Whether your child is preparing for the CEM or GL Assessment 11+ Tests, Letts 11+ Success provides familiarisation and realistic practice ahead of the tests to build confidence and ensure success.
About the 11+ Tests
11+ Tests (also called the 11 Plus) are examinations used by selective state secondary schools in England.
These schools only have limited places available each year and they use the results of the tests to select the highest quality candidates to fill those places.
Children applying to these schools sit the tests in Year 6.
The 11+ Tests were officially discontinued in Northern Ireland, but many of the grammar schools still use English and maths tests as part of their admissions process.
A selective school admits students on the basis of some sort of selection criteria.
There are 164 grammar schools in England that are fully selective.
There are eight bilateral schools, which operate two streams: a comprehensive stream and a grammar stream (which is selective).
There are also a small number of partially selective schools, who use selection criteria to fill a proportion of their available places.
Some schools will base selection entirely on the results of tests. However, many make their final allocation of places based on a combination of criteria, including performance in tests, other assessments and an individual interview.
You should be able to find out about the admissions procedures and section criteria of individual schools from their own website or the Local Authority to which they belong.
Most 11+ Tests now take place in September of Year 6. However, it is important to check application dates and test dates well ahead of time.
Once your child has taken the tests, the marking and admissions process begins.
Results for the 11+ tests do not come quickly! You should be prepared to wait between 10 and 16 weeks. Check with the school or your Local Authority when results will be made available.
Understanding the Results
The pass mark is determined by how many places are available at the school. Consequently, these often vary from year to year.
In order to make testing fair, scores are standardised by age: this means that some allowances are made for younger children within each year group.
The success rate for the 11+ tests varies greatly by region. For example, some grammar schools will attract several thousand applicants for less than 200 places, so the success rate is relatively low. However in other areas, where there are far more grammar school places available, there are fewer applicants per available place and so the success rate is significantly higher.
Some schools will ask you child to take tests in English, maths, verbal-reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. Others will only test a few of these subject areas.
English is tested to determine whether a child has attained the required standard of English skills, including reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
There is no standardised form of writing task and schools often create their own.
Maths / Numerical Reasoning
Mathematics is tested to determine whether a child has attained the required standard of mathematical skills, reasoning and problem-solving.
Calculators are generally NOT allowed for maths questions.
Some schools will also set their own mental maths tests (where the questions are read out to the child, rather than being in a written format).
Verbal reasoning questions are used to assess a child’s ability to use, understand and analyse language. They often involve careful analysis of word structures, patterns and spellings and require logical thought and reasoning, including the ability to look for patterns and identify relationships between words.
Verbal reasoning questions give schools an insight into a child’s ability to interpret, understand, use and manipulate words. These skills are fundamental to learning and so give an indication of a child’s potential for learning across the curriculum.
Verbal reasoning measures one aspect of a child’s cognitive ability and should not be confused with IQ.
Non-verbal reasoning assesses a child’s ability to see patterns and relationships independently of language. The questions feature shapes, pictures and patterns and allow children to demonstrate their ability to analyse, deduce and infer from close observation.
The tests are particularly helpful for children who may have specific difficulties with literacy or for whom English is not their first language.
Non-verbal reasoning questions provide schools with an indication of a child’s potential to work successfully with abstract concepts. The results are good indicators of future learning and success in a number of subject areas.
- Find out as much information as possible about the schools your child is applying to well in advance
- Check the Ofsted inspection reports for your chosen schools online
- Read the prospectus and check the website for each school.
- Arrange to visit the schools during a normal working school day.
- Before you visit, prepare a list of questions.
- Although most tests now take place in September, closing dates for applications and test dates vary, so make sure you check when they are.
In most cases, the 11+ selection tests are set by either:
- GL Assessment (NFER)
- CEM (The University of Durham)
- the individual school.
You should be able to find out which tests your child will be taking on the website of the school they are applying to or from the local authority.
Until recently GL Assessment (NFER) were the main provider of 11+ Tests to schools and LAs. Depending on the individual LAs’ requirements, they provided ‘off the peg’ or bespoke tests.
