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11+ Preparation-Advice for Years 3-6

29/08/2023 / 11+ Tuition

Phase 1 – Year 3 & Year 4 (Informal and Preparatory)

Phase 2- Year 5 (Formal Preparation)

Phase 3 Final Preparation (Summer Between Year 5 & Year 6)

Phase 1 – Year 3 & Year 4 (Informal and Preparatory)

Year 3

During Year 3, there is no need to do any formal preparation for the 11+. However, you should be encouraging your child to:

  • read broadly and continually
  • keep focused on all school work and homework, especially maths and English
  • develop a good routine with homework so they get used to doing additional work after school and perhaps at the weekend too

There are 11+ resources produced for the 7-8 age group (Year 3). However, you should think very carefully before starting your child on formal 11+ preparation too early.

Even with bright and highly motivated pupils, 11+ fatigue is a common experience. The most significant risk factor for 11+ preparation fatigue is starting too early and too formally. Imagine doing the same types of questions in the same series of books with the same format for three years! No wonder some children struggle to stay motivated.

General curriculum resources and workbooks should be all that is required in Year 3. If you have concerns about your child’s English or maths, you may want to consider getting them a curriculum tutor (maths and/or English) for Years 3 and 4. Many 11+ tutors do curriculum tutoring as well. You may be fortunate and find a tutor that will see your child right through from Year 3 or 4 to the 11+ exam itself.

Year 4

By Year 4, your child should have built up a good routine with homework and any extra curriculum (English or maths) workbooks you have provided for them. Ideally, they should be excited about starting their 11+ work and see it as something they are working towards.

Again, starting formal 11+ preparation in Year 4 can be a mistake. A child who is capable of passing the 11+ should be able to do it with one year of formal preparation (Year 5). Starting too early risks fatigue. Additionally, it is not uncommon for concerned parents to rush through almost all the quality preparation material on the market before their child is really ready for it. Then, the child’s scores do not reflect their true ability (as they have been tested too early). They also don’t get the benefit of the right material at the right time and at the right level. It can even mean that they have to switch to lower quality material towards the end of their preparation, having run through almost everything else, at a time when they should be using the best quality materials.

There is no advantage to completing Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning material that is outside the age range for your child, for example doing the 9-10 material when a child is in Year 4. If they find it too difficult, you risk demotivation. If they find it easy, they probably don’t need to start doing formal preparation yet. That time would be better spent doing curriculum English and maths, reading widely and improving their vocabulary.

Overall, reading, general maths and English work and developing a good routine take on even greater importance throughout the autumn and spring term of Year 4.

By the summer term of year 4, the beginning of a more formal stage of preparation can start.

  • You can get the latest information about the requirements for the school assessment, which papers your child will take and, if possible, which exam boards are used.
  • If you have not already done so, you can explain to your child what the preparation will include and why they are doing it. It is best to be honest with children that it is a pass or fail situation. A positive but realistic outlook usually works best, however keen you are to get them into the school.
  • If you are planning to get an 11+ tutor, and have not engaged one already, this is the best time to start looking. Tutors often experience a ‘change over’ period in September, where they finish with pupils who have taken the test that year and start with their new students for the following year. The best tutors will fill up their September slots before the summer holidays. However, you will still be able to find a tutor throughout the summer and into the start of Year 5. 


It is never too late to get an 11+ tutor. Tutors can do block or intensive lessons with children who have just moved into the area and must take the test almost immediately. Whilst you should be realistic about what can be achieved in a limited time, a few lessons can make a significant difference, especially in how confident your child feels about going into the exam.

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  • If you have a tutor engaged for September but want to get started in the summer holidays, ask their advice about what would be beneficial. It is best not to start formal practice books without speaking to your tutor first, as they will have experience and a plan for how best to tutor your child. 

Improving Vocabulary

The typical vocabulary range of a nine or ten-year-old is very unlikely to include all the words required for the Verbal Reasoning papers. Whilst formal preparation for the 11+ can be started too early, as we have seen, it is never too early to start working on a child’s vocabulary. This process should continue throughout 11+ preparation.

There are direct and indirect approaches to improving your child’s vocabulary. A mix of both is best:

  • Direct Approach – this takes the form of active vocabulary learning and testing and may include:
    • Vocabulary cards (which can be purchased online)
    • Apps such as Quizlet, which can quiz children using pre-set flashcard lists
    • Interactive apps and educational games designed to improve vocabulary

Hint – if a child is getting all the questions correct, it is probably too easy. There is a learning benefit for getting answers incorrect, as long as the definition is given and effort is rewarded with praise, stickers or small rewards.

Pictures and sentences that put the words in context are important too. Some vocabulary cards will also give synonyms and antonyms (similar and opposite) to help the child create word groups.

  • Indirect Approach – this takes the form of reading appropriately challenging material to build familiarity with words in context:
  • Any age-appropriate reading is positive, whether this is fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, information encyclopaedias, or an app, e.g. Kindle.
    • However, for the 11+, children may need to be steered towards more challenging material than they would select for themselves.
    • Reading to a child by an adult is incredibly valuable, even for short periods. Frequency is more important than length. Discussing the plot, character and any challenging vocabulary is also highly beneficial.
    • Audiobooks can also be brilliant, especially for travel time. Hearing words out loud in context, especially when they do not look like their written spelling, can help children to make meaningful links between difficult words. Some Verbal Reasoning questions specifically test for combinations of letters that sound different in different words.
    • Advanced young modern readers can face a dilemma in that books progress more quickly in the maturity of their content than they do in difficulty. An advanced reader may be able to read books written for much older teenagers, but this can be unsuitable. Equally, they can be left dissatisfied with books aimed at their age group. It is no secret that ‘classic’ children’s books (typically written before the 1970s) provide a much greater degree of difficulty with long chapters, few pictures, challenging vocabulary and phrases that need decoding. That said, plenty of modern classics still offer a stimulating read for children.


