11 Plus Exam: The full journey

Need a one-stop blog that covers everything you want to know about the 11 plus exam? This is one of our special posts unpacking all the key information that parents are looking for, 11 plus boogie monsters included. From Grammar Schools to the 11 plus appeals procedure, you can find all the details right here. So, grab a glass of red, sit back and smarten up on the 11 plus journey with us.

11 Plus Guide: Contents

11 Plus Basics

The 11 plus exam is the name given to the test which is used to admit primary school pupils into Grammar Schools. Grammar school places are known to be highly competitive, meaning only the top performers on the 11 plus assessment will receive an acceptance letter. It is worth noting that the 11 plus exam is sometimes written as the 11+ exam.

The exam can be daunting for children because they feel the pressure to succeed. Parents are also known to dislike the process of preparing for the exam, leaving them head-scratching as they look for the best ways to help their young superstars. Naturally, parents want to make sure their children perform at their best but want to do it in a way that doesn’t add pressure and cause them to feel more study anxiety.

If this sounds familiar, then do not worry. The information below can put you both at ease and maximise your chances of earning a place at your preferred Grammar School.

What Are Grammar Schools?

The UK’s education system doesn’t look the same as it used to. Once upon a time, secondary education was split into different areas, catering for the school’s students and their differing potential. Most students would go to a branch of secondary school that served them to enter into trades and manual work, while more academically gifted students would attend a Grammar School.

These grammar schools provided them with a challenging environment to continue learning, with the overall aim of attending one of the best universities in the UK. Research has found that some Grammar school attendees are more likely to earn a higher salary and have a much greater chance of earning a degree - even today when the education system is not as divided as it once was.

grammar school class room

Current Grammar Schools in the UK

The education system described above has changed. Comprehensive schools are now the norm for secondary education across the UK. These schools create an environment where learners of all abilities and ambitions, university and otherwise, will be taught together in the same classes with the same school curriculum.

However, Grammar Schools still exist in the UK. At the time of writing, there are 163 of these prestigious schools in England and fewer than 70 grammar schools in Northern Ireland. There are no Grammar Schools in Wales or Scotland today. There may have been even fewer if Labour politicians had their wishes granted.

Labour politicians believed that grammar schools prevented social mobility because students were pre-designated futures based on indications of the students’ early academic potential. Ultimately, there was no room for progression and development at a later stage. Today, Comprehensive Education provides an outlet for social mobility to occur and Grammar Schools coexist with them fruitfully.

These politicians attempted to have Grammar Schools banned but their efforts had little effect. One Grammar School in Ripon, Yorkshire, was to be closed and put to a vote. A clear majority of 67% preferred the schools’ doors to remain open, citing their appreciation among the public. Grammar schools may cause some controversy, but there is no denying the benefits for the students that attend them.

exam course on laptop with light

Do Grammar Schools Cost?

Grammar schools are not to be confused with private schools. Both types of secondary education have similar aims by providing a challenging environment that pushes children to excel in academic subjects. However, Grammar Schools are a part of state secondary school and that means they are 100% free!

Yet, some parents browsing Grammar School options may be confronted with fees. It is important to identify what these fees are really for. When you look closer, you will see these fees are not to cover the costs of tuition because as mentioned, tuition is funded by the government. Fees at Grammar Schools are most likely to cover board and expenses because there are many Grammar Schools which do offer these services. Other services may also be on offer and these may also cost.

The bottom line is that you can find Grammar Schools that will not cost your family a penny - and others that may be unaffordable to some parents.

Why Parents Want Places

When a school is offering to enhance your child’s learning and prepare them for a place at a top university, it may seem obvious why parents want their children to attend a Grammar School. This is the overarching reason why parents hope for a Grammar School place, but there are other reasons, including:

  • Fewer class distractions mean children receive the teaching, knowledge and skills they require to be successful in further education. If distractions by disengaged students occur, it has a knock-on effect on the quality of education received
  • They are also a low-cost alternative to private schools, as just discussed
  • Extra facilities such as accommodation make them appealing to parents who are seeking out a high-quality boarding school

How to receive A Grammar School Place?