Both schools and GL claim that the purpose of the tests is to assess natural aptitude and that they cannot / should not be revised for. However, the style of the GL test papers has not changed for many years, so the formats and question types are well established, allowing publishers to produce revision and practice materials matched to them and tutors to drill pupils in the type of questions that will come up.
GL set separate, subject specific papers and schools choose whether to use the tests for all four subjects or just two or three of them:
- Verbal Reasoning
- Non-verbal Reasoning
The tests are available in two formats: standard or multiple-choice.
For the multiple-choice tests, pupils are given several answer options for each question, and they must indicate the correct one by marking it on a separate answer grid.
The concept of standard papers (as opposed to multiple-choice) can be a bit misleading as, in practice, pupils are given several answer options for each question in these tests to. The main difference is that they must indicate the correct option on the question paper itself, rather than on a separate grid.
It is worth noting, that for one LA (Kent), GL has now started producing bespoke tests, which will feature a different mixture of questions from all the main disciplines each year. This type of test is closer in style to those set by CEM (see below).
CEM (The Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University)
This GL monopoly was broken a few years ago when some LAs opted to start using tests provided by CEM (The Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University).
This is seen as a move to return to tests that assess natural ability and away from the culture of tutoring / extensive preparation in a very narrow skill set.
CEM claim that their tests are accurate and fair and are designed to enable all children to demonstrate their academic potential without the need for excessive preparation. To make them ‘resistant to prepping’, the format of the CEM papers, the subject coverage and the type of questions featured is varied each year.
CEM release ‘familiarisation materials’ prior to the tests. These materials give information about the format of the assessment and include some example questions.
The CEM tests have wider scope than the GL tests, but the skills are grouped into just three broad subject areas:
- Literacy & Verbal Reasoning (which includes Comprehension)
- Numeracy & Numerical Reasoning
- Non-Verbal Reasoning.
A CEM 11+ Tests consists of two papers. Each paper is divided into timed sections, which focus on what particular skill / area of knowledge.
The papers are invigilated using an audio CD, which divides the test into timed sections. This ensures fair invigilation for all candidates, but also puts additional pressure on children taking the tests.
The CEM tests are more bespoke than the GL tests, so there is greater variation in level of difficulty by region.
These tests seem to adhere more closely to the National Curriculum than the GL Assessment papers, although there has been some criticism that they favour children from independent schools, working 1-2 years ahead of the National Curriculum.
For pupils to do well in the CEM tests:
- They must have strong arithmetic skills
- They must have strong reasoning and problem-solving skills
- They must have a strong core vocabulary
- They must be flexible and able to understand and respond to a wide range of question types and formats, without being panicked by unfamiliar question types
- They must be able to work under time pressure.
The 11+ Tests were officially discontinued in Northern Ireland in a bid to introduce fully comprehensive (non-selective) education.
However the grammar schools still tests pupils in English and maths as part of their selection process.
There are two main consortia of grammar schools:
- AQE (Association for Quality Education) – using tests produced by CEA (Common Entrance Assessment)
- PPTC (Post Primary Transfer Consortium) – using tests set by GL Assessment.
Preparing for the 11+ Tests
Taking tests can be stressful for your child, but detailed planning can help to minimise this.
Although the timings below may seem a long time ahead of the 11+ tests, they suggest a realistic time-frame to make preparation effective and manageable.
- Confirm which schools you are applying for and check on application closing dates
- Talk to your child’s class teacher about their educational strengths and weaknesses. These include:
- Their expected SATs results
- Their reading and spelling ages.
1 Year – 9 Months
- Begin to prepare for the tests by:
- Assessing areas of strength and weakness, so that you know which areas to target
- Planning your child’s practice to fit in with family routines.
- Decide whether you want to employ a tutor to support your child in their learning or work together to produce a programme of practice.
- Ensure that the planned work is weighted towards the skills your child will need to practise the most.
- Think about incentives and rewards to make this practice a positive experience.
- Begin to prepare for interviews by planning suitable days out (that can provide suitable discussion topics).
3 – 1 Months
- Try conducting a practice interview.
- Build in some games and activities to build relevant skills.
