The Ultimate Guide to 11+ Options

As much as we would all like to think that the Grammar School Entry test is a fair way of finding out who is capable of succeeding at Grammar School, it really is not. When our first son took the test we really did believe that if he was meant to go there he would get in without any help and luckily with just a quick look at some of the 11+ papers he did get in. Yes we were surprised he didn’t get into the school of his choice but just figured that he wasn’t intelligent enough. Child two we even appealed for a grammar school place at the school our first son went to. So fast forward on to child number three and we have are wiser now and are aware of what the 11+ options really are.

Is the 11+ and Grammar School Right For your Child?

First of all I think you need to start with thinking about what kind of child you have: Do they want to do the 11+ and are they the sort of child who will thrive at Grammar school? Find out about the schools in the area – are there other ways to gain admission (such as through technology, music or sport); do they have a certain number of children in the catchment area/registered for SEN etc? Is there an order of difficulty to get in?

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

This is certainly the case in my area as there are only super-selective grammars which mean they only go by the results on the 11+ papers. First of all I took our son to look around some of the grammar schools nearing the end of year 4. I wanted him to have the opportunity to see what they were like before starting any work. Let’s face it if they weren’t for him why put him under any extra pressure, and (because he did want to go) it gave him a goal to aim for, a reason to work hard. It also helped him consider which one he favoured – having a preference over the school with a swimming pool over the one with the good chicken in the canteen (these are important things to weigh up for a 10 year old). But also for parents to decide whether ultimately they are going to let their child decide which school they are going to go to (test results permitting), whether they will try to sway the decision, or just tell them where they are going).

How the 11+ is administered

Once you know that your child does want to go to grammar school and it is right from them then find out how the 11+ is administered in your area: Check the Grammar schools’ websites for information. In my area I need to make sure that I have applied to the grammar school (or schools) using their online registration forms, as well as applying to the local education authority. Last year the registration period to apply to sit the 11+ was open throughout the month of June, with the test itself on the second Saturday morning in September so it stands to reason that this year it will be roughly the same. Again currently there is only information about last year but: there were two papers which were an hour long each; instructions were provided and prepared by audio soundtrack and the children were only allowed a pencil, eraser and pencil sharpener – but were NOT allowed scrap paper to work out their answers (but could use the question booklet for this).

pencil , pencil sharpenings, and pencll sharpener
Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

The 11+ has changed in our area since our last son took the test (from Non-Verbal Reasoning to CEM) apparently making it more tutor proof, so you’d like to think that makes it easier for families like mine. We come from a relatively poor area and a school that really is failing its pupils (so much so it has a high turn-over of staff and a lot of children leaving – actually resulting in their only being one year 5 class in a large school).

Helping your child to Pass the 11+

Apparently now all students need to do to pass the test is read more – but this isn’t the case as a lot of what is in the 11+ is not covered on the Year 5 curriculum (as the test is right at the start of year 6 in the September). This means families are doing one of 4 things:

  1. Not bothering with the test at all
  2. Just letting their children try the test and see if they pass
  3. DIY Tutoring
  4. Getting in a Tutor

    Tub of pencil crayons
    Photo by Anton Sukhinov on Unsplash

Honestly I do not think options 1 or 2 are for us. I mean we used to believe that if a child was intelligent enough they would just pass the test – but to be honest how is anyone supposed to know how to answer questions about things they are not familiar with (for example find the mode when they do not know what the mode is!). Not to mention the vast amounts of people paying for tuition because it is going to save them a fortune in private school fees in the long run, or generally people with enough money to tutor to ensure their child/ren have the best education they can afford.

How to Pass the 11+ DIY Tutoring

We DIY tutored our oldest two sons who both got into grammar school. You can buy 11+ practice books and papers at differing levels and it is important to start easier and work up, pitching at the right level for your child. This familiarisation with past papers also helps understand the format and question styles: The 11+ exam has different question types each with their own best techniques for answering them. Help you child become familiar with the questions and methods first, worrying about how long it takes to complete the paper later on (speeding up slowly as you practice). To do this they need to have an awareness of time – set them up with a timer so they can so long the papers are taking them and how quickly they are expected to answer. They need to learn to be decisive, trusting their answers and move on quickly. Get them to work under exam conditions – including silence and whether they are allowed calculators etc, not allowed to stop and ask for help.

11+ exam papers
Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

When we started the 11+ practice for our third son it was important to try and discover which of the content our son was and wasn’t familiar with. We started looking at previous 11+ papers to find out what areas he hadn’t covered at school (mainly in maths: algebra, means, ratios, pie charts etc) to discover it also  included a lot of the year 6 curriculum, that he obviously will not cover in school.

How to Make the 11+  Easier

Personally I think that some people start with 11+ practice way too early in my opinion but there are some things that you can start early on which will help with the 11+ but generally be beneficial to the children long term. The best thing to do is encourage your child to learn their times tables and get them reading. On the plus side it doesn’t matter whether they get into grammar school or not then it is all good for their education.

Whether you get a tutor or not there are some fun ways to make the 11+ easier. Things you can do from a really young age are to develop a love of reading, play spot the difference, jigsaw puzzles, wordsearches, snap card game and treasure hunts.