Because these schools are offering excellent academic futures and making parents feel extra pride in their children, there is a high level of competition for places. Combining this fierce competition with a limited number of desk space is a recipe for disappointment - unless the child can score exceptionally on the Grammar School Entrance Exam.

Types of 11 Plus Exams

The first myth we need to kick to the kerb is that all 11 plus exams are the same. It can easily appear this way, but it is far from the truth. Some Grammar Schools even create their own bespoke 11 plus test made by the school’s current teachers and headmaster. Naturally, these exams are much harder to prepare for because they change quite often and past papers may not be released.

The good news for parents is that Grammar schools composing their own entrance exams are few and far between. Most Grammar Schools use an 11 plus exam provided by an official examining body.

In these cases, the school will use the exam made by GL Assessment or Durham University in partnership with the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM). These are the two governing exam bodies of the 11 plus exam in the UK.

GL Assessment and CEM

So, GL Assessment and CEM - six and two threes? Not exactly. The two tests made by these bodies are highly similar and cover the same four core areas but they do not make the same 11 plus exam.

GL Assessment has been around much longer, over two decades in fact, but their longevity has not made them resilient to criticism. Some people have deemed the GL 11 plus exam as predictable and counterintuitive to what the 11 plus exam is made for.

The exam is made to highlight children’s logical and critical thinking but a predictable test leads to children just reciting answers. In recent years, GL Assessment has improved their versions of the 11 plus test and as a result, the critics have gone home.

On the other hand, the CEM 11 plus exam is much newer than the GL Assessment. It has also received some criticism for being too difficult to prepare for because past papers are not always released, giving tutors and online 11 plus course providers just as many headaches as parents have.

Despite their drawbacks, both types of 11 plus assessment remain the most effective and widely used choice for Grammar Schools throughout England and Northern Ireland. This means most child-parent teams preparing for the 11 plus exam will come against an 11 plus assessment made by one of these bodies.

As mentioned, the tests do cover the same four areas, which are explained below.


11 Plus Exam Content

The 11 plus exam is made to uncover children’s logical thinking, problem solving skills and ability in core subjects. It is not made so only the children with the best memory score well. Some children may have done well in previous primary school tests because of their excellent ability to recall facts or answers. This does not mean the same child will ace the 11 plus exam.

Sometimes the results of the 11 plus exam can be surprising to children, teachers and parents. Too often, year-round education relies on the ability to recite answers from time spent in class and does not prepare children to think like an intellect. What this means in practice is the child that is usually top of the class may not always do the best in the class on the 11 plus test. Although, it is perfectly possible that they could.

The bottom line is that the 11 plus exam is different and a unique way of identifying talented young thinkers. To give you a greater insight into the test’s content, here are the four areas that both examining bodies cover in their tests:

1. Verbal Reasoning

Verbal reasoning is all about English - but it’s not about knowing your Romeo and Juliet from your Hamlet! Instead, children will need to evidence their excellent command of the English language with an impressive vocabulary. On top of a wide use of terms and a strong semantic knowledge of those words, they must also understand syntactic structures (this means they must know correct grammar and be able to identify why one sentence structure is incorrect and why another is correct).

2. Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning moves away from language and focuses on patterns, order, sequences, images and diagrams. Questions in this section will ask children for logical predictions and test their ability to think critically to solve problems. This section is noted as the area that is the most difficult to prepare for because it requires students to develop thinking skills rather than subject knowledge alone. 

3. Mathematics (Numerical Reasoning)

The mathematics section, termed as numerical reasoning to some, is included to test children in one of the national curriculum’s most valued subjects. It will touch on many of the same mathematical topics that students are learning in class but push the limits on those subjects to identify the children who are the highest achievers in school.

Students answering questions in this section of the test should expect to be confronted with questions on percentages, fractions, ratios, multiplication, long division and even algebra equations.

4. English

The English component of the 11 plus test is commonly confused with the verbal reasoning segment. However, they have some difference. Both parts require an excellent vocabulary, but the English part looks less at grammatical structures and more at analysing texts. Again, the topics covered are likely to be taught in most school lessons, but to a higher and more in-depth standard.

Logistics and Format of the 11+ Exam

Primary schools will organise and sit the 11 plus exam in different ways. Some schools will offer the exam in two sitting periods, splitting it up and giving children a break. Other schools will organise the 11 plus test into one single sitting of three hours long. The latter appears to be more common over recent years.