- Rehearse basic maths and spelling at speed, to promote fast recall of information.
- Go over key skills in your child’s known areas of weakness.
- Use practice test papers to:
- Familiarise your child with the test format
- Provide invaluable practice at answering questions in a limited time period
- Assess progress and target areas that need further practice.
- Give your child a rest from testing.
- Plan an educational visit that could act as a talking point in an interview.
- Plan the route and timings for the day of the tests.
- Check information sent by the school, listing equipment you will need to provide (equipment will need to be taken in a see-through pencil case).
- Draw up a checklist for the day (an analogue watch is helpful for your child to see how much time they have left in a test).
The Night Before
- Prepare equipment and clothes.
- Encourage your child to do something relaxing.
- Make sure they have an early night.
The Morning of the Tests
- Go through your checklist.
- make sure your child eats breakfast.
- Leave in good time.
- Encourage your child to enjoy the challenge and show off what they have learnt.
Many schools base their final selection on how well the applicants perform in an interview.
With the right preparation, your child can use this opportunity to show their potential to be a good member of the school and find out whether they will be happy there.
You can help your child prepare for the interview by making a web diagram of things that they could talk about.
If you have recently visited a sports match, museum, National Trust or English Heritage property, these make ideal topics to prepare for discussion.
Rather than asking them to make copious notes, help your child to complete a web diagram on a small index card with questions they may be asked, so that they can quickly refer to it should the right opportunity come up in the interview. For example:
Meeting the Interviewer
With your child, go through these tips on preparing to meet the interviewer:
Calm yourself with these techniques when you are waiting to go into the interview room.
- Imagine you are holding an eggshell in each hand. This helps to relax your fingers and release tension.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to three, and then breathe out through your mouth at the same pace. Concentrate on your breathing to clear your mind.
- Do talk to other candidates who are waiting, but don’t pester them for information.
- Read useful information on posters and notice boards in the room.
Entering the Interview Room
- Knock before you enter.
- Say ‘hello’ in a friendly and polite way.
- Shake hands firmly if the interviewer offers their hand.
- Wait for the interviewer to indicate a seat before you sit down.
What to Wear
First impressions are important:
- Find out in advance about the expected dress code. Your child’s current school uniform is usually a suitable option.
- Make sure that the clothes they will be wearing are clean and ironed and that their shoes are cleaned and fastened securely.
- Make sure their hair is tidy and any fringe is trimmed in advance. If your child’s hair is long, tie it back.
Creating an Impression
Here are some tips to help your child create a good impression. Go through them together:
Interviews test your ability to communicate and body language can help you to do this if you appear relaxed, interested and confident.
- Sit in a relaxed way, but don’t slouch.
- Sit so that your body, including your legs and feet, points towards the interviewer.
- Don’t put up barriers by crossing your arms in front of you.
- Smile, but only when appropriate – don’t just grin all the time.
Watch Your Hands
- Keep your hands away from your face and hair.
- Don’t touch your nose before you answer a question.
- Use your hands to express yourself, keeping them folded at other times.
Keeping Eye Contact
- Look at the interviewer, but don’t stare – remember to blink.
- Don’t be tempted to look away if they ask a difficult question.
- Don’t shut your eyes while you think about a question.
You are more likely to be able to both ask and answer questions if you are prepared. Researching information about the school in advance will help with questions on areas of interest to you such as sports and music. Your research will also make it easier to answer questions put to you.
Think about why you would like to go to the school, based on the information you have found out. It is important to be clear about your own views when talking about the school with the interviewer.
Avoiding Yes/No Answers
- Treat every question as an opportunity to tell the interviewer something about yourself.
- Try adding an example to your answer, or qualify it. For example, ‘No, but…’, ‘Yes, although I sometimes…’
Answering and Asking Questions
- If you’re asked about an area of weakness, explain how you’ve tried to improve.
- If you’re asked a factual question and don’t know the answer, say so.
- If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be repeated or ask for an explanation.
- Ask questions that show you have already found out something about the school and would like to hear more details than your research has provided.
Good interview technique is a skill and, like all other skills, can improve with practice.
