How to prepare for the 11 plus exam

Image by Annie Spratt

If you are considering sending your child to a grammar or independent school, you may have already heard the 11 plus (11+) exam being mentioned (also called the grammar school test). This guide aims to provide all useful information about the exam in one convenient place. 

What is the 11 plus?

The 11 plus is a selective secondary school entrance examination, used by state-funded grammar schools and many selective private schools, to identify the most academically capable pupils. 

The exact dates of the 11 plus examinations do vary between schools, therefore it is important to check directly with the schools you apply to. For state grammar schools, the application deadline tends to be around the July of year 5 and your child will often take the exam in the September of year 6. 

For independent schools, their 11 plus examinations tend to happen between November and January of year 6. They typically release their results shortly after, around February. 


What 11 plus exam board will my child be taking?


Some independent schools in London have formed a type of 'partnership' where your child takes one examination to be used as an application to a whole group of schools. Others require you apply separately to their school and take their specific exam. 

For state funded grammar schools, there are two main exam boards for the 11 plus exam: 


CEM (Durham University) and  GL (Granada Learning)  Assessment.


The exam board used will depend on the location of the school. It is important to note that some schools may be in the same locality but still use different exam boards, so make sure you check. 

GL AssessmentDorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Northern Ireland, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire, Plymouth. 

CEM Assessment: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton, Medway. 

These regions use a combination of both the GL and CEM Assessments: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Yorkshire. 

Grammar schools located in Surrey, write their own 11 plus exam papers known as the Selective Eligibility Test (SET). 

What is tested at 11 plus level?

Whilst the exact content of the 11 plus will vary across the country, it generally targets the following areas:

  • English

  • Maths

  • Verbal Reasoning

  • Non-verbal reasoning

The english and maths components tend to be based around content covered in the National Curriculum. However, the verbal and non-verbal elements are not strictly taught in school. The best way to strengthen your child's reasoning skills is through regular practise. 


How can I prepare my child for their 11 plus exam?


As with any exam taken at primary level, small amounts of practise, regularly and consistently is the best way to prepare. Timed practise is also important using past papers, in order to ensure your child can still work to the same high standard given the time pressure of the exam. These will also allow progress over time to be measured, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. 


The main areas tested in the 11 plus are comprehension and creative writing skills. 


Strong comprehension requires a developed vocabulary. When reading, children are often challenged by words they do not understand for example, words that are not part of their spoken vocabulary; unfamiliar technical vocabulary; and words that have more than one meaning. Encouraging your child to look at words in different contexts deepens their understanding of the nuances in vocabulary. You could ask your child to record challenging words in a dedicated notebook, where they can write definitions using their own words. 

Successful comprehension also requires readers to use their knowledge, to fill in gaps in meaning, this is known as inference. To develop this skill, you could ask your child to make predictions about characters and events in stories. 

To fully understand a text, readers must use both their long-term and working memory. Children can find this a challenge, due to their limited long-term memory and overloaded working memory. To develop your child's comprehension skills, you could introduce some background information to a story, before your child reads and encourage them to take their time, re-reading any sections they find difficult. 

Your child should be reading above the national average. Graphic texts are an excellent way to support your child in accessing higher level reading, developing inference skills and critical thinking. This is because they have to understand the interplay between the words and the pictures to make sense of the text. Gradually building up the amount of comprehension work set for your child, will develop their speed and stamina with challenging texts in addition to answering questions within a tight timeframe. 

Creative writing

To be successful with the creative writing component, it is imperative that your child's response is directly linked to the question rather than a memorised, well rehearsed piece of writing. Schools have been known to ask children to continue the story from the comprehension section or to write a story in response to a given picture, idea or other prompt. 

Schools typically allocate marks for creativity, a wide use of vocabulary, sentence structure, logical organisation, handwriting and spelling. You should ask your child to regularly practise writing around 10 lines a day on a topic they know and love. This can then be used as a springboard to improving their vocabulary, by seeing what adjectives, similes, adverbs, metaphors and other techniques can be added. You could even have a day out at a zoo or museum and ask them to write an account of the days events, before turning it into a story. 

