A complete overview of 11 plus grammar school exam in the UK

For many pupils in England, the eleven plus exams are an opportunity to secure their place at a grammar school of their choice.

These tests differ across the country, and it's a way to select pupils based on their academic skills. But what are 11 plus exams? How does your child prepare for them? And what is the application process?

Navigating the complexities of the 11 plus exams doesn't have to be stressful, and this overview will answer any questions you might have.

  1. A well-rounded education is vital, and there are different types of tests which require various skills.

  2. It's essential that your child looks at past and practice papers, has proper time management and works hard to develop their vocabulary.

  3. Our tutors come from top universities and can help familiarise pupils with logical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving, as well as maths and English.

  4. As a parent, you need to know key dates, how to approach the application process and think about the schools you want your child to attend.

  5. ClassRX provides individualised attention with a study plan to suits your child's needs.

What are the advantages of grammar schools?

The most significant benefit of the 11 plus exams is that children are placed in schools with like-minded classmates who have similar abilities which creates a more cohesive learning environment.

Research by Ofsted has shown that pupils fare much better in the selective school environment. It's more challenging and supportive than mixed-ability classes in non-selective schools.

The former HM Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw commented on these findings, "It is a serious concern that many non-selective schools fail to imbue their most able students with the confidence and high ambition that characterise many students in the selective or independent sector."

Motivation to learn and aspiring towards success is another reason why going to these schools play a pivotal role in your child's future.

Another huge advantage is that grammar schools make it much more likely that your child will get into the best universities. These include schools such as Oxbridge or Ivy League schools.

Research by the Higher Education Policy Institute discovered grammar schools increase the likelihood of pupils entering highly selective universities and furthers social mobility for disadvantaged students.

A lack of social diversity in grammar schools is often an argument against selective schools. Still, the same report found that 45% of pupils at grammar school come from households who have a below-average median income.

The 11 plus test examines your child's academic abilities. If they achieve a high score, they secure a place which means they can climb the social ladder no matter their background.

Grammar school alumni such as Boris Johnson, David Attenborough, Michael Portillo, and former Prime Minister Harold Wilson are a testament to the success of this style of schooling.

How do grammar schools differ from other types of schools?

  1. Grammar schools are state-funded and select students based on a child's academic abilities, as shown in the 11 plus tests.

  2. Private schools are fee-paying schools independent of the government, but they do also offer scholarships.

  3. State-run schools are either academies or maintained schools – while academies are independent and publicly funded, maintained state schools follow the national curriculum.

Which areas do the 11+ exams cover?

They are held in different areas across England including Kent, Liverpool, Barnet, Gloucestershire, and Dorset. There are 164 grammar schools in England, and all use the 11 plus testing method to determine which students they accept.

Which grammar schools should I consider?

The country's top grammar schools will differ in each area. Still, some of the most notable choices include Queen Elizabeth's School in Barnet and Colchester County High School for Girls, Beaconsfield High School, Kendrick School and Nonsuch High School for Girls.

What is the difference between CEM and GL exams?

Assessments will differ according to your area, but they will follow either the CEM or GL exam pattern.

CEM (Center of Evaluation and Monitoring) – The main components of these tests are verbal, non-verbal, and numerical reasoning. It was developed by the University of Durham to deal with transparency issues. Therefore, a broad knowledge base is best when preparing for 11 plus exam papers.

GL (Granada Learning) – This was previously named NFER but changed in 2007, and this is what the majority of grammar schools use. It examines skills in English, math, non-verbal (NVR) and verbal reasoning.

Exam structure and timing

Both types of exam are structured differently, so it's best to be aware of how the test will look.

The most common assessment is the GL exam which looks at English, math, verbal, and non-verbal reasoning. The questions come from a vast question bank across two papers. The answers are either multiple-choice, or they must fill in a blank space next to the question.

CEM works a bit differently. It can be one, two or even four papers. The papers are divided into sections, and the questions are either standard or multiple choice.

