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About the 11+

If you are unfamiliar with 11+ exams, this article will outline the application and testing process for selective schools as well as the different types of tests.

The Purpose of the 11+ Exams

The 11+ (’11 Plus’) exams are used by selective state-funded secondary schools (grammar schools), bilateral schools and partially selective schools to admit students based on academic criteria.

Students are only permitted one attempt at the exam. It is possible (and indeed advised) for a student to apply to both comprehensive schools and grammar schools, as the exam is often extremely competitive, with some schools having a large number of applicants per place.

Northern Ireland no longer has an official single 11+ exam, but some Northern Irish grammar schools select students using exam results.

Selective Schools

In England, there are many selective grammar schools which admit students purely based on the results of the 11+ exams.

Some selective schools also operate a bilateral streaming system, with a comprehensive stream and a selective grammar stream (for which students will need to pass the 11+).

There are also several comprehensive schools which use selection criteria such as academic excellence or musical ability to allocate some places.

The Selection Process and Results

The 11+ process consists of various academic tests.

Each individual school’s website will clarify the specific 11+ entrance procedure for that school, and Local Authorities will provide further detail, particularly in counties with a large number of grammar or bilateral schools.

The timing of the 11+ also varies by school: most are in the first term of Year 6 but it is important to confirm application and exam dates with good time to put forward an application.

Schools often have a 10-16 week marking turnaround for results. Individual schools and Local Authorities will clarify results dates.

The pass mark varies depends on the school and varies year by year. Some areas have very few grammar schools and a huge number of applicants, whereas others have far more grammar school places available, so competition is substantially lower.

Scores are standardised by age, so that children are not disadvantaged by their date of birth relative to other children sitting the exam.

Content of the Exams

Individual schools vary in what is required for entrance. Often it is a combination of English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning tests, but candidates will not necessarily have to complete all of these.

It is important to check for all tests whether students will be given multiple choice or ‘standard’ papers: multiple choice uses a separate answer sheet whereas ‘standard’ requires candidates to write on the exam paper directly. Some schools use computerised tests.


There is no universal English grammar school test, but comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation can all be included. Creative writing is less commonly tested.


Maths tests often combine numerical reasoning with logic and arithmetic. Calculators are not allowed. Some schools set mental maths tests, in which questions are read aloud to candidates rather than being written down.

Verbal Reasoning

Verbal reasoning involves manipulating language through spelling, meaning and logical interpretation of words. Candidates will be tested on their ability to complete sequences and patterns of words as well as look for relationships between different words.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning requires a candidate to look for alterations and similarities in groups of shapes, drawings and patterns. Candidates will be required to complete groups of shapes and draw comparisons between shapes by selecting figures from answer options to match a group of shapes or complete a sequence.

Different 11+ Test Providers

Schools set their own entrance exams, but many choose to use either GL Assessment (formerly known as NFER) or CEM (University of Durham) exams. All of the exams are intended to assess a child’s natural ability and look for academic potential. The content varies from year to year in order to distinguish between candidates who have prepared comprehensively from past paper materials.

Both providers offer sample materials and example questions to familiarise candidates with the format of the exams.

GL Assessment separates English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning into separate sections (except in Kent, where bespoke tests require students to use skills from all of the different sections).

CEM tests group the skills together, tasking candidates with Literacy & Verbal Reasoning and Maths, Numerical Reasoning & Non-Verbal reasoning. The CEM tests often vary more by region than GL Assessment.

In Northern Ireland, there are two main grammar school consortia. The AQE (Association for Quality Education) uses CEA - Common Entrance Assessment - tests. The PPTC (Post Primary Transfer Consortium) uses GL Assessment tests.