11+ UK School Entry Guide

The 11+ exam explained

If you’re wondering about whether to send your child to grammar school or an independent school, then you may have already started hearing references to the ’11+ exam’.

To help you understand the basics of the 11+ exam, we asked the 11+ experts at Bond 11+ – publishers of practice 11+ exam and assessments papers – to share with us the most commonly asked questions that parents ask about the 11+.

Please note: As of 27/04/2020, 11+ exams in England have not been cancelled due to school closures. This situation may change – please check your local authority website to confirm your child’s exam status.

What is the 11+?

The 11+ is a selective entrance examination for secondary school, used by both state-funded grammar schools and many private schools to identify the most academically-able children.

The exam is taken towards the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6 of primary school.

The 11+ is still used in the following counties which have state-funded grammar schools: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Medway, Shropshire, Trafford, Wiltshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Yorkshire.

Northern Irish grammar schools use the Northern Ireland Transfer Test.

There are two main exam boards for the 11+ exam: CEM (Durham University) and GL Assessment. Which exam board will be used usually depends on the location of your chosen grammar school. However, sometimes exam boards can vary between schools in the same area, so it’s important to check with your chosen grammar school what exam board they’re using as it will affect how you prepare your child:

  • GL Assessment: Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland, Wiltshire.
  • CEM: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton.
  • GL and CEM: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Yorkshire
What does it test?

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

Although the content of the English and maths tests tend to follow the National Curriculum, verbal, and non-verbal reasoning are not subjects that are taught as part of the curriculum in state primary schools.

Does my child have to take the 11+?

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 areas (Buckinghamshire, for example), children are still automatically registered for the 11+ and 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 like in your area, check your local authority website.

How do I know if the 11+ is right for my child?

The 11+ is designed to identify the most academically-able children for entry to grammar schools.

If you’re unsure whether grammar school is right for your child, it’s worth considering the following questions:

  • Is your child gifted academically?
  • Are their school reports always well above average?
  • Are your child’s results above average in their SATs/CATs/PIEs/PIMs or whichever system your primary school uses?
  • Does your child’s teacher feel that passing the 11+ is achievable for your child?
When should you start preparing your child?

Success in 11+ tests is most likely where children are well prepared, both academically and in terms of their exam technique.

Ideally, this means that you’ll start developing your child’s subject knowledge and skills from at least Year 4 and introducing the development of some exam techniques, such as working under timed conditions, in Year 5 before the 11+ is taken in Year 6.

Many parents use a structure learning programme such as Bond 11+ to help prepare their child for the 11+.

This Bond guide is really helpful