Whether it’s preparing for the test itself with practice exams or improving areas such as verbal and non-verbal reasoning, maths and English, preparing for the 11+ test can seem like a lot of work. The good news is there’s plenty of support out there for parents who want to help their children to pass the test successfully.
What is the 11+ Test?
The 11+ Exam is taken at the end of primary school and is used to determine whether a child is suitable to go forward to grammar school or selected school education.
While a number of education authorities now operate what is called non-selective education in their area, the test is still used in many parts of England for grammar, independent and private school entry. 11+ exams usually take place for Year 6 pupils during September, but actual dates can vary from place to place. It is a good idea to check the website of the school you are applying to at the beginning of Year 5 as you will need to apply to them directly for your children to sit the 11+ exam. The school will contact you with details of where and when your child should attend for the exam. Some schools also provide some sample practice materials which may be sent to you or, alternatively, can be downloaded from their website. After your child has taken the test, the results are usually released as a standardised score for pupils in October.
The test has been gradually phased out of schools in the last few years in Northern Ireland, but some still operate what is called a Transfer Test in some areas.
The 11+ test is not compulsory and you only need to consider it if you want your child to go to a grammar school or selective school from Year 7.
The 11+ Exam
The Exam itself tests four components:
Verbal Reasoning: This isn’t just a test of things like grammar and vocabulary but explores your child’s ability to work systematically, understand and follow information and sequences as well as solve problems.
Non-Verbal Reasoning: While there’s a little bit of maths in this section, it’s more about applying problem solving and understanding visual information such as images, diagrams and patterns.
Maths: A variety of different maths skills are assessed in the maths tests including mental arithmetic, fractions, decimals and percentages, shape, space and time, algebra and problem solving.
English: The English tests consists of a set of challenging comprehension questions on fiction or non-fiction text, followed by spelling, punctuation and grammar questions. Independent schools often include a written English exam (sometimes referred to as ‘Composition’) designed to test your child’s creative ability and how they put together a piece of written work as well as their grammar and spelling.
11+ Exam Boards
There are two boards that handle the testing for 11+ Exams: Your child will sit either a GL Exam or a CEM Exam. Which school uses which board will depend on the area you live in but they each have slightly different exam formats.
GL exams are each composed of a single subject and can be presented as either a standard or multiple-choice format while CEM papers are mixed multiple-choice, combining comprehension, cloze procedure, grammar and spelling, verbal reasoning, maths and non-verbal reasoning across two separate papers.
Whilst there is a certain amount of similarity between the two exam boards, it’s important to check which exam board your chosen school uses so that you can familiarise your child with the format for that particular exam. This will help them to approach the exam confidently on the big day.
Preparing and Practicing for 11+ Exams
As with so many things in life, preparation and practice are key to passing the 11+ test. The great news is that there plenty of resources available outside of the school environment that can really help to hone those verbal and non-verbal skills as well as maths and English. Preparation and tutoring can begin as early as Year 4 for children who are expecting to take the test in the future. Don’t worry too much at this stage if you haven’t decided on which schools to apply to and hence whether your child will take a GL or CEM style exam. Many of the key skills necessary to be successful in the 11+ exams apply to both exam styles. Once you have made your mind up about school choice in Year 5, your child will still have time to perfect their exam technique.
In the meantime, there are lots of resources to help you to help your child prepare. There are many books and practice papers available. Some of these can be printed off, whilst others can be completed online. Online exams have the advantage of providing children and parents with automatic marking, instant feedback and progress tracking – perfect if you are a parent short on time. Some of these sites combine Skills Banks of 11+ questions that can be used alongside online exams, enabling children to practise authentic exam questions in addition to taking online assessments. This is great if you are preparing your child at home, but will be equally useful to a tutor, if that is the route you decide to take.
For many parents, and indeed children, the prospect of taking the 11+ exam can be daunting. But with adequate preparation and practice, some mock testing and the right support, however, you can ensure your child is ready for the big day and has a great chance of passing.