Familiarity can reduce anxiety, and if your child has experience of how to deal with the interview experience they stand more chance of putting themselves across positively and confidently.
Preparing a Mock Interview
When your child feels confident in the preparations you have been through, consider preparing a mock interview so that they can experience the situation in advance. You could conduct this yourself or consider asking a good friend who your child knows well and feels confident with.
The aim is to make this a positive experience to build your child’s confidence, but it should also simulate the situation they are likely to encounter, so the setting is important.
Choose a room that you are sure will be undisturbed for the 15–20 minutes you will need. Set the room out so there is somewhere for you to sit and go through your notes without your child seeing them and somewhere for your child to sit.
There does not need to be a desk unless you feel more comfortable having somewhere to write.
Prepare an interview checklist, like the one below, to help you mark your child’s performance.
You can share it with your should ahead of the mock interview, so that they understand the structure of the interview. That way, they can concentrate on what they have to say, rather than on what they have to do.
Make it clear to your child that you expect them to act as they would do in the real interview situation. For example, knocking before entering, greeting the interviewer and introducing themselves, as well as answering and responding positively to the questions.
Explain that you will be marking them on all aspects of the interview at the end and that you will go through the marks together so that you can talk about where they could improve.
Topics for Discussion
Prepare a topic for discussion to form the main theme of the interview.
Choose a subject that you feel could be challenging but will enable your child to express their views. Do not simply choose a subject you know your child will have particular knowledge about as this will not be realistic practice for them.
The following opening sentences may give you some ideas:
- ‘I am interested in hearing about what you would like to do with your life.’
- ‘I’d like you to tell me about your personal heroes and heroines.’
- ‘I’d like you to tell me about your current school.’
- ‘People often joke about what they’d do if they ruled the world, but if you did, what would you do?’
- ‘If you could choose, when and where would you prefer to live?’
Do not share the topic with your child before beginning the interview.
Range of Questions
Consider and prepare a range of questions that fall into two categories:
A. Questions that are open-ended and expect an explained response.
B. Questions that could allow one-word answers but your child should be able to answer more fully without prompting.
Here are some examples of category A and B questions based on the discussion topic ‘I’d like you to tell me about your personal heroes and heroines.’
- What do you think makes a hero or heroine? Give examples.
- What makes you say that?
- What do you think makes [your child’s hero/heroine] a hero/heroine?
- If you had the power, how would you reward [your child’s hero/heroine]?
- Do you think it’s possible to be a hero or heroine in everyday life?
- Have you ever met a hero or heroine?
- Do you think you have ever behaved in a heroic way?
- Do you think heroes and heroines are always well-liked and happy?
Example Interview Checklist
Prepare a checklist that gives structure to the interview and is relevant to your discussion topic.
Section A: Behaviour, Demeanour and Body Language
- Knocks on door. [1 mark]
- Waits to be told to sit. [1 mark]
- Is calm, relaxed, does not fidget. [1–5 marks]
- ‘Open’ body language – body pointing towards interviewer; not hunched with arms crossed in front. [1–5 marks]
- Is polite and friendly. [1–5 marks]
- Is enthusiastic. [1–5 marks]
- Remains calm under pressure. [1–5 marks]
Section B: Interview Responses / Content
- Gives a full response to both Category A and Category B, for example…
Q: Do you think it’s possible to be a hero or heroine in everyday life?
A: Yes, look at firemen, for example. [1–5 marks]
- Gives reasons for opinions, for example…
Q: What do you think makes [child’s hero/heroine] heroic?
A: Well, she stood up for what she believed in, and she didn’t worry about what might happen to her. [1–5 marks]
- Listens to the questions and gives relevant and thoughtful replies, for example…
Q: Do you think heroes and heroines are always well-liked and happy? 5
A: Not always – Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, but she was a heroine to some people. [1–5 marks]
- ses appropriate language (no slang, expletives, etc.) and expressive vocabulary (e.g. ‘interesting’/‘exciting’, not ‘nice’); understands any difficult words used by the interviewer. [1–5 marks]
You can build your child’s confidence by using puzzles, oral and verbal activities to provide valuable skills away from written testing. Here are just a few ideas:
Researching Collective Nouns
Word games where the challenge is to invent new terms and words help to widen vocabulary and stimulate imagination for writing tasks.
