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The 11 Plus Exam: What To Expect

01/06/2023 / 11+ Tuition

The 11 plus exam provides an overview of a student’s abilities as they enter secondary education. This exam is only taken in some schools in England, as Wales and Scotland do not have grammar schools.

If your child has the 11 plus test coming up, it’s helpful to know what to expect so they can prepare well for the examination.

In this post, we cover everything you need to know, including how your child will need to prepare to take the test confidently.

What is the 11 plus exam?

Sometimes referred to as the transfer test, the 11 plus exam is a test taken by some students in England. Pupils aged 11 and over or in the final year of primary school (year 6) typically take the exam, and it’s usually completed at the beginning of the school year.

Once the results are processed in early autumn, parents can then use these to apply for secondary school placements. The test can vary slightly from region to region. But overall, there is a general guide on what to expect on the day and what’s included in the exam content.

What does the 11 plus exam incorporate?

This exam covers various topics to understand where your child sits in ability and understanding. The subjects covered in the test include:


English is an integral part of the curriculum in secondary education, and it’s helpful to get a guide on how well your child performs in this area. The tasks in the exam cover:

  • Spelling
  • Comprehension
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Creative and essay writing
  • Synonyms and antonyms

These skills will typically be based on Key Stage 2 English.


Mathematics is another vital area for students, and this part of the test is based on Key Stage 2 Maths. Typical areas are:

  • Problem-solving
  • Algebra
  • Ratios
  • Measurement
  • Properties of shapes
  • Data handling
  • General addition, subtraction, division and multiplication

Verbal reasoning

This area often confuses students, but it covers their problem-solving abilities using words in English and Maths scenarios. For example, the test might include:

  • Breaking codes using words and numbers
  • Solving puzzles
  • Following instructions
  • Processing verbal information

Non-verbal reasoning

This style of questioning involves assessing a child’s problem-solving skills and includes things like:

  • Processing information from pictures
  • Discussing how shapes and objects relate
  • Identifying patterns
  • Using visual maths skills

In some areas, non-verbal reasoning is not included in the exam. So, it’s best to check first before a child revises for this element.

How long does the 11 plus exam take?

The timing of the 11 plus exam differs between regions, but generally, they last between 45 minutes and one hour. This feels relatively short for some children. At this point in their educational journey, they aren’t used to managing time effectively in exams.

So, a great way to prepare for this exam is by practising timed tests and helping your child to break down the sections into time intervals.

What is the structure of the answers in the test?

This test has a variety of questions and answer types, but the most common are multiple-choice and standard-answer questions. In the multiple-choice answers, there is often an out-of-the-box answer and some obvious wrong ones, designed to catch pupils out, especially if they haven’t read the question correctly.

The standard format answer provides a space for students to write their answers. There will generally be more space to give workings, and in some cases, these questions are awarded two points – one for the answer and another for the workings out.

What’s the pass rate for the 11 plus exam?

Again, the pass mark differs between regions as this may depend on the spaces available at grammar schools. Some areas have limited placements, and competition may be high to fill these spots.

However, more broadly, the pass mark sits around 80% or above.

What equipment is needed for the exam?

Students will most likely be given the necessary equipment they need to complete the test. However, depending on the test centre, you may also be given a list of requirements.

It’s vital that your child knows how to use specific equipment such as a protractor and ruler. It’s also essential that if they need to correct answers, anything erased is done properly so the answer is clear and easy to read.

Above, we’ve covered the main aspects of what to expect on the 11 plus exam. Now, it’s onto how parents and children can prepare to get the best results.

Tips for parents to help children prepare for the 11 plus exam

It’s important to know how to help your child prepare so they feel confident in their abilities going into the exam. Here are a few aspects to cover:

Practise times tables

General multiplication will feature in the exam, so helping your child master the times table can help. For example, try quizzes to test their knowledge. Or devise ways to make it fun, like making up a rhyme to help it stick.

Widen their vocabulary

Pupils require a good vocabulary for the test, so expanding this knowledge will help them. Use different sources such as books, TV programmes (like the news and documentaries), and even chat about everyday things. This helps build a wide range of words and understanding of the English language.

Hire a tutor

It’s understandable if you feel out of your depth as a parent, especially when it comes to helping children with tests. So, a great way to take the pressure off is to hire a private 11+ tutor. They can help devise revision strategies and cover the various areas, especially ones where your child needs improvement.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your child

Exams are naturally stressful, and at 10 or 11 years old, they are still relatively new to the educational experience. Of course, you want them to do well, but too much pressure to perform can hinder results and cause stress for parents and children.

Helping them feel relaxed and confident in this test is the best approach, no matter the outcome.

Tips for children to prepare for the 11 plus exam

Children at this age don’t have a huge range of experience with examinations, so there are a few things they can try to make the process easier.

Use practise papers

The best way to get better at something is to practise and practise some more. There is a variety of mock tests for the 11 plus exam that children can try out. This gives them a feel for the type of questions they might get. But also, it offers a chance to improve time management so they can answer all the questions in the allotted hour.

Always ask for help if needed

It’s natural for children to feel like the question they need to answer is silly. But teachers and parents are there to help, no matter the question.

Read all the questions properly

Marks are often missed because questions are not understood correctly. Take time to read each question thoroughly, and don’t rush through it, even if you think there’s little time left.

Double-check your answers

If you have time to go through your answers again, it’s a great opportunity to double-check any you feel might be incorrect. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes we don’t spot them until we take a second glance.

Read before bed

Reading before bed can help you absorb things better as you’re in a relaxed environment. However, don’t get carried away and stay up too late, as tiredness has the opposite effect.

What happens if you run out of time for the exam?

Running out of time on the 11 plus exam is not the end of the world – although, at the time, it might feel disappointing. The pass mark is generally 80%, so children do not typically need to gain 100% to get the required results.

It’s natural for a child to feel nervous about the questions and time limit, and this can cause barriers when answering questions. However, if they think a question is too difficult, it’s best to leave it and return at the end if time is left. It’s better to answer most of the questions right rather than stalling on the ones they struggle with.

Try not to leave answers blank, particularly multiple-choice questions. Even if you don’t know the answer, having a guess could help you get a few more marks.

Lastly, try to work out a pace for the exam. Again, doing practice tests will help with this, and you can transfer this technique to your 11 plus exam.

Prepare for the 11 plus exam with Principal Tutors

If your child needs additional help preparing for the 11 plus exam, hiring an online 11+ tutor could help. At Principal Tutors, all our tutors are qualified teachers, so you know they have all the right training and curriculum knowledge to help your child succeed. Speak to our team today at 0800 772 0974 for more information on what we cover, or book a tutor online today.


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