A Complete Guide to 11+ Exams

Jan 11, 2023
A Complete Guide to 11+ Exams

Exams. Exams. And more exams. 

It seems our children’s lives are a constant cycle of assessments, tests and examinations aimed at grading academic ability at various stages of education.

Despite the additional stress and pressure that comes with any exam, many students gain a great sense of accomplishment from passing a challenging assessment like the 11+ exams. 

But what actually are they? Why are they important? And how can you help your child prepare to succeed? Let’s take a look…

An introduction to 11+ exams and grammar schools

Eleven Plus exams are entrance examinations which allow children to gain a place in a grammar school. Grammar schools are state secondary schools that select their pupils by means of an examination.

Grammar schools have existed for hundreds or years but went through a reform which made them popular between 1940-1970. They’re not quite so popular today, however, given the controversial nature of differentiating students based on their academic abilities. Labour politicians have even stated that “the selective education system reinforced class division and middle-class privilege” which has sparked much debate!

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The idea of selective education is becoming less and less popular in recent years. 

Today, there are only about 163 grammar schools in England, out of some 3,000 state secondaries, and a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland (they don’t exist at all in Wales or Scotland), however, despite the small number of grammar schools, they are particularly prominent in a number of regions around England, making the 11+ exam an important event.

Why are 11+ exams important?

11+ exams are important if you wish to send your child to a grammar school. The examinations determine which students will be placed in selective schools, which are generally considered to have higher academic standards and better resources than non-selective schools.

As mentioned, this system is controversial as it can create social disparities and is criticised for not taking into account students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nevertheless, if your child is academically strong and you wish for them to stand the best chance of attending a school that’s renowned for academic excellence, then 11-plus exams are crucial!

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What subjects are part of 11+ exams?

The subjects included in 11+ exams vary depending on the specific test and region, but typically they include English, Maths, Science, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.


This section will include reading comprehension and writing tasks such as essays, stories, and letters. They could be examined on punctuation skills, creative writing, close reading for example.


This covers topics such as number and place value, algebra, fractions, decimals and percentages, and data handling and statistics. These are all skills that students will typically have learned in KS2. Many recommend to practice times tables for this exam.


This covers topics from the natural sciences, including biology, chemistry, and physics.

Verbal Reasoning

This skill is not taught in schools so it is something your child will need to prepare for separately, however it is also possible to practise for these examinations. Commonly, the student will be assessed on how well they can understand written text and also verbal comprehension, reasoning and logic

The questions can involve unscrambling certain words, completing wordsearches, logical puzzles and pattern recognition. This section is different from English because the aim is to test how a child thinks and how they analyse and interpret information, rather than what they have learned in English class at school. 

Non-verbal Reasoning

The non-verbal reasoning exams involve problem solving with shapes instead of words. The child has to work out how different shapes and objects relate to one another and figure out patterns. This exam is however not offered in every school so it will depend on your region. 

This covers questions that test the student's ability to recognize patterns and relationships in visual information, such as diagrams and images.

The subjects covered aim to test a range of skills in a student including verbal and non-verbal reasoning, language skills, mathematical ability, and scientific knowledge. 

For some practice at home, take a look at this site which has many free practice papers for each subject area. 

How do 11+ exam results impact secondary education?

The results of 11+ exams can have a significant impact on a student's secondary education. They can be an incredibly rewarding experience; if a student does well on the exam and is admitted to a selective school, they will likely have access to higher-quality academic resources and a more challenging curriculum than they would have at a non-selective school. This can potentially lead to better educational opportunities and outcomes for these students in the long term.

However, the opposite can also be true for students who do not do well on the 11+ exam and are not admitted to a selective school. These students may miss out on the higher-quality resources and more challenging curriculum offered at these schools, which could have a negative impact on their secondary education.

Additionally, the 11+ exam results might also impact the student's future career opportunities, as selective schools are seen as more reputable, and having the selective school on the CV might help the student to get into a better university or have more job opportunities.

Although the selective education system can be controversial, it is very much still a situation that exists which parents can make use of to ensure their child gets a good education and the best lifechances possible. 

When do 11+ exams take place?

They are taken in the school year that a student turns 11, typically in the autumn term of year 6 (around September or October) prior to the academic year in which the student will start secondary school. However, exact dates may vary depending on the specific school or region.

When should a student start preparing for 11+ exams?

It's recommended for students to start preparing for 11+ exams at least 6 to 9 months in advance, typically around the start of the academic year prior to when they will sit the exams. This means starting revision or extra tuition in Year 5 so they’re well equipped for the following year.

Allowing enough time for your child to revise all the relevant topics, practice with sample papers, and develop their test-taking skills helps to reduce stress and paces their preparation.

How can I help my child prepare for these exams?

There are many ways that you as a parent can help your child prepare for these exams. Here are just some of them:

  • Help your child to create a study schedule and make sure they stick to it. If something is set in writing and organised around their time then they will be more motivated to adhere to it.
  • If you can, provide different materials such as textbooks, practice papers and online resources. These will all help your child to prepare the best they can.
  • Understand your child’s learning style: Are they a visual learner? Or do they need to be active and move around while learning? Once you know this then you will be able to help provide them with the correct resources that are adapted to their learning technique.
  • Come up with a way to monitor whether your child is progressing, perhaps with some mini-tests at the end of each study block. Make it fun, providing rewards and incentives for them to learn more - grab our FREE rewards chart to get started.
  • Do the best you can to create a positive, productive environment. Perhaps offering your child a dedicated workspace in the house or setting up a table somewhere with all their study materials. This will also help encourage them to develop productive habits for themselves.
  • You should try and offer encouragement and motivation throughout the preparation process to avoid your child becoming overwhelmed or feel like they aren’t progressing. 
  • If  you are in a position to do so, consider hiring a tutor to provide some extra help. At Learning Cubs we provide this service and it is free for many parents due to the costs being subsidised. 

What can Learning Cubs do to further help?

While it is great if parents are able to support their children themselves, we understand that it isn’t always that easy - trying to remember the method to a maths problem you worked on 20 years ago is challenging! 

If you don’t feel comfortable with the questions and content then this can cause unnecessary stress for yourself, not to mention confusion for your child, and if you aren’t seeing progress this can cause tension and frustration. Plus, juggling your child’s routine and schedule is tricky at the best of times, let alone when you need to be their tutor too! 

That’s why we want to alleviate some of this pressure for parents.

Here at Learning Cubs we provide academic support for children undertaking the 11+ exams. We are familiar with the exam requirements and structure and our tutors will help your child be successful. We offer support for English, Maths and Science - core subjects that will appear on any assessment..

Will your child be taking these exams this academic year? 

If yes, book a free assessment to get started and we’ll and we can discuss the ways our tutors can help. 

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