11 Plus

What is the 11 Plus?

What's the 11 plus you ask? Well first, a brief bit of history...

After World War 2, the Education Act dictated that state education should be free of charge and fall into two forms - grammar schools and secondary moderns. Grammar schools would focus on academic subjects whilst secondary moderns would teach trades.

The 11 plus (or 11+ exam) was the test to determine whether a child went to a grammar school or a secondary modern.

Children judged to have a higher academic potential would go to a grammar school with the rest going to a secondary modern.

In 1960 there were over 1,200 grammar schools in the UK.

1960s grammar school
A typical British grammar school photo from the 1960s

Why did the 11 plus stop?

In the 1950s and 1960s some politicians argued that selective education systems reinforced class division. They also added that middle-class privilege only increased these divisions.

In 1965, the government ordered LEAs to start phasing out grammar schools and replace them with modern comprehensives. Then in 1976, legislation was cast to ban the introduction of any new selective education schools.

However, some areas of England refused, dug in their heels and kept their grammar schools. Today 163 grammar schools remain, run alongside comprehensives.

Wait, so does the 11+ still exists?

Yes...weirdly. The 11 plus is now a collective term for the entrance exams that the remaining grammar schools offer.

The 11+ is still alive and well.
Contrary to popular belief (and legislation), the 11+ exam is still alive and extremely popular

Should my child to take the 11 plus?

Most grammar schools were dismantled and transformed into secondary comprehensives for political reasons.

The 11 plus offered thousands of children from impoverished backgrounds a genuine opportunity. There's little doubt that the very nature of selective education did reinforce class privilege. However, for those that got the opportunity, they often went on to greater things.

The atmosphere inside today's grammar schools is without doubt a "social bubble". Try as they may to limit it, plenty of pupils come from privileged backgrounds and benefited from 11+ exam training

Catchment areas and Britain's housing market have only reinforced middle-class privilege. This has led to dwindling numbers of children from lower-income backgrounds.

In 1998 the government enacted legislation that strengthened powers to stop new grammar schools from opening. It also allowed for parent ballots on the future of existing grammar schools.

Only one ballot ever took place and the government embarassingly lost it, 67% to 33%. As a result Ripon Grammar remained a grammar school.

But enough negative talk...

Grammar schools offer children a spectacular academic environment. Their facilities, both academic and extra-curricular are almost incomparable to comprehensive schools. Their exam results speak for themselves with the top 40 grammars scoring 100% A*-C at GCSE in 2016.

Frankly, if your child has the opportunity to attend a grammar school, grab it with both hands. You would be mad not to.

Happy children at grammar school
167,000 children attend grammar schools in England

So how do I enter them for an 11 plus exam?

Getting your child into a grammar school is not a simple task.

Every grammar school continues to offer an 11 plus paper to determine their intake.

Some local authorities automatically enter children for these tests whilst for others require you to apply. Some grammar schools band together as a consortium and offer a grouped test to whomever applies. Also, some grammar schools offer 11 plus exams to parents and children that only apply directly to them. Sadly, it was probably all a lot easier prior to 1965...

To confuse matters, the 11 plus exams that each of the above scenarios offer can be from different test providers. CEM and GL Assessment are the two main test providers but there are others.

Lastly, to confuse you even more, two grammar schools could have the same test provider but not the same subjects! For example, some use Non-Verbal reasoning whilst others only use English and Maths.

Confusing eh?!

Even that doesn't put off the hundreds of thousands of parents that apply every year. Many schools report over 12 children applying for every single place.

Thankfully, we have a helpful 11 plus entry table to help you with your 11+ exam process.

How can I enter my child for an 11 plus exam?

First of all, look at our 11 plus entry table. Check the "Admissions" column.

Area Admissions Test Date Test Content Test Provider
Bexley Apply to LA September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Buckinghamshire Entered Automatically September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Essex (Redbridge) Apply to LA September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Gloucestershire Apply direct to school(s) September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Kent Apply to LA September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning, Spatial Reasoning, Maths, English and Writing GL Assessment / NFER
Medway Apply to LA September Extended Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Maths Ext Writing — unknown VR & Maths — CEM (University of Durham)
Warwickshire Apply to LA September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Wirral Apply to LA September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Liverpool Apply to LA September Non-Verbal Reasoning, Maths and English Unknown
Yorkshire (Calderdale) Apply to LA October Verbal Reasoning, Maths and English VR — GL Assessment or University of Edinburgh, Maths — the school
Yorkshire (North Yorkshire) Entered Automatically September Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning GL Assessment / NFER
Berkshire Apply direct to school(s) September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Birmingham Apply direct to school(s) September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Essex Apply direct to school(s) September Maths and English Written by the consortium
Hertfordshire (South-West) Apply direct to school(s) September Maths and Verbal Reasoning Maths: GL Assessment / NFER Verbal Reasoning: CEM (University of Durham)
Lincolnshire Apply direct to school(s) September Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning GL Assessment / NFER
Northern Ireland (Post Primary Transfer Consortium) Apply direct to school(s) September Maths and English GL Assessment / NFER
Northern Ireland (Association for Quality Education) Apply direct to school(s) November / December Maths and English CEA (Common Entrance Assessment)
Shropshire, Walsall and Wolverhampton Apply direct to school(s) September Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths CEM (University of Durham)
Sutton Apply direct to school(s) Stage 1: Sept
Stage 2: Sept / Oct
English and Maths Unknown

All 11+ areas have a responsibility to be fair with their entries but they do have very strict deadlines. Get informed and be organised.

