find it more difficult to concentrate.