If your child is planning to take the 11 plus exam, and is looking for ways to prepare this comprehensive guide is for you! Keystone’s expert tutors have helped students excel at taking the 11 Plus, and the guidance below aims to distil their best practice into a simple, practical set of top tips.
This Guide aims to explain:
- What is the 11 Plus?
- 11 Plus Entrance for Independent Schools
- 11 Plus English Paper
- 11 Plus English Comprehension
- 11 Plus English Composition
- 11 Plus English Grammar
- 11 Plus Maths Paper
- 11 Plus Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning
- How do I know if my child should sit the 11 plus?
- What is a good score for the 11 plus?
What is the 11 Plus?
The Term 11 Plus can mean a great many things, so it is important to distinguish between the different types:
- 11 Plus Entrance Tests (State Schools): Some students in UK state primary schools sit the 11 Plus exam to selective grammar schools which tests English, Maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning.
- 11 Plus Pre-Tests: Many UK independent senior schools now use ‘pre-tests’ or ‘pre-assessments’ as an initial entry assessment. Students will either sit these age-standardised tests in year six or year seven, usually alongside an interview. Following the tests, schools make conditional offers, subject to Common Entrance exams at the end of year eight. Pre-tests can be either in written form or on a computer. The most popular pre-tests are the ISEB Common Pre-Test and the school specific tests, such as The Harrow Test and Eton List Test.
- 11 Plus Entrance Tests (Independent Schools): The majority of independent girls’ schools across the country start in year seven; applicants take an 11 Plus exam in January of year 6 to gain entry.
What does the 11 Plus Entrance Tests for Independent Schools consist of?
Whether your child will be sitting an 11+ paper unique to a specific school or the online ISEB Common Pre-Test the content of the test will be rooted in Key Stage Two of the national curriculum. As such, we recommend that tutors focus on developing a thorough knowledge of the 11+ Maths and English syllabus, as detailed by the ISEB, alongside the exposure to verbal and non-verbal reasoning.
Below we have detailed the skills intrinsic to successfully preparing each element:
11 Plus English Paper
There are three key areas to focus your child’s preparation on: Comprehension, Composition and Grammar.
11 Plus English Comprehension
There are five categories of skill to work at developing in this area:
- Being able to accurately identify the meaning of words and phrases
- Literal reading – being able to understand exactly what happens in a passage of text
- Inference – being able to understand what a passage of text means, including what is not explicitly stated
- Having a good understanding of writers’ different techniques and of literary devices
- Taste and opinion – being able to evaluate and form an opinion about a passage of text
- It is essential that students are able to use the ‘Point-Evidence-Explain’ (P-E-E) technique when showing their knowledge and understanding of a topic in an extended response to a question in this paper, especially with categories 3, 4, and 5 above, which are also the three most important areas to develop for the exam. BBC Bitesize provides a great guide to this topic
- Students should be writing answers according to the number or marks available in questions (e.g. a 4-mark taste and opinion question should be structured with two P-E-E responses, with each point focusing on its own expressed taste or opinion)
- The first category, being able to identify the meaning of words and phrases, also splits into two sub-categories:
- Age-appropriate – the words and phrases a Year 6 student would be expected to know
- Beyond age-appropriate – words and phrases a Year 6 student could be expected to be able to work out from context
- ‘Written’ comprehension papers can sometimes be multiple choice.
Keystone Tutor Olly gives his top tip for 11+ English preparation
"11+ English Top Tip: Reading often and reading widely is the most important way you can help your child prepare. Exposing your child to a variety of fiction and non-fiction works improves their vocabulary, their comprehension and their creative writing as it provides an example of good writing they can emulate in their own work."
11 Plus English Composition
There are two key differences students should understand:
- Narrative writing (that tells a complete story) versus descriptive writing (that describes a place, object, or concept in detail). See this helpful guide for more detail.
- Persuasive writing (where a case is made for or against a topic) versus argumentative writing (where a topic is discussed in a balanced manner) – both of which are types of discursive writing. An excellent overview can be found on BBC Bitesize.
Students will be expected to show consistent and accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Narrative writing can come in the shape of ‘continue the story’ tasks.
It’s important to be aware that descriptive writing questions can use image prompts as the topic to be described.
11 Plus English Grammar
Key areas to focus preparation on include:
- Apostrophes of contraction/omission and possession
- Forming plurals
- Use of commas and comma splicing
- Run-on sentences
- Subject-verb agreement
- Punctuating speech
It should be noted that assessment of grammatical concepts can also come in the form of dedicated sections in entrance examinations or, more broadly, in the composition section.