Contact the admissions provider for the school (or schools) you would like to apply for. This could be the LEA, the school or a body that acts on behalf of the consortium of schools.

Politely request detailed information about:

  • When 11+ exam will take place.
  • Where 11+ exam will take place.
  • What topics are in their 11+ exam.
  • What format the test(s) will take (multiple choice or standard answer).

It's also very important to ask whether there are any other admissions criteria such as a maximum distance from the school.

Don't feel nervous contacting them, you won't be the only person asking.

Get organised and plan it. It's not much work and it could well be the best thing you ever do for your child's education.

There doesn't seem to be a grammar school near me.

Sorry, you're going to need a time machine. Blame the politicians that made those decisions back in 1965.

Back in time to 1965 please
Sorry Marty, it's probably not going to happen

How do I prepare my child for their 11+ exam?

By now you should know:

  • The target grammar school(s).
  • The test provider (CEM, GL Assessment etc).
  • The subjects that will be tested (Maths, English etc).
  • The format of the tests (Cloze, Multiple Choice etc).

Some parents appoint personal tutors for their children to help improve their performance. This can be very confidence boosting and test providers do their best to limit the "exam coaching" effect that it has.

Personal tutors are expensive though and by no means are they essential to passing the 11+ exam. Indeed many pupils obtain places in grammar schools by only practising past 11 plus papers or 11+ practice papers.

11+ Verbal reasoning and 11+ Non-verbal reasoning are both unique tests. They are often used because they gauge aptitude and don't require any previous experience. Having said that, the distinct nature of the tests means a child will benefit from preparation.

The 11 plus is the same as everything else in life: There's no substitute for experience.

11+ Maths and 11+ English tests will seem more familiar to your child. 11+ Maths tests will be of a problem solving nature and get harder as children progress through the paper.

11+ English assessments typically contain a comprehension test or a writing assessment. Often they contain both. They may also have a Cloze test. Again, practice makes perfect.

Most important of all is that your child prepares for the tests that they will be facing. If it's a CEM test in Maths then ensure they're working from examples that clearly state that!

Unsure about CEM NFER and GL Assessment
Understanding your local grammar school system isn't necessarily very simple

CEM? What's the CEM Test?

CEM is a provider of 11+ exams for several grammar schools including Bexley, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. CEM stands for Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring and it's part of the University of Durham. There are several other providers including GL Assessment.

What's different about the CEM Test?

If only everyone knew! CEM have never openly provided their past 11+ papers so it's hard to say.

CEM has grown in popularity over the past 5-10 years because their tests are seen as harder to "coach" for. The feedback from grammar schools supports this. It's unclear whether their tests are appreciably different to anyone else's or if it's simply because they don't release past 11+ papers.

From what we can gather, the CEM 11+ is often two 11+ exams. Each is time limited to 45 minutes and both include English, Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Numerical Reasoning.

The English sections of the test include reading comprehension exercises, cloze tests and Verbal reasoning questions.

Non-verbal reasoning questions are well known from other providers of 11 plus exams. These are the questions that often include rotating patterns or shapes.

Numerical reasoning questions test mental arithmetic, pattern recognition and problem solving. Calculators are not allowed.

Both tests are designed such that children are time pressured. Many children don't finish all the questions before the end of the test.

Some areas will allocate a different weighting of marks towards different subject areas. For example, Birmingham awards half of the marks to Verbal Reasoning. Warwickshire meanwhile awards marks equally among all three.

In some areas pupils may take practice 11+ CEM test papers. These will take place before the real CEM 11+ exam (normally in June or July) and the marks will not be formally taken into consideration. They are a practice exercise that's marked internally and whose marks are not recorded externally from the school.

Got any past CEM 11+ Papers?


Past CEM 11 Plus papers are not distributed after their respective assessment day. CEM insist that "by restricting the amount of available preparation material to only what primary schools provide (familiarisation with the format and structure of the tests) it makes the test fairer for all".

However, we do have a number of free 11+ papers for you to download.

How can I prepare my child for the CEM 11 Plus?

CEM say that they devise their tests such that they "reduce any disadvantage between children who are tutored for tests and those who are not." In other words, CEM feel that you can't coach for CEM.

You might not be able to coach, but you can certainly help.

Verbal and Non-verbal Reasoning questions are often unfamiliar to children. Hence prior practice, if only as a familiarisation exercise, is highly recommended. The important point being that prior practice does not lead to pupils attempting to guess their answers.

If your child is coming up to their SATs, why not look at our detailed guide to SATs Revision.

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