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Preparing Your Child for the 11+ Exams

25/08/2023 / 11+ Tuition

Almost every state selective school will hold their exam in the September of Year 6. If you know that you have a selective school or schools in your area for which you would like to enter your child, then you may want to think of the preparation for the 11+ in three phases:

  • Phase 1 – (Years 3 and 4) – Informal and preparatory
  • Phase 2 – (Year 5) – Formal Preparation
  • Phase 3 – Final Preparation (Summer between Year 5 and Year 6)

See our ‘11+ Preparation-Advice for Year 3-6’ blog for detailed information on the three phases.

11+ Resources

Preparing for Back-to-Back Assessments

11+ Resources

The plan described above demonstrates how a child whose 11+ exam is provided by CEM or GL can work towards the 11+ exam using commercial content provided by CGP. A similar process could be followed with Bond or another educational publisher. The information following will give suggestions for resources you can use with your child when a specific exam board is not named.


If your child is taking a maths or English exam that is not provided by the two main providers, they may still be able to use GL or CEM material to prepare, especially for maths, alongside other curriculum material.


For maths preparation, the 10-11 material for both exam boards (GL and CEM) will give your child a good grounding in what they need for the exam, supplemented perhaps by some Year 6 curriculum workbooks for anything not covered in Year 5. 


The GL English books are also suitable for general English preparation. However, you will want to look carefully at the familiarisation material to see what is required. If your child is required to handwrite long-form answers, Year 5 and 6 ‘comprehension’ workbooks (again, CGP has an excellent range) would be a good place to start. CGP also produces a ‘stretch’ comprehension series which would be more suitable towards the end of the process. Your child should be able to correctly quote supporting evidence from the text, explain their answers in full sentences, and identify style features such as similes and personification.


If your child has to complete a writing task, it is vital to find out how long the writing part of the assessment is. The length can range from 15 minutes to up to an hour which makes a huge difference in terms of what is expected and the approach to take. The style of task that your child might expect has already been detailed, but in terms of preparation, you should aim to do the following:

  • Your child can start doing timed writing tasks right from the start of Year 5. They should be used to doing creative and productive (non-fiction) writing at school.
  • You will need to provide them with titles, pictures or prompts (these can be found online, or you can make them up yourself).
  • If a child doesn’t have many ideas, you might want to discuss some ideas with them first or model an example for them. Making up stories to share together orally is also valuable and motivating. For example, you could take 30 seconds each to develop a story further and then swap over when the timer runs out.
  • Discourage stories that are ‘copied’ from TV shows, films or other forms of media.
  • Once they have finished the writing, your child will need prompt, specific feedback about the content, spelling, punctuation and grammar (including paragraphing) and presentation.
  • If there are lots of mistakes or issues, it is better to focus on one or two things to work on next time rather than trying to correct everything. Ensure you praise your child for things they have done well.
    • For example: ‘You have used some really great vocabulary! I’ve highlighted the words I think are particularly good, well done! Watch the spelling of…. (correction). Do you remember what we said about paragraphing? I think we could break this into three paragraphs. Where do you think the paragraphs should go? (correction). Good, so our target for next time is to focus on paragraphs. When do we need a new paragraph? (discuss).’ Reminding a child of their target before their next piece of writing is the most likely way to ensure progress.

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Preparing for back-to-back assessments

If your child is sitting multiple papers for the assessment (and most will), you should aim to recreate this experience at least a few times towards the end of the holidays to ensure your child has a chance to build the stamina required for up to three hours of examination time.

This means you need to find a time when the child can sit all the papers back-to-back, with a short break in between, under timed conditions and in silence.

Between these practice tests, your child can continue with regular ’10 Minute Test’ content, any remaining practice material or other resources you have available. CGP also have a ‘Stretch’ version of their 10-11 practice book for many assessment areas, which can be an excellent resource for those coming to the end of the material. It is important to remember that the 11+ exam will include a range of question difficulty, from moderate to extremely difficult. The CGP ‘Stretch’ books only contain the most difficult questions, so do not be discouraged if your child finds them too hard.

Taking a break

You will need to give your child a break from 11+ preparation during the summer holidays. A short time away from the books will not disadvantage them, especially if they seem to be developing fatigue or reluctance. Parents are often alarmed when their child’s score suddenly drop a few weeks before the exam. This is often a sign that they need a few days off and will most likely come back with fresh enthusiasm for the final stage of preparation.

The vast majority of learning and preparation for the 11+ will need to take place outside of school, yet in a structured way. Overall, the probability of success in the 11+ is significantly improved by the following factors.

  • For the parent success for their child is increased by:
    • having all the correct information about the 11+ exam that their child is sitting, including the exam board, subjects tested, length of paper and any relevant content.
    • keeping up to date with any changes to exam content, as well as an eye on any upcoming application deadlines.
    • helping the child to see the big picture and perhaps rewarding progress and effort with stickers or other small prizes.
    • prioritising 11+ preparation over some other clubs, activities and hobbies when 11+ preparation is at its most intensive.
    • taking responsibility for day to day preparation and providing a suitable environment for quiet working if possible.
  • For the child the likelihood of passing the 11+ increases if they:
    • have the content and the skills for each 11+ subject taught to them in a precise, structured and engaging way.
    • work carefully and diligently through high quality practice material that gradually increases in difficulty in line with their progress. This should occur daily during Year 5 with perhaps one day off a week.
    • receive regular, prompt and specific feedback about their progress and given strategies to improve.
    • read quality books daily and having quality books read to them as often as possible.
    • have a positive and resilient attitude to working through difficult material.

Preparing your child to have the best chance of passing the 11+ takes time, patience and effort from both parent and child. There are very likely to be difficulties and challenges along the way. However, most capable children enjoy preparing for the 11+ and gain significant educational benefits from the additional work. This includes skills that apply directly to the classroom, for example, in English or maths, as well as the broader benefits of increased concentration, attention to detail, the rigours of close reading, mastering challenging vocabulary, working at speed, and problem-solving.

Many parents find their child responds most positively to the framework of a lesson environment provided by a professional and friendly tutor. A balance of weekly lessons with a tutor, and parental support for additional preparation, practice and reading time, provides a formula that has worked successfully for most children who have passed the 11+.

Our Tutors

At Principal Tutors, all of our 11+ tutors are qualified teachers with expertise in the UK primary curriculum. 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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