What is the 11 Plus Exam? [Guide for Parents]

The 11 Plus exam and the entire entry process can be challenging for both parents and children alike, and it is natural to have concerns regarding various aspects of the entrance exams.

But as parents, you can play a huge part not only in their academic achievements but also in building their confidence, curiosity, and love for learning. 

This article is your resource for understanding the 11 Plus exam, assessing your child’s readiness, and discovering how you can support them in achieving their best.

What Is the 11 Plus Exam?

What is the 11 Plus Exam

The 11 Plus exam, (also written as Eleven Plus or simply 11+), is a standardised test used in the UK education system to assess the academic abilities of students seeking admission to selective secondary schools. It is typically taken by students in their final year of primary school, usually around the age of 10 or 11, thus the term 11 Plus.  

The Eleven Plus is rooted in the tripartite system that was introduced in the mid-20th century, dividing students into different types of schools based on their performance in this exam, mainly, a grammar school, a secondary modern school, or a technical school.

Today, it is primarily used as an entrance exam for a particular set of schools such as grammar schools which are currently at 163 remaining in England and 69 in Northern Ireland. It is also worth noting that the exam is now taken only voluntarily by pupils in the primary. 

The exam generally consists of a series of tests that evaluate a student’s aptitude in key subject areas, such as mathematics, English, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning.

Why Is the 11 Plus Exam Important?

The 11 Plus exam holds substantial importance in the UK’s educational landscape.

By excelling in Eleven Plus, children gain the opportunity to access selective secondary schools such as state grammar schools, which usually offer more advanced academic programs and additional extracurricular opportunities. 

For many parents, this is a way to ensure that their children receive a well-rounded and challenging education tailored to their abilities.

What Is the Difference Between the SATs and the 11 Plus?

Whilst both the SATs and the 11 Plus exams evaluate a student’s academic abilities, they serve distinct purposes and have key differences. 

The SATs, or Standard Assessment Tests, are compulsory national tests conducted at the end of primary education (Key Stage 2) in state schools in England. They assess a child’s proficiency in core subjects, such as English, mathematics, and science, based on the national curriculum. Their primary purpose is to assess a school’s overall performance. 

In contrast, the 11 Plus is an academic test used by selective secondary schools for admission purposes, much like the Common Entrance Exam used by independent schools. It is specific to the transition of students from primary to secondary education and helps identify a child’s suitability for a more academically challenging environment. 

The Eleven Plus exam evaluates a child’s aptitude for verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, mathematics, and English. And whilst SATs are mandatory and assess broader curriculum knowledge, the Eleven Plus is often voluntary and region-dependent.

What Does the 11 Plus Exam Consist Of?

The 11 Plus Exam

The subjects covered in the 11 Plus assess a range of skills, including problem-solving, logical thinking, and English skills or language proficiency—all to evaluate a child’s academic ability and readiness to excel in a more challenging secondary school environment such as a grammar school.

The specific content and format of the exam can vary by region and even among different schools, but it typically comprises the following four main components:


Maths questions evaluate numerical and problem-solving skills, covering various mathematical topics including arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.


The English papers assess reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and creative writing. 

Verbal Reasoning

Verbal reasoning tests assess a child’s language, comprehension, and ability to deduct and solve problems logically. 

Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning focuses on visual patterns, spatial reasoning, and logical problem-solving.

Is the 11 Plus Exam the Same Across the UK?

The 11 Plus exam is not uniform across the UK.

Two major exam boards, GL Assessment and CEM, play pivotal roles in shaping the 11 Plus experience for students. GL Assessment administers the 11 Plus exams in most grammar schools, whilst the CEM caters to grammar schools with concerns about predictability and closely follows the national curriculum on their test papers. 

Regional specifics also come into play. For example, in Kent, students take the Kent Test, which is a variation of the GL exam. Some Kent schools even introduce additional tests that can either replace the Kent Test or supplement it, whilst schools in Northern Ireland continue to adopt the Eleven Plus in the form of the Northern Ireland Transfer Test.