Spelling, punctuation and grammar

Schools may assess grammar, by asking your child to correctly add punctuation to a text. A verbal spelling test may also be given, to assess your child's spelling ability. Students could also be asked to complete a dictation test, where they are required to write down spoken sentences (usually read once and then repeated twice). Schools may also assess memory, by reading a short paragraph (two or three times) and then asking pupils to summarise what they have heard. All of these skills can be developed through practise, using age appropriate resources.  


The 11 plus exam often includes content from the full year 6 mathematics curriculum and in top schools, expectations are well above the national curriculum level expected for this age group.  Mental arithmetic is a key area tested in the exam and can be assessed verbally or as a written exam. The exam will also include extended multi-step worded problems, including money and change, time, arithmetic or a combination of each. There will also be mathematical logic puzzles, that could involve number, shape or time. They test your child's ability to think critically and apply their knowledge to abstract questions. 


The reasoning part of the 11 plus exam will often include a verbal and non-verbal component. 

Non-verbal reasoning

Questions in the non-verbal reasoning assessment, are often centered around mathematical concepts such as symmetry, rotation and size. Often, your child will be expected to determine a particular pattern and correctly choose the next component in the sequence.


Other common questions in this section include:

  • Identifying which shape is the "odd one out"

  • Working out cube nets or what shapes will look like when folded

  • Working with mirror images or reflections

  • Correctly identifying what a shape will look like when rotated by a certain number of degrees. 

Typically students will have to select the correct answer from a selection of 4 or 5 multiple choice options. 

Verbal reasoning

Verbal reasoning is essentially a form of problem solving based around words and language. These tests are designed to test your child's ability to understand and reason using words. This is a test of skill rather than learned knowledge. Schools use these tests to assess your child's potential to problem solve and think critically. 

Typical questions in this component include:​

  • Identifying the odd one out or two words with the same meaning from a list of words

  • Finding antonyms (opposites) from lists of words

  • Spotting a hidden word inside another word 

  • Adding one missing letter to complete two words

  • Codebreaking, where each letter of the alphabet is coded for by a number or different letter. (For example if A becomes C, B becomes D, C becomes E then "fqi" would code for "dog".  

Making the decision to receive tuition for the 7 plus exam, requires careful evaluation and you must have clear goals in mind. It is often said that, tuition at 7+ level most importantly requires a teacher qualified to teach this age group.     

Painted Green Arrow

School Entrance Experts

At Jacob Tuition, we are proud to offer a high quality consultation service, using our experience to support your child  in applying and preparing for success with their 11 plus entrance exams. We will support and guide your child throughout all stages of their journey, ensuring they find a school they are best suited to. 

We also offer a unique school application service if required, where we can research suitable schools for you and even organise the application process all for you, providing ongoing advice and guidance as required. 

In addition to the application side, we provide quality fully qualified teachers, to expertly deliver outstanding entrance exam tuition for your child both online or to your home, at your convenience. 

Tuition will always begin with an academic assessment of your child's current ability, we will compare this to the national average and give an honest judgement of schools that your child will be best suited to and are realistic options to aim for. This will enable us to identify if your child will gain from our expert tuition, we will then make a bespoke learning plan, to ensure your child reaches their goals. We also assess if your child would benefit from our other services, such as mock interview practise via our online tuition platform

Schools we prepare our students for

We prepare children for the 11 Plus assessments required by many of the UK’s leading schools including:

