About 11+

Information about the 11+ Exam

What is the 11 plus?

The 11 plus (or 11+) is a selective entrance examination for secondary school (which starts from Year 7). It is used by grammar schools as well as many private schools to identify the most academically-able children. It is also sometimes referred to as the Transfer test.

Main Exam Boards

CEM (Durham University)

GL Assessment

It is important to check with the grammar school what board they are using (you can either call them or find the information on their website) as it will affect and also determine how to prepare your child for the exam.
CEM: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Medway, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton.
GL Assessment: Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Buckinghamshire, Plymouth, Northern Ireland and Wiltshire.
GL and CEM: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Yorkshire
Please Note: This is an indicative list and we encourage you to consult with the local council or the local school to understand the current provider for the 11+ test.

What does it consist of?

It focuses on the four main areas below. It might include all or a combination of the four, varying between different regions of the country.

  • English – follows the content of the national curriculum and tests your child’s creative writing skills.
  • Maths – follows the content of the national curriculum and tests your child’s maths concept.
  • Verbal reasoning – tests your child’s English grammar and vocabulary.
  • Non-verbal reasoning – consists of logical based deductions, often with diagrams and pictures.

When is it taken?

The exam period is usually towards the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6 of primary school. Each county has slightly different patterns, criteria and dates for the exam. We encourage parents to contact their local council for specific information.

Where is it taken?

If your child goes to a local authority primary school, they’ll take the 11+ in one of their classrooms. If they go to another type of school, they’ll be asked to take it at a central location like a local grammar school.

Which counties use the 11+?

The 11+ is used in the following counties which have state-funded grammar schools: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Medway, Shropshire, Trafford, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Yorkshire.

Do all children need to sit for 11+?

No, it is not a compulsory exam and it is entirely up to the parents to decide if you want your child to sit for the exam.

How do I know if this is right for my child?

For many students, the 11+ exam is the first competitive exam they undertake and the process can be stressful and daunting.

By heritage, Grammar Schools were designed to be focused on academic studies, with the assumption that many of their pupils would go on to higher education. Students from grammar schools are nearly twice as likely to get into top universities and three times as likely to get into Oxbridge (Mansfield, I. (2019), The Impact of Selective Secondary Education on Progression to Higher Education, hepi Occasional Paper 19, p.28). It is thus important to consider:

An important indicator is whether their school reports are above average or if your child has displayed a special interest in academic subjects – Maths, English and Science throughout their school years. A lot of the questions in the 11+ exams are solvable assuming that the child has clarity of maths concepts, a good level of English reading and a grasp for the language and general aptitude (solving puzzles and odd one out type questions).

Even if the school results until now have not been a positive indicator but the child has shown keenness in sitting for the exam, then coaching and a level of disciplined preparation can also help them achieve their goal. 

Although it is tough to judge at such an early age, do you as parents feel your child would like to continue their education at a good university? The process of getting into a top university is very gruelling, so it will only make sense to put your child through it if the achievement will hold significant value for them.

How do I prepare my child for 11+?

Preparing your child for the 11+ can be rather daunting, but here is some simple, straightforward advice on how to start preparing your child for the 11+:
Before you do anything else, it is crucial that you find out about how the 11+ works in your area.
The 11+ exam is highly regionalised and the subjects your child will be tested on will depend on where you live and what grammar/private schools you are applying to. It is very important that you fall in the catchment to secure a place in the school if your child clears the written exam.
We recommend that focused preparation for the 11+ should ideally start 1 year prior to the exam. Based on feedback from successful applicants and sample tests provided by test setters , students perform better when they have had sufficient time to fully comprehend the material in their exams. Nevertheless, it is important to make sure that your child has a grasp of the basics before the start of this focused 1-year prep. With this in view, we recommend:
Year 2: Focus should be on the concepts taught in school covering Key Stage 1. This can be solidified by doing some practise at home using widely available Key Stage 1 books for Maths and English.
Years 3-4: Focus on key concepts taught in school covering relevant Key Stage 2 syllabus. Towards the end of Year 3 and in Year 4, children can also start a structured training program that is age-appropriate. Many parents use Bond 11+ to help prepare their child for the 11+. Start developing your child’s subject knowledge in Maths and English and introducing some exam techniques, such as working under timed conditions.
Year 5: Focused year for the preparation of the 11+ exam. This should include:
– A structured teaching program – face to face tuition, an online course or through books and guides. This should cover the essential concepts and question types that are relevant for the exam as well as lots of practice questions to help develop speed.
– A Mock Test series – It is very important to enrol your child in a Mock Test Series, as mastering the exam techniques is just as important as mastering the subjects themselves. This means being able to successfully complete the exam within the allocated time and managing exam stress.

