If you’re wondering about whether to send your child to grammar school or an independent school, then you may have already started hearing references to the ’11+ exam.’ It is written in a number of ways, eleven plus, 11 plus, 11+ and so forth but they all are the same exam. This exam allows your children to gain access to a number of schools with a real pedigree to them. 

What is the 11 Plus?

So what is the exam and why is it important? The 11 plus is a selective entrance examination sat by children in their last year of primary school. It is used to determine whether or not a child may gain entrance into a grammar school for their secondary education and sometimes referred to as the ‘Transfer Test’. These schools are often some of the best in their areas outside private schools, so it’s well worth getting your children enrolled. 

As Wales and Scotland no longer have grammar schools, the 11+ is only taken in certain parts of England. The test has officially been phased out in Northern Ireland (although some schools still use the test in a different form, called the Northern Ireland Transfer Test, in order to select the most academically able children).

The History of the 11 Plus

The Butler Education Act of 1944 saw the introduction of the 11 plus examination. This was part of a big shake-up of the whole education and schooling system in the UK. Secondary school education was made free to all, in an aim to eliminate existing inequalities in the country. 

Following from this, secondary schools were consequently divided into three distinct types: Grammar, Secondary Modern and Technical schools. The 11 plus was introduced to assess whether students could access grammar schools and those who did not pass were allocated places at one of the two other types of secondary schools.

While the number of grammar schools has dwindled over the years, seeing the divide between comprehensive and grammar schools lessen, they still are a great opportunity for many. The situation will depend entirely on your local constituency but they are more often than not the top schools in the area. 

When to Apply for the 11 Plus Exam and When is the 11 Plus Sat?

These exams and the whole process is separate to the national curriculum. Therefore, you must go outside of the school to ensure you are prepared for the exam. Here is the timeline in which you should start thinking about the 11 plus and have your child sit the exams. 

  • September: Ideally, you will have decided which grammar schools you are considering or even your final chosen grammar school. It is a good idea to visit each school with your child, to get a better feel and to see if it is the right environment for them.
  • April: Most grammar schools will open their registration in April or May and set a deadline around June or July for parents to register their child for the 11+ exam. There is some variability so please check these dates with your individual schools. 
  • September (following year): For most grammar schools the 11+ exam will take place during the first two weeks in September. There is some variability so please check the date with your individual schools.
  • October (following year): For most grammar schools, 11+ results will be posted in mid-October.
  • March (following year): School allocations are confirmed in March.
  • September (two years later): New intake begins Year 7 at each of the 164 grammar schools.

What Does the Exam Consist Of?

The exam does differ depending on the school and constituency but there are a few key areas that schools normally assess. 11 plus and similar exams vary around the country but will use some or all of the following components: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. 

This means your child will need to prepare for four different examination tests. These are a mix of test papers sat in exam conditions and spoken exams. All of which tests your child on the above disciplines. 

Again, as these exams are often separate from the national curriculum, you will need to help your child prepare outside of school. The best way is to have 11 plus tuition outside of school, as it will be difficult to prepare your child yourself. 

The 11 plus exam itself isn’t too difficult but preparing your child for it alongside other examinations is the real test. So ensure they are prepared for the exam with the best help they can get. Devise a preparation plan to help keep your child on track, with lots of mock tests and practice papers. 

Let’s take a look at the different sections of the exam and what they need to prepare for. 

11 Plus English

To make things even more confusing, the English test will usually be divided into three main sections:

  • Comprehension.
  • Applied reasoning.
  • Continuous writing.


This section requires you to read a passage or an extract of text, and subsequently answer a range of questions based upon what you have just read. For the real exam, it is recommended that you spend approximately ten minutes reading the extract given, and a further 30 minutes answering the related questions.

The lines of the text will be numbered in order for you to be able to refer back to them when giving your answers. The types of questions that you will be asked in the comprehension section are designed to test your child’s understanding of the text and the words and themes within it. They will be a combination of both multiple-choice and longer, more descriptive questions.

Applied Reasoning

It is recommended that you spend ten minutes on this part of the test in the real exam. During this section, you will be asked a few different types of ‘verbal reasoning’ style questions.

