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Your Guide to 11 Plus Preparation for Grammar Schools

Your Guide to 11 Plus Preparation

Is your child looking to apply to a UK grammar or independent school? Children seeking admission to selective UK grammar or independent schools typically sit the 11 plus exam in Year 6 – but not without proper preparation first.

Below, education experts from Atom Learning – an online learning platform that helps your child master key subjects and prepare for 11 plus and independent school exams – outline their recommended 11 plus prep journey.

What is the 11 plus?

The 11 plus is a selective entrance exam taken by Year 6 students (usually ages 11 and 12) used for entry to selective independent schools and grammar schools in the UK.

Grammar schools, which are academically competitive state secondary schools, typically assess students’ attainment in English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. Especially competitive grammar school regions may have a second stage to their application process, but will not have interviews as part of the process. There are two main exam boards that administer the 11 plus for grammar schools: CEM and GL. These two boards each have their own formatting of the exam, but the content is largely the same.

Independent schools, which are not funded by the government and charge a fee to attend, tend to use a wider variety of examination boards. Additionally, there can be multiple rounds of examinations followed by interviews and group assessment days. Admissions procedures and examinations tend to vary school to school, so your best resource is always the school’s website if your child is looking at a particular set of schools.

You can refer to this 11 plus glossary for a deeper understanding of some of these terms.

When should my child start preparing for the 11 plus?

If you are considering grammar or independent school entry for Year 7, your child should begin 11 plus prep no later than the end of Year 4, and ideally earlier. By starting early, your child’s 11 plus readiness will build over time and can be broken down into a few key phases:

Stage 1: Lower Key Stage 2, Year 3 to Year 4

Lower Key Stage 2, which refers to your child’s time in Years 3 and 4, is the time to lay the groundwork to avoid later stress and ensure your child is on track to excel. At the beginning of Key Stage 2, your child can begin preparing by focusing on a core understanding of English and maths. By the end of Year 3, the goal is that by building a solid foundation, your child is working above expectations across English and Maths subject areas.

It is also a good idea to introduce your child to verbal and non-verbal reasoning topics as early as possible, as these subjects are not taught in most UK state schools and it can vary when it is introduced to your child if they are at a prep school. You will want to begin verbal and non-verbal practice by the end of Year 4.

On the whole, it is also important to keep your child’s practice balanced, practising often in small time intervals while tackling different subject areas.

Stage 2: Upper Key Stage 2 – Year 5 to Year 6

Once your child reaches Year 5, they will want to begin to prepare more seriously for the 11 plus exam, with regular practice of Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Aiming for 20 to 30 minutes on school days is a meaningful, consistent approach, complemented by a longer session over the weekend. In this regular practice, your child will want to cover a balance of new content and revising topics previously covered.

If you are using Atom Nucleus to prepare online, you can view your child’s overall course progress across all 11 plus subjects. By the end of the Spring term of Year 5, you will want to ensure that all sub-topic areas have been covered; familiarity across all topics, rather than mastery, is the goal at this stage.

As your child transitions from Year 5 to Year 6, the focus of your child’s 11 plus preparation will shift from familiarity to mastery. At this point, you will want to see your child demonstrating a strong understanding of and an ability to excel in all the sub-topics covered on the 11 plus exam. Here, their prior foundational knowledge will allow them to scaffold their knowledge to more advanced levels of each topic.

It is at this stage that you will also want your child to begin taking 11 plus mock tests to build exam confidence and highlight subtopic areas that require further review. In Year 5, it is ideal for your child to complete a mock test for every 11 plus subject once every term while also continuing with regular review. In the Summer term of Year 5, your child can advance towards taking one test per month. Continuing with this rate through Year 6 and increasing to one test per week once your child is one month out from the exam will provide your child with a strong level of exam fluency leading up to their exam date.

With this plan, your child will enter test day with the knowledge and confidence they need to excel on the 11 plus and, hopefully, gain entry to their first choice school.

Looking for more 11 plus resources? Learn more with Atom Learning’s 11 plus guide and use code F7UXVw3C to receive 10% off your first purchase of an Atom Learning subscription.

Is your child sitting the 11 plus in September? Below is a map of how your child can use the next six months to prepare.


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