Keystone Tutor Cameron gives his top tip for 11+ English preparation
“For 11+ English, read lots, and at the end of each page, talk about the book. What do you think of the characters? Any new words? What will happen next? Any great writer's tools? Independent reading is great, but discussion is the best.”
11 Plus Maths Paper
There are two key areas of ground to cover when preparing for the 11 Plus Maths Exam: Knowledge Base and Problem Solving.
Your child’s understanding of core mathematical concepts is vital, and they should be well versed in the following topics:
- Place value
- Negative numbers
- Fractions and percentages
- Number patterns
Familiarity with these core topics is absolutely essential, but in addition, broad familiarity with the wider curriculum is of course expected to some degree. Ensuring that your child understands the basics and is begins to develop beyond them is therefore a key part of effective preparation for the Maths paper.
Keystone Tutor Olly gives his top tip for 11+ Maths preparation
"11+ Maths Top Tip: make sure your child practices writing their working clearly and neatly, especially under time pressure; most senior schools will allocate marks for working alongside the answer so it's a really useful skill to develop."
Alongside a good knowledge of core mathematical concepts, the ability to use them appropriately to solve problems is the other core skill being assessed. Word problems and general mathematical problem-solving (such as that seen at the UKMT) form an important part of success at this level and students should make sure to practice plenty of these, keeping the following mind:
- Working must always be shown for questions worth more than one mark
- All questions should be attempted
- Problem-solving is active: just ‘thinking about’ problems is not enough.
11 Plus Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning
Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning are often amongst the hardest papers to prepare for when tackling the 11 plus exams. There are a number of core areas assessed in Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning, which it’s important your child prepares for effectively:
Core Topics in 11 Plus Verbal Reasoning
- Constructing words
- Understanding word meaning
- Working with numbers and algebra
- Applying algebra skills
- Developing logic skills
In addition, it’s very helpful to have a strong vocabulary when preparing for Verbal Reasoning assessments, and to develop a student’s understanding of language in general. This can be done by encouraging children to read more widely (see Keystone’s reading recommendations for more ideas on how to do this), as well as through regular exposure to word lists (for example, see our article on the UKiset Vocabularly list).
Core Topics in 11 Plus Non-Verbal Reasoning
- Picture changes
- Picture moves
Non-Verbal Reasoning skills are much harder to acquire than simple literacy and numeracy skills. However, practice and familiarisation can help children to improve their confidence and ability in tackling this abstract area of reasoning – so remember to start your practice early and help your child develop familiarity with these new skills at their own pace.
Keystone Tutor Alex gives his top tips for preparing for the 11+
- "Start early, but start light, with broad-strokes revision of curricula, followed by more focused work on exam technique and, finally, an intense period of mock assessment and feedback sessions
- Make sure future school expectations are line with student’s own ambitions and ability levels
- Work in waves: periods of high-intensity work, followed by periods of lower-intensity work, peaking in the final run-in to examinations”
How do I know if my child should sit the 11 plus?
The 11 Plus entry point is the biggest entrance point for most London Independent Day Schools. If you feel your child is not ready to join senior school in Year 7 the next available entrance point would be 13 Plus entry, meaning your child would join Year 9. However, it is worth noting that fewer London Independent Senior Day Schools offer the 13 Plus entrance point.
The best way to work out if your child is ready would be to download an 11 Plus past paper from a school which shares previous years papers freely (e.g. Latymer Upper, CLSG, King’s Wimbledon) and to see how they get on. It is important to not only consider how they deal with the content but also the associated exam skills (e.g. time management).
What is a good score for the 11 plus?
The 11 Plus is a very competitive entrance point for some schools, especially those in central London. Some of the most popular schools will receive 7 or 8 applications for every 1 place they have to offer.
A good score can vary from year to year as well as between schools. It is also worth noting that the entrance exams often form one third of the information admissions teams at senior schools consider when determining whether or not to offer your child a space. The other two thirds typically include interview performance and the reference written by your child’s current school. Nevertheless, to be a competitive candidate at the most selective schools in London you need to be comfortably achieving 80% in English, Maths and Reasoning assessments.
When should my child start preparing for the 11 plus?
We tend to recommend 12 months of preparation; we encourage parents to get in touch in the January before their child is due to sit the 11 plus. This is a typical timeline, although many choose to start earlier.
Tutors for the 11 Plus and Pre-tests
Each year Keystone supports many students preparing for the 11 Plus. The 11 Plus tutors we represent are experienced in the intricacies of the 11 Plus exams and how they differ between schools' assessments. We would normally recommend that preparation begins around 12 – 18 months before the exams.
For more details on how Keystone can help with 11 Plus preparation, please call the office for a chat with one of our client managers, or contact us via our request a tutor form.