About the 11+

What is the 11+ exam?

The 11+ is a selective entrance examination for secondary school. All children took the 11 plus exam until the early 1970s, when there was a move away from selective state-funded grammar schools towards non-selective comprehensive schools.

The 11+ exam is no longer a compulsory test, however it continues to be used in those areas with grammar schools, and also by selective independent schools, to identify academic ability and potential. It is taken towards the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6 of primary school.

The content of the 11+ exam varies between different areas of the country but generally it will focus on a combination of the following four subjects:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness

Verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness tests are not school-based subjects and will not be taught as part of the curriculum in state schools. Therefore, your child is likely to need additional support and exam preparation practice to familiarise themselves with verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness exam question types.

There are two different formats for 11+ exam papers:

  • Standard format – where children write their answers on the test paper
  • Multiple-choice format – where answers are marked in a separate answer booklet

How long is the 11+ exam?

11+ exam papers are timed and usually last between 45-60 minutes. Children should practise with timed 11+ exam mock test papers, as well as working through non-timed practice, so they can see what they are able to do within a given time frame.

How is the 11+ different to other school exams?

The 11+ exam is part of the secondary school selection process for schools in England that select by academic ability – including state-funded grammar schools and selective independent schools. The exam is optional (it’s taken by choice) and is held at the start of Year 6. There is one main exam board, GL Assessment, although some schools set their own test or mix and match their own test with particular papers taken from external exam boards.

The 11+ tests English and maths skills and usually includes verbal reasoning and/or non-verbal reasoning tests as well. The exact make-up of the exam can vary between Local Authorities and between individual schools.

By contrast, national exams such as SATs cover core English and maths skills, are standardised and aligned to the National Curriculum, and are part of the government framework for education. They must be taken by all children in state-funded primary schools, towards the end of Year 6.

The Common Entrance exam is set by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) and used by many independent (private) schools. It is taken in Year 8 and often referred to as ‘the 13+’. It covers most of the same core skills as the 11+ but will also include other subjects chosen by the school, such as science or modern and classical languages.

Selective independent schools might also offer entrance exams at 7+ and 8+. The Common Pre-Test is an online-format test offered by the ISEB for children in Year 6 (11+) and covers the same four subject areas as the standard 11+.

GL Assessment also offer the Adaptive Admissions Test at 11+, which is there equivalent of ISEB’s Common Pre-test for independent schools, is the only exclusively online test offered by GL and covers the same four core subjects of English, maths, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning.

Where can I find out about the 11 Plus exams?

With no published curriculum, and with many schools preferring not to publish the content of their exams, the 11+ can have an air of mystery about it. Different Local Authorities and senior schools set different combinations of tests, making it hard to choose 11+ resources to meet every child’s needs.

On this website you will find up-to-date guidance on the 11+ and other selective entrance exams. You can find out further admissions information on the website of your preferred school.

Bond offers a complete, flexible programme of preparation materials that you can adapt to your child’s specific needs, tailoring it to the requirements of the exam or exams they are approaching.

The Parents’ Guide to the 11+ provides an essential and invaluable manual that takes you through the whole 11+ process in a clear, practical, step-by-step manner.

Why is it so hard to find out information about the 11+?

Since the 1970s there has been a political move away from selective school processes to state school comprehensive systems. For this reason, fewer schools and Local Authorities are using the 11+ selection system. The 11+ is intended to test innate academic ability and therefore secondary schools want to ensure the playing field is as level as possible. Schools are not obliged to provide anything other than basic information about the test they use. At Bond, we believe in giving pupils the opportunity to practise and prepare for what may be the first exam they encounter, bolstering their confidence to help them shine and demonstrate their ability.

What are the different 11+ exam boards and what is the difference between them?

The 11+ exam is highly regionalised: the subjects covered in the 11+ papers and how your child will be tested will depend on where you live.

GL Assessment – previously known as NFER, GL Assessment develop and administer 11+ exams in the majority of grammar schools in the UK.

There are also regionally-specific variations. For example, the Kent grammar schools use a variation of the GL exam known as the Kent Test. This is made up of a multiple-choice paper of English and maths questions, a paper of verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness, and a 40-minute writing test. This last exam is only marked when looking at borderline candidates or appeals. Some schools in Kent have additional tests which can either be taken in place of the Kent Test or as a supplement to it.

As there can be significant differences between the exams depending on where your child is taking the 11+, it is extremely important to check with your Local Authority and local grammar schools so that you know exactly what subjects and skills your child will be tested on as part of their 11+ exam. Some schools are part of consortiums, and their application system may differ from that outlined by the Local Authority. Therefore, it is important to check with the schools directly. Additionally, schools don’t necessarily use all the papers provided by an exam board: they may choose to just test on a couple of topics as opposed to all four.

Checklist – to find out how the 11+ exam is structured in your area, check the following details with your chosen school:

  • When is the 11+ exam?
  • Which subjects are tested?
  • How many questions will there be in the 11+ paper?
  • What format does the exam take?
  • Who provides the exam?

Currently exam boards are used in the following regions:

GL ASSESSMENT: Cumbria, Lancashire, Trafford, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Shropshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Kent.




N.B. Please note, this information was correct at time of publication, but schools do change exam board so it is essential that you check with each school to which you are applying.

Which subjects are covered?

GL, which is the most common exam board, tends to cover English, maths, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness (schools can choose any combination of these to best suit their selection policy).

Which skills will be tested?

Your child will require strong skills in the following areas:

vocabulary, logic, maths, and spelling

Use plenty of past and practice papers to familiarise your child with the question types in each subject. Time management skills are of great importance:

  • Make sure your child does plenty of timed practice and is accustomed to managing their time carefully.
  • Use practice test papers to set mock tests under exam conditions to help them get used to formal exam conditions – getting used to working in test conditions will help your child feel less intimidated by the real exam.

For more information about the 11+ exams and how to prepare for them, please see our Guidance section.