Your 11 Plus Exams Guide: A Comprehensive Introduction for Parents

Are you and your child gearing up for 11 Plus exams? It’s a significant milestone, and one that causes its fair share of sleepless nights and plenty of questions.

Well, we’re here to help ease that pressure.

To help you understand the 11 Plus, from top tips for preparation, to when to apply and what the exams actually contain, we’ll guide you through every step of the process. We’ll also look at how the 11 Plus compares with SATs and how hard it really is to pass.

In this comprehensive introduction for parents, we’ll demystify the 11 Plus, exploring regional variations, addressing common concerns and giving expert advice on how to help your child prepare appropriately.

What is the 11 Plus? A Brief Overview

The 11 Plus is an entrance exam taken by students in the UK in their final year of primary education (usually at the age of 10 or 11). It serves as a selection criterion for entry into selective grammar and private schools. Content differs from school to school, but normally includes subjects like English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

When it comes to getting into Private Schools and Grammars, some schools solely use 11 Plus exam scores to decide who gets in. Others mix test results with things like how close you live to the school and if any siblings already attend.

If you’re unsure about a school’s 11 Plus admission policy, check their website or talk to their admissions team. Specialised tutors, like us at Achieve Learning, can also help you and your child understand requirements, prepare effectively and ace those 11 Plus exams!

To understand the Grammar School system in more depth, explore our dedicated Parents’ Guide to Grammars.

How many exams are there in the 11 Plus?

The number of papers and subjects covered in 11 Plus exams varies between regions and schools. 

For state schools in Buckinghamshire (for example), students normally face tests in Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths. But in Kent and Warwickshire, 11 Plus tests also include English papers featuring Comprehension and Creative Writing components. 

Even within one area (say Grammars in Barnet, London), 11 Plus requirements vary from school to school. For instance, Queen Elizabeth’s School uses two multiple-choice exams in Maths and English. The Henrietta Barnett School has two rounds of testing, covering a range of English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning papers. St Michael’s Catholic Grammar in Barnet is different again, opting for multiple-choice papers in verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and Maths.

It’s so important for parents to carefully research and understand the specific exams their child will face. This lets you tailor your preparation accordingly and stops your child feeling confused or surprised on the day.

Are you searching for Grammar Schools in and around London? If so, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of London Grammars as well as the best schools in the capital. You can also find in-depth guides to Grammar Schools in Harrow and 11 Plus exams for the South West Hertfordshire Consortium.

When is best to apply for the 11 Plus exam?

Like the content of 11 Plus exams, application timelines for the 11 Plus vary by region and school. 

In general though, many Grammar Schools commence their registration process in April or May. Deadlines usually fall around June or July for parents to enrol their child for September 11 Plus exams.

These timelines vary massively from school to school (as well as between state schools and private schools), so always check specific dates with each school you’re applying to.

To give just one example, for Queen Elizabeth’s School, their “entrance test request form” is available from May. There’s a July deadline for all applications. This registers children to sit the school’s September 11 Plus exams, for entry the following year.

How do I know if my child should sit the 11 Plus?

Deciding whether the 11 Plus is right for your child is a big deal! It’s important to remember these exams won’t suit everyone. Indeed, a grammar school environment won’t be the perfect fit for every child.

If your child enjoys academic challenges, if they perform highly on English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning tasks and thrive with supportive pressure – then sitting 11 Plus exams should be absolutely fine.

When deciding whether to put your child forward for the 11 Plus, consider their earning style, academic aptitude and long-term educational goals. It’s also a good idea to ask your child’s current teachers, attend open days at potential schools (to really get a feel for the environment) and most importantly – ask your child! How do they feel about sitting 11 Plus exams and their secondary choices? 

Making an informed decision together will minimise stress or uncertainty surrounding these exams and the transition to secondary.

Of course, a Grammar School education goes beyond just academics – the focus on critical thinking and a challenging yet rewarding curriculum sets students up for success in university and beyond.

The skills and confidence gained at grammar school aren’t just about getting a job or securing a spot at a top uni either. For those who thrive in this environment, it fosters lifelong intellectual curiosity and self-assurance.

What is the pass mark for the 11 Plus?

There isn’t a single fixed pass mark for the 11 Plus. It varies based on factors like the difficulty of the paper, childrens’ performance and the number of available spaces in selective schools. 

Instead of thinking about a set percentage, it’s more about performing well relative to other candidates. For instance, if a school has 100 Year 7 places, they’ll accept the 100 students with the highest 11 Plus marks.

You should know that Grammar Schools often have other selection criteria as well as 11 Plus marks. This could include whether you live in the catchment area or if a brother or sister already attends the school. 

Some private schools also have interviews after exams too. So even a very high score in the 11 Plus doesn’t automatically secure a place!

As always, check with individual schools’ admissions departments if you’re unsure on their entrance policies. They’ll be happy to advise.

How hard is it to pass the 11 Plus?

Of course, the difficulty of passing 11 Plus exams (and securing a spot at your school of choice) varies from child to child. These tests are designed to be challenging to identify the brightest pupils. 

But with the right preparation, many students succeed and excel. Success in the 11 Plus depends on a combination of natural ability, effective preparation and a positive mindset (we’ll cover how to prepare later in this guide!).

In England, there are just 163 Grammars out of a total of 3,458 secondary schools. So entry is definitely competitive.

Despite approximately 100,000 students taking 11 Plus exams each year, there are only around 15,000 places up for grabs. This means there’s a roughly 1 in 6 chance for students seeking admission. Remember this doesn’t include all the students who decided not to sit the 11 Plus though! 

In regions with less grammar schools (or higher populations), this ratio could be 1 in 10. It might be even higher for particularly sought-after schools.

Which is harder, SATs or the 11 Plus?

