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How to excel in the 11 Plus (11+) exams 

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

There are 164 grammar schools across the UK, and a large number of independent schools, that use the 11+ exam to allocate their Year 7 spaces each year. 

Securing high marks in this examination will ensure that you have the opportunity to apply to your child’s first choice for their next school. 

Typically, the 11+ exam contains a set of multiple-choice and written papers that examine students in verbal reasoning (VR), non-verbal reasoning (NVR), English, and maths. Whilst in-depth revision of these subjects increases the chances of your child succeeding, here are a number of other things you can do to support your child along their 11+ journey.

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1. Research the exam board

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Firstly, it is important to know which exam board provides the 11+ exam your child will sit.

Where you live and which school you apply to will determine which test your child will sit. Although these tests are similar, there are some distinct differences and knowing the exam your child is taking will help them prepare effectively for their exam.

There are three exam boards for the 11+ exam that administer the test:

  • Granada Learning (GL Assessments)
    • Paper-based exams, usually multiple-choice and used for grammar school 11+ entrance
  • Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) 
    • Online exams, typically used for grammar school entrance exams
  • Independent Schools Examining Board (ISEB)
    • Multiple-choice, adaptive online exams used by over 70 independent schools 

2. Start preparing early

The earlier your child can start revising for the 11+ exams, the better. Ideally, your child should start preparing for the 11+ at the end of Year 4 or the start of Year 5. 

Beginning early and tackling topics in bitesize chunks will reduce stress and ensure your child absorbs all the relevant information. Preparing in advance will also help you to identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses, ensuring you have enough time to help them in the areas they are struggling in. 

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To excel in the 11+, you need to make sure you are encouraging your child to develop healthy study habits, as young children can quickly become overwhelmed. 

Having a regular study plan in place, setting time aside each day and staying organised can ensure your child has plenty of time to practise. You should also encourage your child to take regular breaks and get enough sleep, as too much work could overload them. 

3. Ensure all subjects have been covered

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As previously mentioned, there are a number of exam boards that administer the 11+ exam. However, all of these exam boards test on the same four subjects: English, maths, and verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

It is therefore very important that your child covers all of these subjects in their studying: 

  • English
    • The typical format of the English paper is a reading comprehension containing 20 questions and 3 spelling, punctuation, & grammar sections, each with 12 questions.
    • Your child will be tested on spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, vocabulary, comprehension, and literacy.

  • Maths:
    • The maths paper is typically 80 questions over 60 minutes.
    • Your child will be tested on their understanding of and ability to apply Key Stage 2 (KS2) National Curriculum maths.
    • Questions can require either multiple-choice and/or standard written answers.

  • Verbal reasoning:
    • The verbal reasoning paper is typically 49-56 questions over 50 minutes.
    • It assesses your child’s language-based problem-solving skills by testing their vocabulary, arithmetic, pattern recognition skills, and spelling.

  • Non-verbal reasoning:
    • The non-verbal reasoning paper typically contains 80 questions and is 60 minutes long
    • There are usually 4 sections, each with 20 questions. Each section is presented separately and is individually timed.
    • It assesses your child’s visual problem-solving skills through sequential pattern recognition, as well as logical & spatial thinking.


It is also vital to remember that there are two question formats that can appear in the 11+ exam: multiple-choice and questions that require a written response. You should ensure that your child is familiar with and practises both formats if they appear in the exam from the school they are applying to.  

4. Practice, practice, practice

Once you have covered all the topics that will appear in the exam, it is essential that your child practices as many questions as possible using a variety of resources, including practice exam papers, sample questions, and mock tests. 

These are not the only way to test your child’s knowledge, but providing your child with these practice papers will help them become familiar with the exam format and question styles and improve their confidence under time constraints. 

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Practice papers are also a great way for you to see where your child’s strengths and weaknesses are. Once you have identified the areas that your child could improve in, you can adjust their studying techniques and focus so they arrive at their exam feeling confident in all areas. 

Examberry Papers

One of the most effective way to prepare for an 11+ entrance exam is to use practice tests written by experts.

We offer a range of  11+ revision resources including area & school-specific papers, subject-specific papers, spelling & vocabulary resources, and reading books.

Each of our practice tests:

Key Recommendations for the 11+

Further Recommendations for the 11+

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