Finding collective nouns using a dictionary or the internet, leads to the invention of new ones. For example:
- What do you call a group of mobile phones? A chatter
- What is an alternative collective noun for kittens? A cuddle
Have fun thinking up new collective nouns for unusual groupings.
This game develops skills in considering a variety of adjectives and practice in alliteration.
Choose a car colour as you are driving along together. Every time you see a car of that colour, take turns in adding another descriptive word beginning with the same letter as the colour. For example:
- Rusty red car
- Revolting, rusty red car
- Revolving, revolting rusty red car…
Find cartoon strips and ask your child to cut out the individual picture scenes and reorder them.
This helps them to think up original ways to structure stories using flashback, time changes or dual action (where two events are happening at the same time but in different places).
This is an excellent activity for practising counting in multiples.
Choose a vehicle with a set number of wheels. Count on by that number of wheels every time you see that type of vehicle. For example, if you choose a bicycle (two wheels), then every time you see a bicycle, add two more to your total.
This becomes more difficult when you choose a car or bus!
Give Me a Sign!
To develop understanding of the properties of 2D shapes, try looking out for shapes as you drive or walk along. This game is a challenging one.
Look for shapes with increasing numbers of sides on signs. The shape must be named as it is spotted. For example:
- one-sided shape – circle or ellipse
- two-sided shape – semi-circle
- three-sided shape – triangle…
You can allow pub and shop signs. For example, ‘The Half Moon’ could be a semi-circle.
There are many games you can play using car number plates. This one is useful for algebra practice.
You will need a pencil and paper.
Write out the alphabet and assign a number to each letter, i.e. A = 1, B = 2, etc.
Each person chooses a number plate. They must convert the letters to numbers and then add all of the values together. The person with the highest total wings the round.
Practise coordinate skills with this simplified version of ‘battleships’.
The game is designed for two players.
Create four 6 x 6 grids – two for each player.
One grid is to record the ‘hits’ on your opponent, the other is to place your alien transport.
Plot out your craft on your ‘transport’ grid, allowing the following number of squares for each type of craft. Make sure your opponent can’t see this:
- Space Buggy 1
- Flying Saucer 2
- Space Module 3
- Star Ship 4
Take it in turns to call out a coordinate, e.g. B5, E4, etc.
If you hit one of your opponent’s craft, you get another turn.
The winner is the person who hits all their opponents craft first.
Words within Words
You can play this game with any long words.
Using the letters from the long word you have chosen, see who can make the most other words. Letters can only be repeated in the small words if there is more than one in the long word. For example:
…you can probably find lots more!
Start a word chain using nouns. Each word has to start with the final letter of the previous word. For example:
To make it harder, you can choose a theme for your word chain, e.g. animals or types of food.
Any of the following activities can help to build non-verbal reasoning skills:
- spot the difference games
- puzzle cubes
- memory game (a card game in which the object is to pair up cards bearing the same pictures / symbols by memorising where they are on the table).
There are many words in the English language that sound the same or similar, but are spelt differently and have different meanings. The selection below shoes some of the words that are most commonly confused.
To agree to take something.
Example: Sarah accepted the surprise gift.
Example: All the parts of the model were there except for the legs.
A suggestion about how to do something.
Example: Andy was not happy with the advice Dad had given him.
To suggest something.
Example: I advise you not to do it!
The past tense of the verb 'to allow'.
Example: I was allowed to stay up late.
When a thought is spoken.
Example: Jenny was reading aloud to her brother.
Something eaten for breakfast.
Example: Tammy ate a large bowl of cereal.
A long-running programme; a series of events.
Example: The popular serial won 10 awards at the ceremony.
Example: The sandpaper was very coarse.
A study programme, part of a meal.
Example: Anwar signed up for the maths revision course.
A dry, sandy landscape.
Example: They rode camels across the desert.
Example: We ate chocolate cake for dessert!
The noun to describe animal or human hair.
Example: He brushed his hair.
