11 Plus Preparation

11 plus preparation

11 Plus Preparation- What Every Parent Should Consider.

This blog is for every parent who is considering 11 Plus preparation and may be feeling overwhelmed.

11 plus preparation


Most parents usually start 11 plus preparation in Year 5. The exam usually takes place in the September of when a child commences year 6. Last year, due to Coronavirus, many boroughs delayed the date of the exam, with some not taking place until December.

Exam results are usually known by October, but allocations to schools are not made until the following March. Parents are usually notified on March 1st (Allocations Day) as to which school their child has been, awarded. 

March 1st is traditionally Allocations Day when parents receive notifications of school places allocated to their child.

About the Eleven Plus Exam

The Eleven Plus Exam is a taxing exam; it is one of the few exams that cannot be retaken- it not only tests advanced Key Stage 2 maths and English concepts, but also verbal acumen, spatial awareness and mathematical reasoning skills. For that reason, even the ablest child will struggle without additional work.

To be clear, I am not saying that every child needs to be tutored; many children successfully gain entry to grammar schools without tutoring- it is more about having exposure to the additional materials that children are not taught in schools, then being able to understand and apply those concepts. 

Research- Start with Google

Nowadays there is an abundance of materials and online help available. For the purposes of this blog, I searched 11 plus on Google and even I, as a professional tutor of many years, was shocked at the growth of this topic.

My Google search for 11 plus produced 7,970,000,000 results! Typing in eleven plus brought up a staggering 219,000,000 results! Now, obviously, there will be variances within the subject, but if 1/100th of the results are for the 11 Plus Exam, even that is a staggering amount of help and information!

Obtaining accurate information

So how do you know what information on there is good and how much of it is hearsay?

The best thing I can suggest is that you do your research. This will not always be straightforward. For example, some alarm bells should go off when a tutor or tuition centre boasts or promises 100% success, considering the statistics for this exam to gain entry into grammar school. Equally, parents are very strange about this exam. Almost no parent will admit that they tutor their child and even after the exam, I have heard of so many parents simply refusing to pass on any information about who they used or details of the work they did to parents whose children are about to go through the same.

I would suggest that you spend time reading up on the intricacies of this exam. The best place to start will be your local council website. There should be some guidance on there. The next step I would suggest is to read what is available online and only after that approach a tutor or tuition company, once you have some understanding of how the whole thing works.

online research

Grammar Schools

There are 163 grammar schools in the country that educate just under 116,000 children. It is estimated that just over 100,000 children sit the exam for the coveted (approx) 20,000 places every year. So on average, 1 out of every 20 children secures a place.

Most of the teachers that I have spoken to or dealt with, hold a traditionally left-wing view of what education should be. To be honest, I do too! Education should be available equally to all, not just to those who can afford it. However, the way that the education system is set up in England (and so by default, also in many of the former British colonies) means that while education for children under 16 is a legal requirement, and while all children are educated, not all schools are created equal!

Entry into University

For example, ‘grammar school pupils score highly in raw attainment terms, with 96.7 per cent of their pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs, versus the national average in all state-funded schools of just over 57 per cent.’ (source: Grammar schools and social mobility Jon Andrews, Jo Hutchinson and Rebecca Johnes September 2016)

The 11 Plus is for entry into a grammar school. Grammar schools are much more academically rigorous schools compared to the ‘standard’ state schools. 

To give this some context:

Successful access to a grammar school means a much greater chance of securing a university place at a Russell Group university.

Around 90% (2017-2018) of university students were from state schools. When it came to the Russell Group universities and grammar schools, the results were dramatic. 

In 2016, 29% of children from grammar schools went onto a Russell group university compared with only 9% (under 1/10th) of the students from standard state schools and 15% (half that of the grammar schools) of the better-off children in comprehensive schools. 

Should the school not be preparing children for the exam as they do for SATS?

Preparing children for their SATS is a legal requirement, currently for children in years 2 and 6, but the 11 Plus Exam is a voluntary exam so 11 plus preparation is left to the parents. This means that a child will still be offered a place in a secondary school without sitting the Eleven Plus, but to gain entry to a grammar school, a child must sit and be in the top x percentile of the children who pass the 11 Plus exam, (this percentile will vary slightly by borough).

Primary schools and The 11 Plus Exam

In my experience, while most schools actively discourage parents from preparing their children for the 11 Plus, there are a few schools that will guide parents.

