11 +

What does the Eleven-plus exam involve?

How Eleven plus exams work

Approaching Eleven plus exams for the first time can be a daunting task. They are unlike any other school exam your child will take for several reasons:
There’s no pass mark. Success or failure depends on your child’s performance relative to the performance of other children sitting the test. The pass mark can vary from year to year and from school to school.
They can’t be retaken. There is no second chance with the Eleven plus so it all rests on your child’s performance on the day.

There’s no national syllabus. Eleven plus exams vary from one area to the other including one town to the next. Often schools are extremely unwilling to give out any information about the content of the exams.
It’s often impossible to see or access past papers. This varies from area to area but the actual papers usually remain a closely guarded secret.
Selective schools give out very little advice. It is common for selective to give out only the vaguest advice to parents when approaching the exam and to discourage very much practise.


The English Paper

The most critical area in my opinion is the English Paper, particularly the comprehension part as this is now very inference-based and tests an understanding of old-fashioned English vocabulary and sayings.
To be prepared it helps if your child is well-read and articulate.
Most of the English skills your child will need to draw on for an 11+ exam will be a continuation of those being developed in literacy classes at school. Some of the questions may be preset at a higher level than your child has come across before, but will be testing the same range of skills and knowledge. Though the content and structure of the paper may differ from one school to the next it will test your child in the areas of:

– Comprehension
– Grammar
– Punctuation
– Spelling
– Extended writing
– Comprehension

These skills are crucial for success in the English 11+ exams, as most test papers include at least one comprehension task. Some papers can be based completely around a comprehension text and could therefore make up 100% of the total available marks.

On average, a child will have approximately 50 minutes to complete an English paper and may be asked to answer questions that require them to find, select or reorganise information in the text as well as provide answers based on personal knowledge, interpretation or opinion. Responses may need to be presented in a range of formats such as selection of the correct multiple-choice option, one word or a short phrase, a few lines or a more lengthy explanation written in several paragraphs.


Grammar, punctuation and spelling

Sound English skills are underpinned by knowledge of the rules relating to grammar, punctuation and spelling. As a result, an Eleven plus English exam will test a child’s understanding in these fundamental areas. Questions based on these core elements of language may be included within the main comprehension exercise, or they may form a separate section that is unrelated to the comprehension text.
Story writing is also very important in this part of the test and children need to be able to write with a good beginning, middle and end. I have a few YouTube videos on storytelling at present.

Extended writing

Most 11+ English exams include at least one writing task. This may form a section within a combined paper that also tests the other skills areas listed above, or it may be set as a separate writing paper.
Some schools will set a writing task but it may not be marked unless a child’s total is borderline with the qualifying score. Where a writing task is taken into account for the overall score, it can carry up to 50% of the total 11+ English marks.
The time frame for a writing task can differ depending on the individual school and style of paper, but usually a minimum of 30 minutes is given. Typically a child will have to choose one or two questions to answer from a selection of options. Questions can be based on a wide range of themes or writing styles, for example:
A factual essay or description
A piece of fictional narrative or descriptive writing
A formal/informal letter or diary entry
A debate
A continuation of a piece of given text
A composition based on a visual image such as a photograph



Strong writing skills form the basis for so many exams and particularly tests which involve specific writing tasks. The focus of these tasks could be pretty much anything, so your child will have to draw on a wide range of knowledge and skills. Try to give constructive feedback on your child’s writing and check they can:

– Write legibly and fluently
– Write imaginatively in a range of forms (narrative, play script, report, letter)
– Adapt their writing style to suit the task (writing to inform, persuade, argue, etc.)
– Engage and entertain the reader
– Plan, organise and develop ideas effectively
– Understand the difference between standard and non-standard English
– Construct simple/complex sentences to create reading effects
– Draw on an extended vocabulary and use accurate spelling
– Use all parts of speech and punctuation marks correctly


Verbal Reasoning Paper

Another critical area is the Verbal Reasoning Paper. This is all about having a good understanding of the English Language, its vocabulary and old-fashioned sayings and proverbs.
It is also essential that your child has a good general knowledge. In order to set this I strongly recommend using an encyclopaedia every day. My advice is to open it at random and I tell my children that is the page the universe wants you to know more about. This concept makes it fun and, by copying/taking notes from that page for 10 minutes, your child will improve their handwriting, punctuation and general knowledge.
I recommend this for 10 minutes each day. Buy your child a super notebook that will encourage them to want to write and make their notes daily. Build this into their after school routine and be available to answer questions and support them as they make their notes.

One of the trickiest parts of the entrance tests are the Reasoning sections – which are usually divided into Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

The two sections are challenging for different reasons and most children are better at one of the two. If your child has high language abilities, reads a lot, writes well and has a good vocabulary, then it is likely that he or she will find the verbal reasoning section easier than most. However, if their English skills are not very good, this can be one of the toughest papers in which to coach a child, as it takes real effort on the part of the student to improve his language level. In this blog post, I will focus on this very important paper.

One of the first things I do with children who come to me is tell them to read. Reading is essential for so many different reasons, but one of the main things that it does is improve your vocabulary. A good vocabulary is not only important for good writing and comprehension skills, it is indispensable for doing well in verbal reasoning. Verbal Reasoning tests can be of a format where children write in their answers on the paper, or multiple choice, where children will need to be familiar with choosing answers from a special answer-sheet.

Verbal reasoning, like non-verbal reasoning, checks students’ understanding of patterns and problem solving, especially when it comes to language. These tests are not part of the National Curriculum, and so students are unfamiliar with this style of testing. It is therefore essential that they are coached not only in the style and content, but in practicing this test at speed. I have several worksheets and workbooks that I give my students during and after classes, as well as material that I have developed myself, to give them a lot of practice in the type of questions that they ask in this exam paper.

You should check if the Local Council or school that you want to place your child in administers this test as part of their exam. Some places do not. Verbal Reasoning papers differ from school to school and area to area, but they usually have similar things that they require students to do:

  • Find and duplicate patterns
  • Solve problems
  • Think logically
  • Understand words
  • Time themselves
  • Know a wide range of spelling rules and spellings
  • Understand linguistic cues and structures
  • Unjumble words
  • Do crosswords
  • Predict what’s coming next

If you are finding it difficult to visualise the kinds and difficulty levels of the questions asked here are a couple of typical questions taken from a sample BOND paper.
Example Question:Find the four-letter word which can be added to the letters in capitals to make a new word. The new word will complete the sentence sensibly.

They enjoyed the BCAST. _________
Answer: ROAD
Confused? The complete word is BROADCAST.

Here’s another Example Question: Find two letters which will end the first word and start the second word.
tro ( _ _ ) tion
Answer: The letters are o and p, to make troop and option.

As you can see if you do not know how the questions work, even if you have a decent vocabulary, it does not guarantee success. This is why it is important to start training your child in the years before they attempt such papers. Besides sending him or her to a tutorial school like mine, you can also play word games with them like Scrabble and teach them to do crosswords. The dictionary is another important tool, which can be turned into a game. More than all of that however, your child has to read, if he or she does not already.

The Maths Paper is now often called ‘Numerical Reasoning’ which means a lot of the maths your children learn will be tested via english language questions. They need to read the questions properly, almost as if doing a comprehension and follow instructions. This approach tests logic, common sense and other skills but in a mathematical format. We look to make this routine for the children attending our KidsLearnFast classes as we teach these techniques from an early age.