What is the 11 Plus Exam?

The 11 Plus exam is an exam that children can take in the first month of their final academic year in primary school. It is not a compulsory exam. The 11 plus test is for children who want to gain admission to grammar schools in England- there are no grammar schools in Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the 11 Plus no longer exists in its original form. It was abolished in 2008 but now continues through 2 separate consortia.

In England, there are 164 grammar schools across the 34 boroughs. Each borough has its own set of regulations- this is not a nationally-run exam.
Competition is fierce, and the test is also demanding. Generally, for every place available there are at least 5 applicants. (Of course, there will be regional and school variances in these statistics).

What does the 11 plus exam involve?

The exam will vary depending on which borough or consortium is administering the exam. Most of the tests are multiple-choice, where the answers are marked on a separate sheet, but again, this may vary depending on the borough or consortium, but generally, each paper is between 45 minutes to 1 hour.

How do I know which 11 plus exam my child will sit?

Your borough of residence and the school you are aiming for will determine which exam your child will take. There are several different exam boards used by different schools and boroughs around the country but the main two are CEM (run by The University of Durham) and GL (privately owned). These are the two main exam boards but there are others which are also used. Many schools and boroughs create and run their own exams.

It is worth noting that with most exam boards, the level of difficulty will surpass topics learnt in Key Stage 2. This does, however, mean that, at the time of the exam, there will be some topics that your child may not have encountered before as they will be taught in year 6 in school. Therefore, often, the eleven plus can be roughly a year ahead of the school curriculum.

All 11 plus exam papers will cover a range of maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning in one form or another. There are however some key differences between the exam boards.

The exception is probably independent schools, where very often there will be some very challenging questions in the papers that will help the school determine scholarship potential.

How can I help my child at home?

  • Understand your child’s learning styles:

Understanding how your child learns is the first step in putting together a programme to prepare for the 11 plus exam. 

The 3 main learning styles are often known as VAK. 

They are:

  1. Visual: A visual learner learns best through pictures, diagrams and generally information they can see.
  2. Auditory: An auditory learner learns best using sound. They will prefer discussions and often, repeating something, hearing his/her own voice or repeating something back to a tutor helps
  3. Kinaesthetic: A kinaesthetic learner learns best by doing. They are hands-on.

There are variations and crossovers. For example, a child may be within a range of 2 learning styles with possibly, one dominant one.

  • Look at your child’s current level:

Understanding your child’s level is crucial. You need to make sure the work you give them matches their comprehension and skills levels. If the work is too easy, then you risk a lack of progression. Similarly, if the work is too challenging then you risk demotivating your child.

  • Have a plan:

Do not leave the learning to chance. Put together a plan that will bridge the gap from where you are to where you need to be.

  • Have a routine:

Do not underestimate the power of a routine. It will create calm and give stability thus avoiding tantrums and arguments..

Using information about learning styles will help you put together almost all of the above in a suitable way that works best for your child. It will require commitment, patience and a plan!

Working with your child is a good way of bonding- especially when they understand that you are able to teach them. They will (hopefully) think you are almost as amazing as their class teacher! Undoubtedly you will come across topics you are not sure about- this will mean you need to find the resource for that topic and then explain, practise and test.

The resources available for 11 plus available are mostly test papers but there are books subject books available; these can be bought online or in any major book store.

How can Redbridge Tuition help?

Redbridge Tuition has a strong track record when it comes to the 11 Plus Exam. We are specialists in this field and our consistent success over the last 15 years speaks for itself. Our 2 year course is designed to help ease some of the angst that many parents face when thinking about the 11 plus.

The Redbridge Tuition 11 plus course is demanding but extremely rewarding. It is taught in a fun and interactive way to ensure that each child gains confidence and can achieve to the best of their potential. All our sessions are in small groups, are teacher-led and topic-based. This ensures that all three major learning styles are covered.

At Redbridge Tuition the majority of the material for this course (both paper-based and online questions) is written in house by our specialist tutors and writers who understand what is required to pass the Eleven Plus Exam.

Please note this for information only. It is crucial that you look at your borough’s website for any recent changes.

Further resources on the 11 Plus

If you want to have some further information about the 11 Plus you might want to try checking out our blog and podcast pages.

These specific blog pages also may proof useful:

The Eleven Plus Exam: Secrets of Success

What are Grammar Schools? Why are they controversial?


Comparison of the different 11 plus exam boards:

(please note this format is subject to change- please check with your local borough for any changes)

Exam Type Breakdown
Private schools


Mostly MCQ


1st stage: MCQ 2nd stage: school-specific 

Mostly Standard


Section by section

Whole paper

Whole paper

Whole paper

Whole paper

Separate Answer Sheet


Yes for MCQ



Mostly No

Creative writing




1st stage; no

2nd stage: school dependent



Usually 45 mins per paper

Usually 45 mins per paper

Usually 50 mins per paper

Usually 50 mins per paper

Usually 60 mins per paper


CEM stands for ‘Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring’ and is an educational research institution run by the University of Durham. CEM was introduced due to concerns that the 11 plus tests were becoming too open and easy to prepare for. The balance overall is 50% English and 50% mathematics.