On the whole, parents are left to deal with the 11 Plus Exam, from finding out about the anomalies of each borough, to preparing their child, registering them for the exam and finally taking them to the allocated exam centre. Obviously, many parents find the whole process daunting and may need guidance as to what to do and the deadlines that each borough or grammar schools have. You can find a list of deadlines here for Redbridge and the surrounding boroughs. A list of deadlines for boroughs across England can be found here.

When is the best time to start preparing for 11 plus?

My recommendation comes from my experience of having tutored children for over 15 years now. The best way to prepare a child for the eleven plus exam is to be conscious of it from when the child is very young. By that, I do not mean tutor them to within an inch of their life! I mean look at your child’s education with a much broader lens than just reading and books. From a young age, take children to museums, zoos and into nature. Expose them generally to anything that will broaden their horizons and their awareness of the world around them. To give you some examples, I have worked with children who thought that the whole of London consisted of their little neighbourhood, children who believe that mutton comes from chicken, children who do not know that London is our capital city. How can a child who is unaware of their capital city be able to answer any question on capital cities or on anything beyond their immediate knowledge?

How do I prepare my child myself for the Eleven Plus Exam?

 Take a holistic view from when the child is young. This will generally help broaden the child’s vocabulary and help them to learn how to put things in context. Spend time looking at words, their etymology and putting them in the context of a sentence.

For example, take the word ‘content’. It could mean a state of happiness, a state of satisfaction or to be satisfied. That awareness comes from reading and generally having a good deal of general knowledge.

It also helps in an exam if the child is aware of the transition of words in the English language. For example, there are words that have been adopted from different languages: Indian words like, pyjama or French words like ballet or café.

Many tutors (from what we are told by parents) are much more comfortable teaching maths and often struggle with teaching English. This is because maths is much easier to teach. Another subject that is not easy to teach is non-verbal reasoning. There are almost no teaching books available for this subject, which is why we wrote non-verbal workbooks that help a child understand how to answer these questions. 

In short, to be successful, a child will need some emotional intelligence and a lot of hard work!

Preparing for the Eleven Plus Exam

In terms of the formal preparation for the exam, this is where you need to make sure it is not just paper after paper that is being done. Think of it in terms of training for a marathon or the Olympics, or even just going to the gym and weight training. If your form is not right, you will either hurt yourself or simply not achieve your goal. If you look online or go into Waterstones, you will be overwhelmed by the quantity of materials available. But the majority of those resources are test papers. 

Papers have their place in finding knowledge gaps or assessing levels but not much beyond that in the early stages at least.

In my opinion, it is important to get the basics and the foundations strong. It is only at that point that exam techniques should be worked on through test papers. As a tutor, this technique has paid huge dividends in the number of children we have helped to gain entry into grammar and independent schools.

1-2-1 Tuition

Many parents feel that 1-2-1 tuition is the best way forward. What you need to remember is that this is a competition. At some stage, your child needs to be aware of their competition.  Often, this often goes a long way towards their motivation. Closer to the exam, a great way of accessing where your child is in comparison to their competition is through mock exams. You should receive a cohort comparison in the report for the test results.

11 Plus Mock Exams

Bespoke, 1-2-1 tuition is fine (in my opinion) where you have certain topics that a child may be struggling with. however, tuition centres that work with children in small groups should be able to achieve that in the majority of cases. Using tuition centres is also a much cheaper way of achieving the same thing.

What subjects should be covered?

This is not a comprehensive list but it will give you an idea of what should be covered.

For a more detailed list, click here

  • Maths 

    • Topics will include everything for KS2 including the more advanced topics of ratio and proportion, algebra, geometry (properties and position of shapes, coordinates) and statistics. 
    • Numerical Reasoning has become a big part of the exam. Numerical reasoning involves analysing a piece of given data and answering questions based on that data.
  • English

    • Spelling
    • Punctuation
    • Comprehension
    • Sentence structure
    • Grammar
    • Vocabulary
    • Literacy


  • Non-Verbal Reasoning

    • Similarities
    • Differences
    • Odd one out
    • Codes
    • Matrices
    • Nets
    • Plans
    • Elevations
    • Sequences


  • Verbal Reasoning

There are more than 30 question types for verbal reasoning. These questions are mostly logic-based and will need strong reasoning skills. The questions can broadly be divided into the following categories:

    • mathematical
    • verbal -words
    • verbal-sentences
    • extracting information

Books in 11 Plus Preparation by Redbridge Tuition

For a full list of the topics covered in Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning take a look at our line of books which cover them all in-depth.

