The first three FAQs on this page are borrowed from a helpful Understanding the 11+ article from The Good Schools Guide.
What is the 11+?
The 11+ is found in both the state system and in the independent schools sector, and is the entrance exam procedure for getting your brightish little button into a fee-paying or state grammar school. Much of the country abolished the 11+ several decades ago but a few local authorities such as Bucks and Kent retained a large number of grammar schools and run county-wide entrance tests. In some other areas, such as Barnet and Kingston, a few grammar schools exist in tandem with the comprehensive system found in most of the country. These grammar schools set their own entrance exams..
Grammar schools select their pupils on the strength of their performance in the 11+ examination so they, in effect, cream off the local brightest and best – or, at least, those children whose parents believe in this type of selection – and give them what many believe to be a superior academic education. The downsides, of course, are the effect on other local schools in grammar school areas, which lack the brightest and most motivated children, and on the children who are dubbed ‘failures’ at 11 years old.
What does my child need to know?
There is no uniformity to the exams. Many grammar schools and particularly selective independents still test applicants’ English and maths just as their parents and grandparents were tested decades ago. Others test verbal reasoning (VR) and non-verbal reasoning (NVR) too – a fairer system, many believe, as this is a better indicator of raw intelligence than English/maths which can be coached for and which advantage those from prep schools. VR and NVR cannot really be coached, though practice undoubtedly helps. The raison d’etre of preparatory schools is – as their name demonstrates – to prepare their pupils, help them get into good senior schools – state or independent.
When does it happen?
There is no synchronicity to when the 11+ happens. However, state grammar schools must now give out initial results before the closing date for all secondary school applications – so in many cases you need to sign up by July of year 5, and exams often take place in September of year 6.
Even the independents make little effort to synchronise testing and exams happen from November – January in general. However, some independent schools, especially in London, have formed themselves into consortia so that your child sits one exam which is then used as an application to a whole bunch of schools, and most give out their results at the same time – usually in February.
– See more of the Good Schools Guide article here
Is the 11+ as competitive as it seems?
In the run up to the 11+, parents are likely to hear some harrowing statistics about the number of places available per application for the best schools. Many of these figures will be inflated, due to the fact that most pupils will be applying to more than one school, and can obviously only accept a place at one. Similarly, the numbers vary between the ‘best’ schools, excellent schools and good or very good schools. Not getting a place at one particular school does not have to be a catastrophe, and there are plenty of great schools out there.
The truth is there is little value in getting stressed about how competitive x or y school is, and even less value in stressing your child out over it. The best thing you can do is make sure your child is familiar with the material and prepared for the exams, irrespective of which school they are aiming to go to, or how many applications there are per place.
What are the selection criteria?
As well as exam results, schools will also take other factors into consideration. These include extra-curricular activities, a report from their previous school and an interview.
The idea is most certainly that students can’t be prepared for the interview, and that they should just be themselves. Trying to second guess the interview questions is a bad idea – better that your child can talk about their interests, and is used to expressing themselves eloquently and having normal adult conversations.
The interviewers will have seen hundreds, possibly thousands of children, and will most likely see through scrupulously prepared answers (and be unimpressed). It is as much to gauge if the child suits the school, and to assess whether they are likely to be a disruptive influence.
A useful guide to the interview process, and how to prepare for it (without over-preparing) can be found here
Do you need a tutor?
This is a big question facing thousands of parents with children at or nearing the 11+ exams. According to Mumsnet, The Good Schools Guide and Huffington Post, it is increasingly regular – verging on expected – for a significant number of students sitting the 11+ to have had outside tuition, such is the highly competitive nature of the system. We certainly wouldn’t say it was absolutely necessary, or that a child can’t get into a great school without tutoring – of course they can.
However, many students – including some of the most naturally bright – will have received private one-on-one tuition, and this can put others, particularly those who may not be towards the top of the class, at a natural disadvantage. Similarly, certain schools will gear much of their teaching towards passing the 11+, (especially prep schools, which live and die by their 11+ results) leaving students better prepared. Other schools may have less – or no – emphasis on it, which can negatively impact a student’s prospects.
Hiring a tutor, of course, isn’t the only option. Many parents are able to do the work of a tutor themselves, and can sit down and help their children on a regular basis. There are endless books and websites that are full of helpful advice and resources (the best of them listed at the bottom of this page), and some schools will also offer extra sessions. Indeed, the most important preparation a child can do for the 11+ is practice – practice practice practice practice practice practice. That’s it. That’s the big one.
The more experience they have of those tricky non-verbal reasoning questions, English comprehensions and turning fractions into decimals, the better prepared they will be to sit the exams. This is especially true as there is no single standardised 11+ paper, but a variety of possible ones – the more different question types a child has seen and dealt with under timed conditions, the better prepared they will be. It’s that simple.
However, many parents cannot find the time to regularly do homework, or go through a practice paper with a child. Indeed, many parents also report that their children are far less willing to work with them than they may be with an ‘outsider’ of sorts. Some parents may not feel confident doing so, or would much rather have the experience of a tutor who has done it before, knows the ropes and can guide their child through the process. That is fine. It’s not immoral, or cheating, or giving your child an unfair advantage. Tutoring is in fact now so widespread that it is almost to be expected, as you may well realise talking to other parents of children facing the 11+.
Choosing the right tutor for your child is important, and all Minerva’s 11+ tutors are trained in the specifics of the exams, armed with a bagful of resources and know exactly what it takes to get your child into a great school.
Subjects and Preparation
Much like the 7+, the 11+ only tests students on maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning.
Some students will not have much experience of sitting timed papers, and it is helpful if they are accustomed to it by the time they sit the real thing. Sitting practice papers under timed conditions, getting used to time management in an exam setting, and not putting themselves under too much pressure can all massively help in the long run. Having regular practice papers in the run up to exams can also help measure progress, and highlight the areas that need work
Many schools will provide specimen papers, and there are plenty of online resources to help you and your child prepare for the exams, and make them that bit less daunting.
The links below take you to one of the most useful websites for 11+, providing a guide to what is required in each subject, how they may be tested and how students can best prepare for them.
http://www.elevenplusexams.co.uk/ – website with comprehensive 11+ resources, including advice, preparation, practice papers, information about schools and much more
http://www.11plusforparents.co.uk/index.html – website with lots of useful syllabus information, practice papers and other helpful links
https://www.galorepark.co.uk/11andPreTest – Galore Park, who sell books and past papers for students preparing for the 11+