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The British schools “11 + Exam” explained

If you are planning to move to the UK and your children are in Primary Year groups, you may have heard about the “11 + Exam”.

Simply London, the leading London relocation agency, is giving you some useful information to understand this milestone of the British Education System.

Why is it called 11 + Exam?

The 11+ is an examination taken by pupils in their last year of primary school, which is in Year 6 of the British Curriculum.

The ’11’ does not refer to the school Year Group but to the entry age in the secondary (for an entry in Year 7).

When was it created?

The test was born out of the “tripartite system” that was introduced to England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1944, that split schools into grammar, technical and secondary-modern classifications. This system has now become obsolete and few Grammar schools are still existing, even though the Prime Minister Theresa May would like to create a new generation of grammar schools.

What was its purpose?

This test is a selective test.

It was initially created to select the most able children and give them the opportunity to gain a place into a state funded grammar school.

Nowadays, this test is still used for grammar school entry (164 grammar schools still remain in England vs 1298 in the 60’s) as well as for getting a place into a secondary independent school (fee-paying school).

How does it work?

The 11+ exam varies throughout the country and the type of school chosen (Grammar school/ Independent School) in terms of the subjects and also the examining board used.

There are 4 subjects:

–          Verbal reasoning: Selecting words, Sorting words, Codes and Sequences, Verbal and Numerical Logic

–          Non-verbal reasoning: Identifying Shapes, Missing Shapes, Rotating Shapes, Loaded Shapes

–          English: Comprehension, Spelling, Vocabulary, Punctuation & Grammar, Word Choice

–          Maths: Number Equation, Number Logic, Graphic Data, Shape & Size

Maths and English tend to follow the National Curriculum but the verbal and non-verbal reasoning are not school-based subjects.

Parents should check, for each school they would like apply for, the calendar of these tests as well as the subjects taken.

Good to know: some Independent Schools may use the Common Entrance Exam (CEE) or their own exam instead of the standard 11+ Exam.

The CEE is made by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) and the papers set are identical for all the schools which use it. You should always check for this information on the schools’ website or by speaking with the school’s Registrar.

How to prepare my child for the 11 + Exam?

The 11+ plus test is not prepared as part of the curriculum in the state school system.

This means that if you wish to prepare it, you will need to do it privately, by yourself or with a tutor.

From my experience, I would say that the ideal time to start this training is 18 to 12 months prior to the exam.

A lot of Independent schools prepare the children for the 11 + (that is the reason why they are called Prep-Schools), but the selection is so hard that the parents still have extra tutoring for their children.

For Grammar Schools, the test can be extremely selective. Few places and lots of competitors (e.g. 450 applicants for 80 places is often the ratio). This means that there is no standard pass mark. In this example, the school will take the top 80 test marks get in.

Same for the Independent schools: the better the academic results and reputation the school have, the higher the pass mark will be.

The last thing to bear in mind as well is that other criteria can exist to get a place in your most coveted school such as: Faith, siblings, distance to the school, talent in sport/music …

Once again, always do your research and check the admission criteria for each school or contact Simply London if you need any educational advice.


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