While both exams have their own level of difficulty, the 11 Plus is typically considered more challenging than Year 6 SATs

This is because the 11 Plus is crafted to identify the most academically capable students, for entrance into selective Grammar Schools. Unlike SATs (which are closely aligned with the national curriculum and focus on assessing a broader range of skills and knowledge), the 11 Plus often includes tricky questions and topics that children may not encounter in their regular school curriculum.

The 11 Plus tests students on various subjects such as English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Questions are designed to assess analytical thinking, problem-solving abilities and high-level reasoning skills. These exams demand sophisticated critical thinking and often require students to apply their knowledge in unfamiliar contexts.

In contrast, SATs primarily evaluate students’ understanding of the curriculum they’ve covered in school, including core subjects like English, Maths (and sometimes science). While SATs can still be challenging, they generally adhere closely to the topics and concepts outlined in the national curriculum, making them more predictable in terms of content.

For more detailed information on SATs and how to prepare your child, read our complete parents’ guide to the SATs.

Can you pass the 11 Plus without tutoring?

While tutoring undeniably offers valuable support in 11 Plus preparation, it’s not the only pathway to success. Think of it as just one of the puzzle-pieces forming part of a well-rounded 11 Plus strategy!

Many children successfully navigate the 11 Plus through diligent independent study. However, expert tutoring provides individualised guidance on exam strategy, access to specialised practice materials, and constructive feedback tailored to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. 

The decision to opt for tutoring or independent (parent-assisted) study hinges on various factors. This includes our child’s learning style, your budget considerations and the availability of tutors and learning centres near you. Yes, you can pass without private tuition. But for many families, investing in tutoring offers the extra edge needed for success.

As well as tutoring, practice exams (particularly those offered by reputable independent providers like us at Achieve Learning), play a pivotal role in preparation. They offer invaluable insights into the format, structure and style of 11 Plus exams, additional feedback, and help students understand the time constraints and various question types.

It’s essential to note that while tutoring and mock exams are beneficial, they should complement rather than replace a comprehensive and well-rounded study plan. Ultimately, the key lies in understanding your child’s needs and preparing accordingly!

How long should you study for the 11 Plus?

Crafting the perfect study timeline for the 11 Plus involves finding that sweet spot between readiness, avoiding burnout, and keeping things engaging for your child.

Parents often wonder when to kick off 11 Plus prep. While Year 4 is a common starting point (giving two years of preparation), some opt to dive in during Year 5. If your child is highly academic, they might only need a year – but most do well with two.

Not sure where you’re at? Have a go at a few practice papers together. You’ll soon understand your child’s readiness levels and how much time they need…

You can find free practice papers and familiarisation materials from 11 Plus providers like GL Assessment. Most schools also provide sample papers on their website.

In terms of timings, striking that balance is key. You want to start early enough to avoid last-minute stress and panic, but not so early that your child tunes out from boredom. 

Remember, every child is different. Some might thrive with a longer prep period, while others need a bit of a sprint toward the finish line. Keep an eye on your child’s energy levels and make adjustments as needed to keep them engaged and motivated.

Whenever you start, aim for calm consistency. By chipping away at 11 Plus preparation over time, you give your child the chance to absorb the material without feeling overwhelmed. Plus, spreading it out means they have plenty of time to fine-tune their skills and build that all-important confidence.

How do I prepare my child for the 11 Plus?

We’ve already covered a fair amount of advice on getting ready for the 11 Plus, but here are a few more pointers to help you and your child prepare – confidently and calmly.

  • Start early: Begin preparations at least in Year 4 or Year 5 (depending on your child’s abilities). This ensures a gradual, steady approach, instilling a sense of confidence and readiness in your child.
  • Create a schedule: Just like preparing for any other exam, create a realistic study timetable for your child – make sure your schedule balances academic subjects, practice exams, games and plenty of breaks.
  • Use varied resources: Use a mix of practice books (available from any local bookstore), online materials, mock tests and educational games (especially word games and quick maths) to keep learning fun and engaging.
  • Encourage reading: Foster a love of reading to enhance verbal and comprehension skills. Build this into your daily routine, for instance as a bonding activity before bedtime. If you’re unsure where to start, we’ve already compiled an 11 Plus reading list to boost your child’s vocabulary, so have an explore!
  • Practice regularly: Consistent practice, especially with timed exercises, helps build confidence and familiarity with exam conditions. If practice is just a regular part of your child’s everyday routine, this will lessen any stress and create solid foundational skills.
  • Support mental well-being: Exams can be a stressful event, even for adults. So prioritise your child’s mental health throughout. Emphasise a positive mindset with plenty of praise, as well as stress management and relaxation techniques.
  • Monitor progress: Keep track of your child’s development (with a view to key areas of strength and weakness) through regular practice tests. Once you’ve gone through the results together, adjust your study plan accordingly.
  • Engage with teachers and tutors: Maintain open communication with teachers and tutors for insights into your child’s strengths and areas needing improvement. They can also advise on further activities and exercises to build on your child’s learning.
  • Celebrate achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate milestones, instilling a sense of accomplishment and motivation. Preparing for the 11 Plus takes a lot of hard work and determination, so let your child know how proud you are – whatever the outcome!

Are you preparing your child for 11 Plus exams?

Successfully navigating the 11 Plus involves a thorough understanding of the exam structure, application deadlines, and your child’s unique needs and learning style. 

Balancing academic preparation with mental readiness is vital, and tailoring your approach based on your child’s strengths and weaknesses will contribute to a more successful and positive experience. 

Remember, every child is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the 11 Plus. So if you’d like personalised tuition, access to mock tests, consultancy and feedback, get in touch with our expert team today. At Achieve Learning, we’ll help your child succeed and thrive – whatever their academic goals.