While both styles require a good level of skill in the same areas, there are some differences you should be prepared for.

The CEM exam is usually made up of different sections that are timed differently. Across the papers, there will be a mix of four or five 11+ subjects. Meaning the student has an allotted amount of time on each section, and they can't go back and forth between sections. There is no set format, and they are a bit more content-heavy.

In the GL Assessment, one paper is usually maths and non-verbal reasoning while the other is English and verbal reasoning, and it is timed per paper and not per section. Generally, they tend to last 45 minutes, but this can vary as can the number of questions.

Preparation tips

For both parents and children, the process of applying for secondary school and preparing for the 11 plus exams can be stressful. Naturally, you want your child to go into these exams feeling confident.

1. Consult with your school to find out which type of exam they will follow and to check how your child will be tested. If it's a CEM exam, you might be able to ascertain the structure of the test beforehand as it tends to change.

2. Make a plan for your child – look at their strengths and weaknesses, set up a revision timetable and practice past papers. This is something an experienced tutor can help you with as they can pinpoint which areas to focus.

3. Practice time management – this can be done through doing mock exams, and it means they won't be so intimidated going into the real exam.

4. Above all, don't stress yourself or your child out as it will be counterproductive.

Which subjects does my child need to revise?

Let's split this question into GL and CEM examined tests, as your child will need a different approach for both tests.

GL Assessment

You are best to use lots of past papers and practise papers because they are likely to get the same types of questions in the exam. Go over things such as grammar, spelling errors, punctuation and word meaning. For the maths section look at number fluency, measurement, statistics, geometry, patterns, and algebra. Verbal reasoning might involve something like moving a letter from one word to make two new words. Non-verbal covers topics such as identifying the odd shape out and working out which diagram comes next.


The best way to properly prepare for the CEM exam is to develop your child's vocabulary and practice things like synonyms and antonyms, spelling, word recognition and word decoding. It's also best to go over mental arithmetic and general mathematics. CEM changes the question types so often it's best to do lots of different types of maths questions, so they get used to that aspect. This assessment also follows a lot of the KS2 curriculum.

When do 11 plus exams take place?

There are a few key school dates to remember throughout this process:

September (the year before the exam) - Go to grammar school open days to decide which schools offer the best environment for your child.

April (Year 5) – Registration will open in April and May.

June - The deadline will be in either June or July for you to register your child for the 11+ exam.

September (Year 6) – Most grammar schools will conduct the tests in the first two weeks of September. This does vary so double-check.

October – Results will be posted around mid-October.

March (the following year) – All of the school allocations are confirmed by March 1st.

September – Intake begins Year 7 at all 164 grammar schools.

How to register for 11 plus exams

After you have chosen the school you and your child feel most comfortable, you need to register. Each school has its process so contact the school to ensure there are no misunderstandings.

If applying for more than one grammar school, you may have to register separately for every exam your child is taking.

Check if you have to fill in any additional forms such as the Supplementary Information Form (SIF) for religious schools.

Finally, complete the Local Authority Preference form to list your preferred schools.

Now you know everything about the 11 plus exams, it's time to prep your child and looks for that all-important support they need.

The benefits of online tutoring

It's probably stressful enough trying to find the time to fit in private tutoring into your busy schedule, so why not try online tutoring?

The demand for private 11 plus tutors is on the increase because competition for the top schools can be tight, and parents quite rightly want their child to be supported during this process.

The tutors at ClassRX are vetted experts from top tier universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge. Your one-on-one bespoke learning package will include mock tests, past papers, quizzes, study notes and detailed feedback.

Ensuring your child works on those essential skills will give them a confidence boost to take on the 11 plus exams.

Does your child need guided support to get through the 11 plus exams?

Contact us to book your first session, which is also protected by our money-back guarantee.

Book your free consultation now.


(2016). Retrieved from The Telegraph:

(2019). Retrieved from HEPI:

Ofsted. (2013). Retrieved from