  • Abbot’s Hill, Hemel Hempstead

  • Acland Burghley

  • Aldenham School

  • Alexandra Park School

  • Alleyn’s, Dulwich

  • American School in London

  • Arnold House

  • Ashmole Academy

  • Bancroft’s School

  • Belmont Mill Hill

  • Belmont School

  • Benenden School

  • Bishop Challoner

  • Bishop Vesey’s Grammar

  • Bishop’s Stortford College

  • Blackheath High

  • Brighton College

  • Bute House

  • Camden School for Girls

  • Central Foundation

  • Channing School

  • Cheltenham Ladies’ College

  • City of London School

  • City of London Freeman’s School, Ashtead

  • City of London School for Girls

  • Colchester Royal Grammar School

  • Colfe’s

  • Dame Alice Owen’s

  • Devonshire House

  • Downe House

  • Dulwich College

  • Eaton Square Schools

  • Eltham College

  • Emanuel School

  • Epsom College

  • Eton College

  • Farringtons

  • Forest School

  • Fortismere

  • Francis Holland School

  • Fulham School

  • Godolphin & Latymer

  • Greenshaw High

  • Grey Coat Hospital

  • Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys

  • Haberdashers’ Aske’s Girls

  • Haileybury

  • Hall School, Hampstead

  • Hall School Wimbledon

  • Hampton Court House School

  • Hampton School

  • Harrodian

  • Heathside, Hampstead

  • Hendon School

  • Henrietta Barnett

  • Highbury Fields

  • Highclare School

  • Highgate School

  • Highgate Wood School

  • Hurstpierpoint College

  • Ibstock Place

  • Immanuel School

  • Immanuel College

  • James Allen’s Girls’ School

  • JCoSS

  • JFS

  • John Lyon

  • Kensington Prep

  • King Alfred’s

  • King Alfred School

  • King’s College, Wimbledon

  • Kingston Grammar School

  • Lady Eleanor Holles

  • Lady Margaret School CofE

  • Latymer Upper School

  • Le Sainte Union

  • Lichfield Cathedral School

  • London Academy

  • London Nautical School

  • Loreto College

  • Marylebone Boys’ School

  • Merchant Taylors’

  • Mill Hill County

  • Mill Hill School

  • More House

  • Mount House

  • Newton Prep, Battersea

  • North Bridge House

  • North London Collegiate School

  • Notre Dame

  • Notting Hill and Ealing High School

  • Palmers Green High

  • Parliament Hill

  • Parsons Green Prep

  • Pipers Corner School, High Wycombe

  • Portland Place

  • Princess Helena College, Hitchin

  • Prior’s Field, Godalming

  • Putney High School

  • Queen Elizabeth Boys’ School

  • Queen’s College London

  • Queen’s Gate School

  • Queenswood School, Hatfield

  • Radnor House

  • Reed’s School

  • Rutlish School

  • Sharrardswood, Welwyn

  • Solihull School

  • South Bank International

  • South Hampstead High School

  • Southgate

  • St Albans School

  • St Alfred School, Hampstead

  • St Aloysius’ College

  • St Anthony’s

  • St Benedict’s, Ealing

  • St Catherine’s School, Twickenham

  • St Cecilia’s School CofE

  • St Christopher’s, Hampstead

  • St Christopher School, Letchworth

  • St Dunstan’s College, Catford

  • St Edmund’s College, Ware

  • St Francis’ College, Letchworth

  • St Helen’s School

  • St James, Olympia

  • St John’s

  • St Margaret’s School, Bushey

  • St Margaret’s School, Hampstead

  • St Martha’s

  • St Martha’s, Potters Bar

  • St Mary’s School, Hampstead

  • St Mary’s, Wiltshire

  • St Michael’s High School

  • St Michael’s Catholic Grammar

  • St Paul’s Junior School (Colet Court)

  • St Paul’s School

  • St Theresa’s, Effingham

  • St Mary Magdalene

  • St Marylebone School CofE

  • St Mary’s and St John’s

  • St Paul’s

  • Stoke Newington

  • Streatham and Clapham High

  • Sussex House

  • Sutton Grammar School

  • Sydenham High School

  • The Archer Academy

  • The Kings School, Canterbury

  • The Latymer School

  • The London Oratory

  • Thomas’s, Kensington

  • Tiffin School

  • Trinity School

  • UCL Academy

  • UCS, Hampstead

  • Watford Grammar for Boys

  • Wellington College, Berks

  • Westminster School

  • Westminster Under

  • Wetherby School

  • Whitgift

  • William Ellis

  • Wimbledon High School

  • Winchester College

  • Winston Churchill International School

  • Woldingham

  • Wren Academy

  • Wycombe Abbey

  • Yavneh College

At Jacob Tuition, all of our 11 plus exam tutors are fully-qualified teachers. To enquire about tuition, please call us on 07748192800 or click the enquiry button below and tell us your tuition requirements. We look forward to supporting your child with their studies.