Which boroughs use CEM?

The following boroughs currently use CEM for their 11 plus exam.

  • Berkshire (including Slough)

  • Bexley

  • Birmingham

  • Gloucestershire

  • Redbridge

  • Shropshire

  • South West Herts Consortium – CEM Verbal Reasoning

  • Warwickshire

  • Walsall

  • Wolverhampton

Parts of the following regions use CEM

  • Devon Grammar School
  • Trafford Consortium Schools – Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, Sale Grammar School, Stretford Grammar School and Urmston Grammar School.
  • Wiltshire – Bishop Wordsworth’s
  • Wirral Grammar Schools
  • Yorkshire – Heckmondwike Grammar

CEM Exam Structure:

Paper breakdown
MCQ-Section by section

Separate answer sheet

Each section is timed

Short maths

Mental maths

Long maths

Yes (multi-question maths)

English comprehension

Yes (usually one short and one long)

Grammar and spelling



Yes (antonyms and synonyms)

Verbal Reasoning

Yes (all types)

Non-Verbal Reasoning (2D)


Non-Verbal Reasoning  (3D/spatial)


There is a big focus on vocabulary in these papers as well as problem-solving. There are generally more questions than there is time to answer them.
Therefore a good balance between speed and accuracy is crucial.


GL stands for Granada Learning, which up until 2007 was NFER (National Foundation for Education Research), gets it’s questions from a large question bank containing a finite number of question types and covers all four of the individual disciplines; maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.
Most boroughs originally used GL test papers, but in recent years, many boroughs moved away from GL in favour of CEM. This is because the CEM papers were said to be ‘tutor-proof’.
Most boroughs that use GL administer individual topics, although some boroughs (e.g. Kent) will use creative writing as a tie-breaker.
Most boroughs will test English, Maths, VR and NVR independently of each other but the GL exam in some boroughs may also combine English and verbal reasoning and another combines Maths and non-verbal reasoning. Standard Format, Multiple Choice, or a combination may be used depending on the school/region.

Which boroughs use GL?

  • Buckinghamshire (have reverted to GL but now test all 4 subjects)
  • CSSE (Essex) – Chelmsford County High School
  • Dorset
  • Cumbria
  • Kent
  • Lancashire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Medway
  • North London – Latymer School, Henrietta Barnet School
  • Yorkshire and Humber
  • Wiltshire.

GL Exam Structure:

Paper breakdown
MCQ-Section by section

Separate answer sheet

One full answer sheet per exam paper- no individually timed sections

Full maths papers 


-Mostly MCQ- some boroughs use a standard format

Topics include:

Knowledge of times tables

Applying the four basic operations (+ – x ÷)

Quick mental arithmetic

Graph reading

Understanding of shapes, space & measures

Full English Paper


-Always MCQ

Comprehension exercises

Spelling, where children are asked to spot mistakes

Use of capital letters and punctuation

Word choice and grammar

Full Verbal Reasoning Paper


-Mostly MCQ- some boroughs use a standard format

Process verbal information

Identifying patterns

Similarities and differences between words

Demonstrate an understanding of the rules and meaning of language

Applying logical thinking and problem-solving skills

Full Non-Verbal Reasoning Paper


-Always MCQ

Process graphic information and follow patterns and rules

Use of spatial awareness and reasoning

Apply mathematical skills – rotation, reflection and symmetry

Apply logical thinking and problem-solving skills


CSSE stands for Consortium of Secondary Schools for Essex. As the name suggests, this is a consortium of most of the grammar schools in Essex. The consortiums set its own tests.

The papers are only maths and English. Verbal reasoning is a small part of the English paper. There is a big focus on vocabulary in the CSSE English papers as well as problem-solving. There are generally more questions than there is time to answer them.

Which boroughs use CSSE?

As the name suggests, this is for schools in Essex only. The following grammar schools in Essex are part of the CSSE consortium:

CSSE Exam Structure:

Paper breakdown
MCQ-Section by section

Separate answer sheet


Full maths papers 


-Always a standard format

Topics include:

Knowledge of times tables

Applying the four basic operations (+ – x ÷)

Quick mental arithmetic

Graph reading

Understanding of shapes, space & measures

Full English Paper


-Always standard format

Comprehension exercises

Vocabulary, where children are asked to replace words in the passage 

Short writing piece

Very short Verbal reasoning section


Eleven plus information for each borough can be found on the following pages:








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