Given the time frame your child has to answer these questions, they will have to complete them fairly quickly. They will involve more ‘quick-fire’ type exercises and they will be prefaced with an example question and answer so that you can get an idea of what the question is asking of you.

Continuous Writing

Your child will be given a separate booklet for this part of the test. It is recommended that you spend around twenty minutes completing this section in the real exam.

Your child will be set a couple of tasks, and then asked to write a number of sentences (around six or seven) on a subject or topic in your own words. It makes sense to divide your time evenly for these two questions, so with that in mind, you should aim to spend around ten minutes answering each one.

For these questions, they will be assessed on the creativity and quality of the pieces you write, along with the correct and proper usage of punctuation and spelling.

11 Plus Maths

This exam is more simple, with the one test being sat by your child. Your child will be given one test paper and one answer booklet and tasked with answering all the questions within a set time limit. 

It is recommended that your child answer all the questions you can in good time, and not spend too long on a question you are not sure on. This means that they can leave them time at the end of the test to go over and try again on any questions you were unsure of the first time around.

Your child will be tested on mental maths, maths concepts and skills and problems that have to be solved in multiple stages. The test will address maths problems your child has been studying in school. 

The test will not allow your child to use or take in a calculator with them but there is ample space in the answer booklet for working out. The exam board advises that once the test has commenced, you will be unable to ask about any of the questions within it.

11 Plus Verbal Reasoning

These questions are about solving problems and following sequences to do with words and text. Verbal reasoning tests your child’s English grammar and vocabulary. Generally, the verbal reasoning section of the 11 plus exam will be combined with the Non-Verbal Reasoning 11+ paper, and your child will have one hour to complete both sections.

11 Plus Non-Verbal Reasoning

During the non-verbal reasoning paper, your child will need to solve problems to do with diagrams and pictures. There’s also an element of maths involved to this as mathematics and logic often go hand in hand. Non-verbal reasoning is used during the 11 plus so that student’s ability to work out similarities of patterns and shapes can be assessed. As mentioned previously, the non-verbal section of the 11 plus will most likely be combined with the verbal reasoning.

The Different 11 Plus Examination Boards

GL and CEM are the two main exam boards for the 11+ and although they cover broadly the same topics – English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness – there are very real differences to the way the GL and CEM 11+ exams work, which will have an impact on how you support your child.

To help you prepare your child for the 11+, we’ve summarised the key differences between GL and CEM.

Where is the CEM 11+ taken?

The exam boards will depend on your local authority. Here are the lists of authorities that conduct exams followed by the different boards. 

  • CEM regions: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Wolverhampton & Wrekin
  • GL regions: Bromley, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland
  • GL and CEM regions: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Wirral, Yorkshire

Which subjects are covered?

  • GL assessment: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness (schools can choose any combination of these to best suit their selection policy.)
  • CEM Assessment: verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning (‘verbal reasoning’ encompasses many of the skills tested in the GL English exam, including comprehension. ‘Numerical reasoning’ involves the core maths skills needed for the GL exam.)

Prepare Your Child for the 11 Plus 

Make sure your child is prepared for the 11 Plus. Gaining access to grammar school really helps open doors for them, giving them a better education and access to more opportunities. Doing 11 plus mock exams and tests can really help with this. We at Achieving Success provide spaces and examiners to test your child. 

Our 11 plus grammar school programme covers the key content and skills for the CEM and GL exams. Birmingham and Warwickshire pupils sit the CEM exams which consist of two 45-50 minute papers and include: verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and maths questions. The classes are taught in 3 stages to maximise the chance of your child’s success. These stages are:

  • Stage 1 – Tutoring in relevant maths and English skills for the 11 Plus grammar school exams. Content and skill building across NumericaI, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning
  • Stage 2 – Bespoke mock exams. Tutors assess their pain points and critical skills they need to develop before creating exams specific to these needs.
  • Stage 3 – 10 minute speed tests – combining robust accuracy with speed to prepare pupils for the high-stress exam environment

We also offer intensive 11 Plus holiday workshops. These will allow your child to have a teacher coach them on all the different areas of examination. As it is in a classroom setting, this will allow them to have the perfect environment to bounce off other students and really progress. Get in touch today to help secure your child’s future.