If children are reading books on a Kindle or digital app, they can often click on a word directly for the meaning, which keeps the flow of concentration going.

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Phase 2 – Formal Preparation (Year 5)

One academic year is enough time for a child who is capable of passing the 11+ to spend on formal preparation. Any longer risks fatigue and disengagement with the process.

This is where a more formal series of books will be appropriate. This will depend on the types of exams your child will be sitting on and the exam board. The following information will help you to prepare for assessments produced by GL and CEM. Further information will follow for preparing for other types of assessment.

CGP is the market leader and probably the most commonly used publisher of commercial 11+ preparation materials. There are many other providers, such as Bond, Collins and independent publishers.

Most parents use CGP as the main provider of material and, if necessary, supplement it with Bond or other providers. It is probably best to start with one publisher to familiarise your child with the style and layout.


Many online companies offer question packs aimed at specific schools or areas. Some are of higher quality than others. They may be useful as additional work for children who work through the content very quickly. You may want to try a few packs if you are applying for a school that does not use CEM or GL. See also the advice further below for preparing for examinations that do not feature CEM or GL material.

A sample Year 5 schedule using CGP Material for Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths:

Overview of book/paper types –

  • ‘Practice Books’ are larger books that lay out each required skill individually. They have focused questions for each skill in the first part and 6-8 practice assessments in the second part.
  • ’10 Minute Tests’ are shorter books that have short 10-minute tests with a mixture of different skills. They are useful for homework, but at the start, children may not have covered all the skills required. There are usually two books per skill per age group and additional books focusing on difficult skills such as vocabulary, cloze, spatial and coding questions.
  • ‘Practice Papers’ are realistic practice papers with mark schemes that aim to replicate the test conditions the children will face in the exam.

The practice books and 10-minute tests will come in ages 7-8, 8-9, 9-10 and 10-11. Make sure you order the correct exam board for your child’s exam (CEM or GL). All CGP books have removable answer sections with clear, helpful explanations of the answers. Additionally, each book has an online code which provides a free online version which can be used on a digital device.

Year 5 up to February Half Term

  • Work through the skills in the 9-10 Practice Books (tutors often use these in the lessons to teach the children the skills). You can keep a record of the skills your child has covered.
  • Work through ’10-minute Tests’ books for Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths in the 9-10 books for ‘homework’ – aim to start with 1 or 2 tests per day and build up to one of each per day.
  • Use vocabulary cards to learn and test vocabulary.
  • Aim for thirty minutes of reading a day and more at the weekend.
  • From January, aim to have moved on to the Practice Assessments at the end of the 9-10 Practice Book. Your child should be aiming for 85%+.

Year 5 February Half Term to Summer Holidays

  • Work through the 10-11 Practice Books reviewing and consolidating the skills.
  • Move up to the 10-11 ten-minute tests. If your child is finding a particular area difficult, you may be able to get a 10-minute test book to focus on that skill, e.g. CEM Verbal Reasoning Comprehension, GL Non-Verbal Reasoning 3D and Spatial or GL Maths Word Problems.
  • Keep working on vocabulary and daily reading.
  • Work through the assessments at the back of the Practice Books.

Phase 3 – Final Preparation (Summer between Year 5 and Year 6)

This final phase will differ for each child, but your child should be starting to complete practice papers by the summer of Year 5.

Your child should not start doing practice papers until they consistently score above 80% in the assessments at the back of the Practice Books. There are only a limited number of quality practice papers commercially available, and they should be done in exam conditions, timed and without interruption where possible. If there are familiarisation papers provided by the school, you could do these at the same time, but be aware that these may just give examples of the question format and type and not be a full paper.

Even if you have chosen just one commercial provider for your material, such as CGP, you may find that Bond or other providers have relevant Practice Papers for your child. Ensure they are the correct exam board (CEM or GL).

Introducing Multiple Choice Answer Sheets/Grids

When a child is completing the exam, rather than marking their answer on the exam paper, they may be required to mark their answer on a separate multiple-choice sheet with the answer options printed. This is usually done by means of a pencil line in a box. Your child will need to practise using these.

Although the sheets are designed to limit student error as much as possible, the more familiar your child is with these sheets, the fewer mistakes they will make. Practice Books may include an answer sheet for the assessments, which can be downloaded from the provider’s website free of charge. 

Often for Verbal Reasoning, the answer sheet makes the question easier because there are limited options to choose from.

Despite the benefits, answer sheets can be daunting initially. Children will need lots of practice using them. Common scenarios include: marking the wrong box, missing out a question and marking the next group out of sequence, and starting in the wrong part of the sheet.

You may wish to introduce answer grids earlier, but you should definitely familiarise your child with answer grids if your assessment requires them. This is usually indicated in the familiarisation material.

Our Tutors

At Principal Tutors, all of our 11+ tutors are qualified teachers with expertise in the UK primary curriculum and the 11+ exams. You’ll get feedback after every single session to help you feel in control of your child’s learning and progress, and you can even download resources and request a recording of your tutoring session to help you remember key points later.

To learn how 11+ tutoring can help your child give us a call on 0800 772 0974 or you can request a tutor using our online form.


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