The noun to describe a large rabbit-like animal.
Example: The hare ran across the field.
Short for ‘it is’
Example: It’s a long way home.
Belonging to it – no apostrophe!
Example: She stroked its head.
Unfastened or released.
Example: He opened the box to let the bird loose.
To mislay something.
Example: They knew it was precious and didn’t want to lose it.
The ability to see.
Example: Anne’s new glasses improved her sight.
A location or place.
Example: It was an excellent site for their tent!
Belonging to them.
Example: They read their books.
Belonging to them (it is theirs) – no apostrophe!
Example: The books were theirs.
Example: He sat over there.
Short for ‘there is’.
Example: There’s a fly in my soup!
Short for ‘they are’.
Example: They’re reading aloud.
The start of a verb.
Example: To jump.
Also or excessive.
Example: They came along too. There were too many rabbits.
The number 2.
Example: There were two elephants.
Example: Bad weather was expected.
Introducing an alternative.
Example: I didn’t know whether to buy a chocolate bar or an ice-cream.
To put clothing on.
Example: Can I wear your scarf?
Short for ‘we are’.
Example: We’re going on holiday to Spain.
The past tense of ‘to be’.
Example: Ahmed and Jamil were reading the newspaper.
The location of something.
Example: Where did I put my MP3 player?
Short for ‘who is’.
Example: Who’s sleeping in my bed?
Belonging to ‘whom’.
Example: Whose book is this?
Here are some number facts that your child might find useful in the 11+ Tests.
Factors of Numbers to 100
The number 1 and the number itself have been omitted from the list. Numbers greater than 1 that are not featured are prime numbers.
After the Tests
If you have applied to a Local Authority school, you will have selected up to three schools in order of preference.
If your child has been successful in achieving a place at their preferred school, you will receive a letter notifying you of the fact.
If your child is not successful with their first choice, their name will be placed on the list for the next school you have specified. At this point, the second-choice school will take candidates who have put them as first preference, so you are likely to be at the end of the list.
This will also apply to your third-choice school if your child is not successful with the second.
Notification of the Appeals Process
If your child was unsuccessful with an application to an LA school, you should automatically receive details of the appeals procedure.
Although the appeals process is often described as informal, don’t confuse ‘friendly’ with informal. There is a formal timetable that must be adhered to and all paperwork will need to be submitted by the specified dates.
Before making a formal appeal, you should consider the likelihood of success. If you have not been given the information, ask how close your child came to the pass mark.
Children who are close to the pass mark are sometimes offered a place on the waiting list. This is worth taking up as your child may still be successful – some of the accepted candidates may drop out.
Appealing the Decision
The school will have decided on a number of criteria with which to assess appeals submitted. It is essential that you check the school prospectus to understand what these are before appealing. It is the job of the LA to ensure that these criteria are applied impartially.
Parents are often asked to attend a meeting with the panel where they are allowed to ask questions and produce evidence to back the appeal. Any evidence you present will need to be sent to both the school and panel before the meeting.
There are a number of specialist companies that can help you in putting your appeal together, or you can do this on your own.
Organizations that can help with free advice include the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE). A wide selection of private companies specialize in supporting families in submitting appeals for a fee.
Putting the Appeal Together
Your appeal should clearly address all the criteria you have been asked to meet, in the order in which they have been presented to you. This should be presented as a formal document.
For example, if one of the criteria is that your home must be within the catchment area, you should supply an Ordnance Survey map, giving exact details of the distance from your house to the school, to support your case.
Countdown to the Hearing
- Once you have submitted your appeal, the admission authority must write to you at least ten school days before the hearing to confirm the date.
- At least seven school days before the hearing, the clerk must send you all the appeals documents to review. These will outline the school’s reasons for not being able to offer your child a place.
- At least three school days before the hearing you will receive notification of who will be sitting on the appeals panel.
The Appeal Hearing
The appeal hearing can last from 30 minutes to two hours.
The panel for LA schools is independent. After hearing your case, they will make their decision on the basis of whether your child or the school is likely to ‘suffer’ the most (for example, whether or not the addition of your child would be problematic for the education of the existing intake).