To find out exactly what the 11+ exam is like in your area, it is worth directly contacting the schools you are hoping to gain entry to. Most school will host an open day for prospective students. It is a good idea to go to these to aid you in your decision. Looking at the prospectus, talking to students and teachers and looking at past achievements of the school will help you to decide whether the school is suitable for your child. 

What are standardised scores?

Most of us understand scoring systems like those used in our schools, ‘7 out of 10’ or percentage scores, e.g. 70%. Such scores, known as raw scores, are easily understandable and helpful in indicating ‘how many you got right’. However, these scores are less useful in enabling teachers to compare pupils’ performance meaningfully between one test and another and monitor progress over time. This is because raw scores do not account for factors such as:

  • Varying the difficultly of tests from year to year.
  • Varying the aptitude and number of students taking the test each year. 
These factors can make the average scores (and hence selection scores) subject to significant variations year on year. To overcome these challenges, standardised scores are used instead of raw scores as they help balance children's overall performance between years and tests. The process of standard score calculation is relatively complex. We will try and discuss the basics for interested parents and students, but the detailed mechanism is not necessary for succeeding in the exam– it all comes down to attempting questions in a considered, accurate manner and keeping pace with the speed of the test.

What is an age-standardised score?

The standardised scores achieved by each student (as described above and explained later on in this article) are age-standardised. This basically means that the scores are modified slightly to give a small additional score to children who are younger within the year group.
Such adjustments are used because in extreme circumstances there can be up to a year of difference between the ages of the children taking the test and older children naturally:
  • Can concentrate harder and longer
  • Have a wider vocabulary than younger class-mates
  • Display greater comprehension ability
  • Are able to work quicker and with greater accuracy
  • Deal better with exam stress
Although this may be concerning for some parents and children (and equally euphoric for others), it is worth remembering that the factor is very small and the most important parameter remains test performance by far.
On our website, we do not collect the ages for children and hence do not use age-standardisation in our score analysis.

What score is required to qualify the 11 plus?

Each county can have varying criteria (we use the Buckinghamshire county’s scoring system below), but the basics remain similar.

In Buckinghamshire, by achieving a standardised STTS (Secondary Transfer Test Score) of 121 or more, a child is considered suitable for any grammar school within Buckinghamshire, subject to catchment area and other admission policies. This score cut-off of 121 can remain constant from year to year.

The average score is 100 and on average 33% of children are expected to get an STTS of 121 or more. The score range can be between a low of 60 and a high of around 160.

How scores are calculated?

To understand how the process of score standardisation actually happens, one needs to understand the basics of distribution, normal distribution and transformation of any distribution into normal.

Step 1: Standardised Scores
The test results are broken down into three elements (Verbal, Maths and Non-Verbal) and the raw scores from each element are separately standardised using the formula: S = n (x - y)/ SD + 100

In this process, the distribution of actual results (which has a mean of y and standard deviation of SD) is transformed to a distribution with mean 100 and a standard deviation of n.

x: the achieved raw score

y: the mean score of all students who have taken the test

SD: the standard deviation of the sample

Step 2: Weighted Standardised Scores

The three Standardised Scores elements (Verbal, Maths and Non-Verbal) calculated above are individually weighted as follows:

The weighted Verbal score is 50% of Verbal Standardised Score

The weighted Maths score is 25% of Maths Standardised Score

The weighted Non-Verbal score is 25% of Non-Verbal Standardised Score

Step 3: Standardised Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS)

The three weighted scores are added to give the standardised Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS), the score is always rounded down to a whole number.