Personally I think the end of Year 4/Start of Year 5 is the best time to really start thinking about things. You can introduce crosswords, tangrams, card games such as Dobble, board games such as Scrabble, Labyrinth logic games (Chess, draughts, Cluedo), Sudoko and expand their vocabulary by getting them to read a variety of materials and learn new words each day.How to play Labyrinth Ravensburger

We bought our year 5 logic books and sat with him and went through how to think logically about working things out using what information he already had/knew. Next I bought him books that I believed would help with his vocabulary – Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island for instance. I encouraged him to write down words he didn’t know the meaning of (and find out what they did) and his school was encouraging the use of a thesaurus. This is all the kinds of things before even looking at the 11+ exam. Building on from this it is important to ensure that 11+ practice is fun – so we utilised a number of word searches, card games, apps, crosswords, and more puzzle books. Remember quality is better than quantity and a little bit of learning for 10-15 minutes each day works better than 60 minutes once a week.

Consider getting an 11+ Tutor

The costs of an 11+ tutor can be alarming and not all tutors are good. Some will simply sit the child with a paper, or on a computer. I have heard that good ones can be booked up so far in advanced and have heard children as young as in year 1 being tutored. There can be so much pressure for children to pass and some parents do not care how much this costs (and let’s face it caring about your child’s education is not a bad thing). But this isn’t the case for everyone.

pile of books
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Our third child is very bright and self-motivated. He insists on learning things, such as when he badgered me with his times tables until he knew them inside out by the time he was at the beginning of year 2. I worry about the sheer amount of knowledge he now needs on this new 11+ test and feel it would be a real shame if he did not pass the 11+ entrance exam. I did not think we could afford any kind of tutoring and have been told repeatedly that our son is bright and does not need it. But then I heard about Explore Learning and actually for him to do the 11+ course (which is 1 hour once a week) – with child care vouchers it worked out not much over £10 a session*. He hasn’t even been to an 11+ session yet, just the taster and he has come away with some materials and already he has got stuck in.  He was reluctant to go to bed as he was busy expanded his vocabulary (in area which is really a bit of a weakness!). Tomorrow we are off to the library to see if we can find the book that the others in his group have just finished reading, or some of the other books on the recommended reading list. I shall let you know how he gets on but it feels such a relief to know that someone else is going to help make sure that he doesn’t have gaps in his knowledge. The children are also rewarded with cards for effort whilst they are there, which they can trade in for prizes.

11+  Mock Tests

I have recently heard about the uptake in children taking mock tests for the 11+. In fact I have come across the fact that they can take one monthly from February through to September. In my area these cost around £50-£55. This gives you an idea of where your child is are (and compared to their peers who also take the test that day), you can see where they need improvements; plus it helps them be more familiar with how things will run on the actual day of the test so that they are not overwhelmed. This also helps to ensure that they understand how to clearly mark the paper (which is marked by a computer), help them see how quickly they need to answer and can relieve any anxieties they might have otherwise had about the test on the day.

clock on the wall with hand showing 2:50
Photo by Eder Pozo Pérez on Unsplash

The most important thing to do is to offer encouragement and reassurance – especially if your child is applying for a super-selective. The 11+ test is designed for super-super-super clever people so let your child know that they aren’t expected to get all the answers on the 11+ right. That actually it is a really competitive thing to be involved in and they just need to try their best. Depending on how much they want it will determine how much effort they put in. Lastly, if you can set them up with a learning buddy – it will help them feel less alone, and they will be able to bounce ideas off each other.

If you are interested in Explore Learning then you can tell then you can use my name as a referral. I am not being paid to say any of this at all. I have edited to this post to include an extra one or two ideas in the ways to make it fun section. They provided us with lots of materials including a fantastic reading list. There are discounts for those who may struggle to afford it too.



* he also will be having another session included in the cost of Maths and English.

4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to 11+ Options”

  1. It is a minefield! Good luck to your son when the time comes. It makes me quite angry that the National Curriculum now makes no allowances for more able children so, as you said, there are things that crop up in the test that they won’t have covered at school, so parents of state school kids have no option but to either use a tutor or tutor themselves. Luckily our tutor is incredibly cheap!

    • Bet you are glad you don’t have to go through it again. Things have been further complicated by the fact that one of the boys schools is going co-ed this September too. Apparently the only all boys school was easier to get into this year so I am also unsure of the academic order iykwim.

  2. I refused to pay for a tutor, however, both my girls did online 11+ practice. I didn’t help them at all. The eldest missed out by a few points, the youngest passed. However, I rejected the Grammar school, where we live it’s more about snobbery and ‘my child goes to grammar, don’t you know,’ than what is best for the child.

    Academically, I believe both girls would have thrived at the grammar school, but socially, neither would have been happy in a single sex school, and the bitching and bullying there is widely known locally (as is the high level of self harming) Both my girls go to a local comprehensive which is a maths, science and IT specialist. The facilities are far better than the grammar and guess what? They’re both in the grammar stream.

    You are absolutely right, people need to visit the schools, do research and most importantly decide is this the ‘right’ school for your child.

  3. I’m glad this is a long way off for us! I went to a grammar school but my sister didn’t, even though she technically passed the 11+ my parents and the school thought she’d do better in a secondary school that focused on the arts and they were right.
    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the #BlogCrush linky! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂


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