The format of questions can differ too. Some questions will be given as multiple-choice questions while others will be open-ended. The second type of questions require a written answer from the student without prompts to what the answer may be.

11+ Example Questions

There are a lot of discussions on how 11 plus exams are different from other tests by digging for logic and thinking skills - we were even guilty of this somewhat vague explanation above. The best way to show parents how the grammar school entrance exam does this, is by looking at some similar 11 plus questions. So, are you as smart as a brainy ten-year-old?

*Note: question phrasing has been altered.

Example Q1: Which letter fits into both sets of brackets to complete all four words?

SHE (?) ONE; COR (?) INE

  • N
  • D
  • L
  • S

Example Q2: Which letter can be moved from the first word and placed in the second word to create two new words? The current letters must stay in the same order.


  • T
  • U
  • L
  • I

Example Q3: Which number finishes the sequence?

16 - 17 - 18 - 18 - 20 - 19 - ?

  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23

Are There Other Ways to Get a Place?

Some Grammar Schools will look further than the 11 plus exam result to determine who gets a place and who doesn’t. Although the result of the assessment is of crucial value, other things may be considered.

It has been known that students with the promise of high-level sporting ability or students who are showing impressive talent in music can get special consideration. Combining a high score on the test - even if it is just shy of the pass grade - with one or both of these talents may warrant the grammar school a reason to offer the child a place.

This may give parents and their children more incentive to prepare for the 11 plus exam thoroughly, but families should not rely on extra-curricular talents alone to get a place. The chances of this happening are extremely rare to impossible.

Latest developments reported by The Independent have suggested that Grammar Schools may look even further than the test in future. Some Grammar Schools are starting to factor in location and the economic background of the child’s household. Thus, offering more Grammar School places to less wealthy families who live nearby the Grammar School. Labour politicians will be happy!

Preparing for the 11 Plus Exam

Preparation is key for success in the 11 plus test. How much extra study time is needed and the point at which you start extra study sessions may vary among children. It is often advised that the child should start additional studying at the beginning of year five but as the saying goes, it’s never too late to learn!

11+ exam preparation

Your Study Options

The test requires students to prepare for a number of questions and topics. Preparing for topics and skills that will not be needed in the exam is precious time wasted. When every second counts, your child needs study aids that cater exactly to the exam’s content.

Parental Guidance

Each year, parents become tutors and decide to take on the role themselves to help their child. This usually requires the parent to invest a lot of time researching what topics need to be covered. They then have to buy the materials and textbooks that match these needs, which can be costly. Overall, this method can be cheaper than others - but more expensive when it comes down to time.

Private Tutors

Private tutors are one way of offloading the responsibility to a professional that busy parents can fall back on. There are countless 11 plus tutors out there with exceptional track records. However, getting to a private tutor can be a weekly inconvenience and they can be the most expensive option.

Some private tutors may not have the required 11 plus expertise and may not be as effective as you hoped. For this reason, always do your research and ask questions before deciding on an 11 plus tutor.

Online Courses

Online courses are the third option and often the most favourable to those parents that have sized them up. They combine the affordability of option one, a big serving of exam-specific teaching, and a generous dash of flexibility.

Yet, these online courses are only worthwhile if they are made specifically for the 11 plus test, such as the course on offer with us at 11 Plus Success. Always use an 11+ online course over a generic online revision course to prepare for the test.

Study Tips You Should Know About

There are so many study hints and tips on the internet. A quick Google search and you will be confronted with countless options, ranging from simple and effective to raised eyebrows. Our revision ninjas have looked into this topic a lot, so we can bring our community the 11 plus study tips that really work. Take a look at our recommendations that are based on the latest research in psychology, neuroscience and more:

kid with light
  • Stop using highlighters because they isolate information from the subject when the 11 plus exam requires you to make logical connections between information.
  • Get your child to teach another student or even you as the parent. This is known as The Protégé Effect and will help them understand the topic more. It was Einstein that said you cannot understand something unless you teach it to your grandmother.
  • Sleep well, eat well and exercise!
  • Use a study space that is light, airy, equipped with plants, and if possible, has high ceilings
  • Use red or blue pens instead of black pens because the former colours have been scientifically proven to boost creativity!

