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What is the 11 Plus (11+)?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the 11 Plus (11+)

The 11+ exam (or ‘Transfer Test’) for grammar school admission was established in 1944 by the Butler Education Act and was compulsory until the 1970s. Today, there are 164 grammar schools across the UK that are involved in this Year 7 entrance examination system for secondary schools. 

Multiple selective independent schools also participate in this exam which tests Year 6 primary school students’ abilities as part of their admissions process. Children who sit a consortium’s exam gain application eligibility to all participating grammar schools, avoiding the need to sit multiple exams for different schools.

The key subjects the test usually covers are verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English, and maths. Although, some schools use a combination of only some of these subjects. The tests may be carried out over the course of one day, with breaks in between, or over a few days.

Notably, the 11+ can only be taken once so it is important to prepare for the test to achieve the best results.

Grammar vs Independent School 11 Plus (11+) exam

How do grammar and independent school entrance exams differ?

Grammar: several multiple-choice papers in one exam which is generally marked by a computer. Some grammar schools have a stage 2 exam. No grammar schools hold interviews as part of their admissions process.

Independent: typically independent schools adminster exams with multiple papers in stages:

  • Stage One: typically multiple-choice and electronically marked by a computer.
  • Stage Two: typically a written standard test and marked by the school. This may not be included in the assessment but instead may be used in addition to an interview to support your child’s Stage One results.
However, some independent schools may just have one written stage to their entrance exam. Sometimes they hold short interviews (typically 10-15 minutes) as part of their admissions process. 

11 Plus (11+) Exam Content

Independent and grammar schools may include a combination of the following subject areas in their entrance exams:

Number of questions & time spent on them are based on standard GL Assessment papers.

English: (49-56 questions, 50 minutes) the typical format of an English paper is a reading comprehension with 20 questions as well as 3 spelling, punctuation, and grammar sections, each with 12 questions.

  • Reading comprehension: usually uses text covering two A4 sheets; the text can be modern or classic, poetry or prose. This section tests your child’s ability to infer information and their grasp of vocabulary.
  • Spelling, punctuation, grammar: typically questions which test children’s ability to spot mistakes and complete sentences using words from a provided list.
  • Creative writing (sometimes included): your child is provided with a prompt to make up a story about a certain topic and they must produce a piece of writing in 30-45 minutes on that prompt. This section tests your child’s ability to structure paragraphs, use descriptive & figurative language, grammar, and punctuation.


Maths: (80 questions, 60 minutes) tests understanding of and ability to apply Key Stage 2 (KS2) national curriculum maths (what your child is learning in primary school from ages 7-11). Usually they are provided with several answers to select from but they can sometimes be given a box for a written answer. The key areas to revise for the maths paper are numerical reasoning and numerical fluency. 

Verbal Reasoning (VR): (49-56 questions, 50 minutes) assesses your child’s language-based problem-solving abilities through testing their vocabulary, spelling, arithmetic, and pattern recognition skills.

Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR): (80 questions, 60 minutes) the typical format of a NVR paper is 4 sections each with 20 questions; each section is separate and individually timed. NVR tests your child’s visual problem-solving abilities through sequential pattern recognition as well as logical and spatial thinking.

Common Questions about the 11 Plus (11+)

  • What kinds of questions are in the 11+?

There are two kinds of 11+ questions: standard and multiple-choice.

Standard: written answers in answer boxes.

Multiple-choice: several options to choose from which you mark off on the answer sheet.

  • What does a physical paper look like?

For physical paper tests, your child will receive a separate question booklet and answer sheet.

  • Who sets the questions?
Questions may either be set by the school, a consortium (a grouping of schools who all share the same admissions/exam process), and/or by an exam board.  Some examples of consortiums are the London 11+ Consortium, the Slough Consortium, and the Birmingham Grammar School Consortium. The following list notes the key exam boards for the 11 Plus:

GL Assessments (Granada Learning): one of the two main exam boards, paper-based exams, taken in exam halls, typically for grammar school entrance exams.

CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring): one of the two main exam boards, online exam, typically for grammar school entrance exams.

ISEB (Independent Schools Examining Board): used by over 70 independent schools, multiple-choice adaptive online exam, typically for independent entrance exams.

  • What score is needed to pass the 11+?

It is important to note that there is not a set pass mark; the number of people who take the exam that year, their respective scores, and the schools’ admission criteria are all taken into account.

The latter includes who the school gives priority to; for example, local children (children within their catchment area), (previously) looked after children, and children with siblings already in the school.

The scores are also age-standardised and put into a ranking system. The tests are very competitive so securing a high score is vital.

How to prepare your child for the 11 Plus (11+) exam

The most useful way to prepare for the 11+ entrance exams is to use practice papers to familiarise your child with the exam content and format. 

Our website offers a range of practice papers that focus on the essential skills your child needs to prepare for the 11+ entrance exam including English, maths, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning. These practice tests can help your child to build their confidence and improve their performance on the exam.

On our sister site, Examberry Tuition, you can also sign up for in-person and online 11+ tuition courses and 11+ mock exams to give your child the best chance of getting into the top school of their choice

We recommend these practice papers if your child is looking to apply for the 11+ entrance test:

Verbal Reasoning: https://examberrypapers.co.uk/papers/11-plus/verbal-reasoning

Non-Verbal Reasoning: https://examberrypapers.co.uk/papers/11-plus/non-verbal-reasoning

Maths: https://examberrypapers.co.uk/papers/11-plus/maths

English: https://examberrypapers.co.uk/papers/11-plus/english

Examberry Tuition: https://www.examberry.com

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