But the intricacies don’t end there. Different local authorities and individual schools in different regions might cherry-pick from the offerings of the exam boards. They have the autonomy to choose the specific topics and test papers they want to include in their assessments. This means that the 11 Plus exam that children face may differ not only from region to region but from school to school within the same region.

To understand how your children will be tested, you must become acquainted with the specifics of your local grammar school areas. Get in touch with your local authority to understand the specific requirements in your area. It’s also equally important to communicate directly with the local grammar schools your children intend to apply to.

How Do I Know If My Child Should Sit the 11 Plus?

11 Plus Exams tutoring

When deciding if your child should take the 11 Plus, you’ll need to look at a few important pieces. 

See what the local grammar schools in your area require for admission and talk to your child’s primary school teachers to give you valuable insights into your child’s academic abilities and suitability. 

You can have your child try some mock exams to get a sense of how they might perform in the actual test. 

But most importantly, make sure your child is ready and willing to take the exam. It’s a significant undertaking, so their comfort and motivation are key. 

If you decide to go ahead and your child sits the exam, start preparing a year early and take note of the different skills and subjects covered in the 11 Plus. Your child is likely to need all the support they can including exam preparation practice.

How Hard Is the 11 Plus Exam for Grammar School?

The 11 Plus can be a challenging test for kids. It covers various subjects, demands problem-solving skills, and is conducted under real test conditions, which can be intimidating.

To do well, kids often need to prepare in advance and start early. This can mean some extra study, practice tests, and tutoring, as well as managing time effectively with your child’s preparation for the exam and current school work.

There’s pressure to perform well, which can be felt by both parents and children. Managing this stress is vital to ensure your child feels confident and focused on the day of the exam.

Master the 11 Plus

A unique, confidence-boosting way to study for the 11 Plus

How Can I Help My Child Prepare for the 11 Plus Exam?

The 11+ plus test is not being prepared in most UK state school systems as part of their curriculum. This means that if your child is currently in the UK state school system, or abroad, you will need to prepare it privately, by yourself or with a tutor.

To assist your child in preparing for the 11 Plus exam, encourage regular practice sessions, focusing on subjects tested in the exam. Use practice papers and materials close to the real exam to reinforce their skills and help build their confidence about the test.

You can grab a wide range of practice books tailored to the 11+ at local bookstores and online retailers. Also, numerous educational publishers and websites provide free and paid resources, including practice papers and interactive exercises.

A timed practice test will help your child become accustomed to the exam’s pace. Provide them with constructive feedback, emphasising strengths and areas needing improvement. 

Most of all, ensure they maintain a balanced lifestyle with sufficient rest, physical activity, and a healthy diet.

What Can My Child Expect on the Day of the 11 Plus Exam?

Exam Day

On the day of the exam, children will undergo an assessment evaluating skills in subjects like English, mathematics, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning. The test can comprise multiple-choice questions, written papers, or a combination. Typically, it lasts two to three hours, so children should be aware of the timing.

The exam takes place in a controlled setting, either in a primary school classroom or a central location, with invigilators supervising the process. The specific testing day varies depending on your location, but it often happens at the start of the school year in September.

How Are 11 Plus Exams Graded and When Will We Get the Results?

The pass mark for the 11 Plus exam can vary depending on your region and the school to which you’re applying. In some areas, there’s a fixed pass rate, and students must score above it to gain entry to selective schools. In other regions, the pass rate is relative to the competition and can change each year. 

Scoring above the pass mark also doesn’t guarantee admission, as schools may consider factors like proximity to the school and catchment areas in their decisions.

Results often become available several weeks after the exam. Schools or local authorities usually communicate results, and they will provide detailed information about your child’s performance.

What Happens If My Child Doesn’t Pass the 11 Plus Exam?

If your child doesn’t pass the 11 Plus exam, there are various options to consider. Explore other local schools that don’t require the 11 Plus for admission, such as state schools. Many areas offer alternatives that can provide high-quality education opportunities for personal growth. 

Keep in mind that not passing the 11 Plus doesn’t limit your child’s educational potential. They have various pathways available to achieve their goals. The 11 Plus is just one step in a child’s educational journey.