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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+.

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?

How do I prepare my child for the 11+?

Preparing your child for the 11+ can be rather daunting, but here’s some simple, straightforward advice on how to start preparing your child for the 11+:

Step 1 – Find out about the 11+ in your area

Before you do anything else, it’s crucial that you find out about how the 11+ works in your area.

The 11+ exam is highly regionalised and the subjects your child will be tested on will depend on where you live and what grammar/private schools you’re applying to.

To find out exactly what the 11+ exam is like in your area, it is worth contacting the schools you’re hoping to gain entry to directly.

Step 2 – When should you start preparing?

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+.

Step 3 – Create a preparation plan for your child

In Year 5, it is recommended that you create a preparation plan for your child to maximise the time they have left and ensure that they’re sufficiently prepared for the exam.

Here are three steps to creating a preparation plan for your child:

  • Find out your child’s strengths and weaknesses – to really prioritise and target your child’s revision effectively, this will help to identify which subjects you child struggles with and needs more practice on. To help with this, Bond 11+ offers a Placement Test, which can be set as a mock test to discover how strong your child is in English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. You can download the Bond Placement Test for free as part of the Bond Starter Pack.
  • Create a revision schedule – the Bond Placement Test results will help you work out which subjects your child needs to spend more time working on. Ask your child how much 11+ work they feel they can fit in each week in order to develop a realistic schedule that you and your child will be able to stick to.
  • Schedule in exam practice – children will benefit from practice in developing the exam skills required to pass the 11+, so do make time for this in your revision schedule.

Although it can be important, try to avoid depicting the 11+ as a be-all-and-end-all – it is counterproductive to make your child unnecessarily stressed.

How do I find out more about the 11+?

With no published curriculum and many schools preferring not to publish the content of their exams, it can sometimes be difficult to find out more information about the 11+.

Good sources of information include:

Useful resources

The Bond Essential Guide to the 11+ Exam

Whether you’re just starting to research your secondary school options or your child is taking their 11+ exam this September, our brand-new Essential Guide to the 11+ Exam has everything you need to know ahead of the test.

Download the guide and you’ll find lots of advice on how to start your 11+ journey, an easy-to-follow 12-month plan, and much more.

Download PDF >

Getting Started: Free Bond 11+ Starter Pack

Whether you’re still wondering whether the 11+ is right for your child or you’ve already applied to your local grammar school, the Bond 11+ Starter Pack is packed with helpful resources for you to use at home with your child:

  • Bond Placement Test – Use this test to establish your child’s strengths and weaknesses in English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.
  • 10 Minute Tests – test and develop your child’s skills across all four 11+ exam subjects with these bite-sized mini tests. (Take a look at our free downloadable 10 Minute Tests)
  • Bond Revision Planner – Use this blank revision planner to schedule your child’s 11+ revision.

Download your 11+ Starter Pack >
(To download the planner, register for free on the Bond website.)

The Parents’ Guide to the 11+

The Parents’ Guide to the 11+ is the essential manual for all parents whose children are about to embark on their 11+ journey. Written by an experienced 11+ tutor, it offers a practical 4-step approach to guide you through the entire process.

  • Understand the 11+ with information about the subjects covered and skills tested
  • Assess your child with tests to build up a picture of your child’s ability
  • Prepare for the exam with step-by-step strategy plans and tips on motivating your child
  • Manage the post-exam process with an explanation of what happens next and a checklist for success

Find out more >