The Beyond Verbal Reasoning Series


I want to tutor my child at home. Where do I start?

Steps for 11 Plus preparation

I would suggest that the best time to start would be a couple of years before the exam. This may sound like a long time, but the 11 plus exam is not a straightforward exam if you are not familiar with it.

Year 3 

Year 3 is the start of Key Stage 2 (KS2). KS2 is in 2 stages. Lower (years 3 and 4) and upper (years 5 and 6). Year 3 is often treated as a transition year. 

Again, my suggestion is to do a huge amount of reading. I do not mean jump straight into Dickens’ novels or anything too complicated. Start with age-appropriate books that will fire your child’s imagination and expand their vocabulary. For a suggested reading list click here.  In maths, spend time securing number bonds and times tables as well as problem-solving. Problem-solving comes in many forms. For example, working time, distances, change from purchases etc. These can all be practical problems- it may not be necessary to just sit with book problems.

Year 4 

In year 4, formal preparations should be well and truly started. Many parents wait until year 5 and it is possible to get ready in under a year, but bear in mind that the work covered will be up to the end of KS2, which is the end of year 6. In maths, ensure that angles, time, fractions and place value are secure.

In English, reading more challenging texts and classical text is a must. Beyond that, grammar and punctuation as well as understanding the rules of spelling will go a long way towards helping with comprehension and writing generally. Again, we have found that spelling rules not really taught after phonics

Year 5

Read, read, read! Not just David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson. Don’t get me wrong, they are brilliant books. Even as an adult I read them and enjoy them. I wish was able to write like that.  This is about expanding vocabulary and understanding complex sentence structure and life beyond the child’s eyes; after all that is what children are being tested on. You need to be looking to read books that have a good deal of being able to read between the lines. Look at books with more complex themes and are from different eras.

Mathematical reasoning; meaning being able to apply concepts in the given context is important as it can make up a substantial part of the 11 plus exam paper


If you did not do so in year 4, ensure that there is a structure in place for this learning journey. We have written a whole blog on the preparation that we believe should take place in year 5

Question Examples:

Grammar schools

Here is an example of an Eleven Plus English question from the 2017 Essex Consortium exam:

​​Aim to write six or seven sentences, describe what super-power you would best like to have and why.

On the surface, this looks straightforward. To be able to write this successfully, a child should be able to write a mixture of long and short sentences using sophisticated punctuation and excellent vocabulary.

Here is an example of an Eleven Plus maths question, again from the 2017 Essex Consortium exam:

Which is bigger: 34 or 43

Calculate 34 43

Independent schools

Here is an example of an Eleven Plus English question from the 2020 Sevenoaks School exam:

Write a story that features the stopping of time.

Of course, schools teach story writing, but children are taught fairly much the same format. In our experience and writing full stories with different genres are not practised nearly enough. This, therefore, makes this a challenging task in a different way to the question above.

Here is an example of a past Eleven Plus maths question from the Latymer Upper School:

Imran notices that when he takes the digits of the number 652 and multiplies them together he gets 60.

a) How many three-digit numbers are there whose digits multiply to give 60? Write down all the ones you can find.

This question requires understanding and applying divisibility rules. Schools generally do not teach this until secondary school.

How can Redbridge Tuition help?

The 11 Plus Exam preparation is very emotive. For many parents, the stakes are high. For them, often it is a choice of grammar school or no school. This is often because the local secondary school may have a poor record of academic achievement compared to other state schools.

At Redbridge Tuition, we have experience of over 35 years collectively tutoring for the 11 Plus Exam. Our core team can give you expert guidance on the best way forward for your child. You can book a free consultation and we will be frank and honest with you once we understand what you require.

Conclusion: 11 Plus Preparation

In conclusion, 11 Plus preparation is a marathon and not a sprint. Be prepared to have at least 2 years of your life disrupted and be prepared to put in a lot of work. I mean the parent as well as the child. You need to be diligent and of course, organised about the work. You need to be persistent in what you do and how it is done. Most of all, you need to be calm and take baby steps. The best way to do that is to read, read and read. Start early on the journey in terms of general education beyond books. Of course, books and tests are vital. However, do not focus on scores from day 1, but rather try and enjoy the journey.


Treat it as time well spent with your child! 11 plus preparation can be fun (honest!).