After the Exam

There is a reason why the pass grade of the 11 plus exam is so far down on our guide. The simple answer is because it is not worth thinking about until after the exam has been sat and the marks have been counted. Why is it not worth thinking about? Because there is no pass grade. Instead, students should just strive to do the best they possibly can. Still confused? Read on…

Passing the 11 Plus Test

Grammar schools use the 11 plus test to identify the best talent with only so many places available. The exact score needed to get into the Grammar School is not pre-determined. Students don’t necessarily need to get “x” amount of marks to get in, but they have to beat “x” number of fellow pupils to earn their place.

As a result, some Grammar Schools are technically easier to get into than others - and some English counties have tougher entrance requirements than others. If two counties have similar populations but vastly different number of Grammar Schools, the number of places up for grabs and the competition for those places change, meaning the grade needed to be accepted also changes.

Not knowing the pass grade for the 11 plus exam can be a bit frustrating for parents and children. For the parents that are desperate for an exact figure, we usually suggest that a child scoring 80%-85% or above on the 11 plus test will have a strong chance. Below this score and they may need a slither of luck or be talented in sports or music to get their acceptance letter.

Failing the 11 Plus Test

Failing the exam should not be too disheartening for the child or for you as a parent. Intelligent children may not make the cut but that does not mean they will be unsuccessful in future schooling and even university. After all, the extra study and exam practice will do them the world of good.

Yet, if your child has not made the grade on the smallest of margins, it may be worth appealing the decision to try and get the paper regraded. It is not completely unheard of that a parent will make an appeal, the 11 plus grade is increased by a mark or two and the child receives a place at their chosen Grammar School.

Parents are allowed to make their own appeal, but an appeal with a headteacher has more forceful currency. If parents can get their child’s headteacher to make a joint appeal because the grade is close to a pass or the child has evidence of academic talents elsewhere, the examining board and the Grammar School may take a closer look.

Like any other appeals procedure, nothing can be guaranteed. The competitiveness and the difference between one answer reiterates the importance of preparing for the 11 plus exam in the best way possible.

Since 2012, all appeals must be made within 20 days of receiving a notification that your child did not earn a place. Parents need to act fast if they want to go against the decision and they must be 100% clear in their reason for appealing.

The situation described above, i.e. the child was under the pass mark (non-qualification), is just one reason to appeal. Parents may also wish to appeal against admission mistakes, oversubscribed grammar schools or a combination of events.

The Biggest Lesson of All - for Parents! 

The 11 plus process is exciting but it can also be scary and have a negative effect on a child’s confidence. The biggest lesson that parents need to learn throughout the experience themselves is that the 11 plus exam is not a prerequisite to academic success.


Yes - grammar schools have a proven record at churning out young academics who go on to do exceptionally well in an array of industries. However, so do other state schools. Without a Grammar School Education, a child has the potential to go on to do whatever they want. And they need to know this at all times!

Adding further pressure on your child during preparations may only be counterproductive when it comes to taking the exam. Of course, you want to push them to prepare and support them in the journey, but there is often a line. If you cross it you could increase anxiety, stress and demotivate them from learning in the future.

Children who do not make it to Grammar School but enjoy the process of learning and developing will get more out of it than you first predict. Not only will they have developed in an array of areas, the whole experience may have reshaped the way they think about education, and it may just instil a thirst for learning.

We named this blog/guide as ‘the full journey’ and if the whole journey is enjoyable then children gather heaps of benefits – whether they pass or fail!

The Secret Weapon to Ace Grammar School Entrance Exams!

All of the knowledge, myth-busting and fake-news-kicking content here was produced from industry-insider knowledge, heavy research and the experienced 11 Plus Success team.

But our team offers more than a true understanding of all things 11 plus. We also offer a practical, affordable and effective method of preparing for the 11 plus test to take the worry away from you and your child.

Our online 11 plus preparation course has been devised by specific 11 plus tutors and teachers, with years of experience readying learners for this exact exam. High pass rates, trackable performance and success stories included, you can make the most of your preparation time with our online course.

More information on our bespoke resource can be found here, or you can get in touch with 11 Plus Success now and get your queries answered.

 The Grammar School fairies are right here!

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