How to use 11 Plus Practice Papers (free papers included)

Posted on May, 2022

Why take 11 Plus Practice Papers?

Probably anyone would agree that taking 11 plus practice papers is an extremely important component of the 11 plus preparation process. We certainly believe that students need to devote time to taking full-length papers.

However, it has become clear over many years that parents and tutors differ in their understanding of how and how often 11 plus practice papers (they can be found in our shop) should be used to achieve exam success. You can read some of our other tips for 11+ success here.

When should a student take 11 Plus Practice Papers?

Many parents and tutors believe that students should start taking 11 practice papers early on in the 11 plus process.

There are a number of benefits to this mode of thinking: 

  1. Students are aware of the challenges that they will face early on in the process
  2. Parents and tutors can become aware of the student’s various strengths and weaknesses
  3. Students can practise their timing in the exam early on in the process
  4. Students can become used to the format of the exam early on in the process
  5. Parents, tutors and students can build a sense of urgency which can act as a motivating factor

All of these points are valid to a degree, however, I think it is crucial that both parents and educators are aware of the severe drawbacks of this approach:

  1. Students can lose confidence in their ability
  2. Students usually have limited knowledge early in the process which provides little useful feedback
  3. Poor scores in 11 plus practice papers can panic the child, parents and tutors
  4. Taking a lot of 11 plus practice papers can reinforce mistakes 
  5. The pressure involved in taking exams can weigh on the child in an unhealthy manner – learn how to recognise signs here.

Car Battery! — Heartbreaking Simpsons Moments 1/∞: Bart Gets an F

As there are many costs and benefits to taking 11 plus practice papers early, it is clear, therefore, that a careful balance must be struck and the educator and parents need to be sensitive in deciding upon an approach. No child is the same, and it is important to tailor the approach. There are, however, some general rules of thumb that can applied.

Rule #1 – Isolate and address weaknesses

If a child takes an 11 plus exam paper, spend time going through the mistakes and look for patterns. Are there certain question types that the student finds difficult? If there are then isolate each type of question and seek out further problems that mirror the format. It is also usually necessary to delve into each problem and find out the reason why the student did not get the answer correct.

Rule #2 –  Do not focus on the score; be analytical

Exam success is not just a matter of exam technique and speed. Brilliant results are achieved when students have a deep knowledge and understanding of topics, or grasp of the skills required. Rather than fixate on the score, it is crucial to focus on and understand the nature of each mistake. Sometimes these mistakes can be the result of inattention, inaccuracy, or a fundamental lack of understanding. When you talk to your child/student, make it your goal to identify the type of mistake.

The thinker

Any areas where there is a lack of understanding should be celebrated; these can be improved upon. Inaccuracy and inattention is usually the result of time-pressure and stress. Criticising the score is not helpful feedback, and will usually just dent a child’s confidence. All feedback should be constructive and geared towards improving the student’s understanding.

Rule #3  – Think about your child’s specific situation

There are some children in any 11 plus cohort who have a knowledge base greater than the rest. There are also children in the cohort who will take longer to understand and build their foundations in the basics. If your child/student has a firm grasp of the foundations and skills covered in the 11 plus, then it might be worthwhile trying a few 11 plus practice papers. If, however, your child/student is clearly lacking fundamental skills and knowledge to take papers, it will probably be counter-productive to take practice 11 plus exam papers. 

Rule #4 – Recognise when your child/student is tired or fed-up

If you were to spend time in your child’s shoes, how would you feel if you did practice papers every week? Most students need to feel a sense of urgency when they take an exam. Being in ‘exam mode’ all the time, can be draining and can also crush a child’s motivation. It is crucial to recognise the signs of burnout. 

Rule #5 – Say well done

On completing an exam paper, I always say well done to a student. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but children are often exploring new territory when they take an exam. The average year 5 student has not taken many exams in their life. As it is a new experience, it is important to try to present everything positively, and let the student know that you understand the challenge that they are going through. 

When Finals Come Around GIF - The Simpsons Help Exams GIFs

For more information on the 11 Plus, check out our Education Lounge Podcast:

Techniques for Improving Exam Scores

If you are sure that your child has covered all the components of the exam, it is important for them to master the aspects of technique to maximise their score.

Here are a few general tips that will help your child/student boost their performance in an exam situation:

Tip #1: Teach them how to eliminate

Some of the 11 plus exam papers have multiple choice answers. If a child has five options, they have a 20% chance of selecting the correct answer. If, however, a student learns how to remove some of those options, the chances of getting the question correct are substantially improved. For instance:

Which of the following words is a synonym for ‘agreed’?

          a) discuss

          b) concur

          c) askew

          d) innovate

          e) alleviate

The student should be able to eliminate option a, as ‘discuss’ means ‘to talk about’. The child may know that option d, innovate’, means ‘invent’. Options b, d, and e are more difficult vocabulary items, but if the child is able to reach this stage, the student has already increased the probability of guessing the correct answer by a significant amount.

Answer = b (concur)

Tip #2: Teach them to look for shortcuts

Sometimes, there are strategies that can be applied to questions in order to solve them more quickly (especially in mathematics). These shortcuts will lead to vital time being saved across the paper/section. For example:

Which of the following is divisible by 9?

          a) 2082

          b) 2202

          c) 3069

          d) 4063

          e) 1425

A child who is well-versed in short division can easily answer the question, but will take a little time to go through each of the options and divide them individually. However, if they are aware of the mathematical fact that a number that is divisible by 9, if its digits add up to a multiple of 9. So option a is not divisible by 9 because the sum of its digits is 12 (not a multiple of 9). Option b is not divisible by 9 because the sum of its digits is 6 (not a multiple of 9). Option c has to be the answer because the sum of the digits is 18 (18 is a multiple of 9).

Answer = c (3069)

Tip #3: Teach them to skip questions

Some questions require more time than others. A student should learn to recognise when a question is  requires greater time investment.

For instance, take a look at the following questions:

  1. Angie, Bessie, Cadmus, Damien, and Elsie are all friends from school. Elsie is 2 years older than Angie, and 3 years younger than Cadmus. Damien is 3 years older than Bessie, who is 4 years younger than Elsie. Which of the following is not possible?

          a) Elsie is 11, Bessie is 7 and Cadmus is 14

          b) Damien is 6, Angie is 5 and Elsie is 7

          c) Angie is 12, Cadmus is 17, Bessie is 8

          d) Damien is 8, Elsie is 9, Bessie is 4

          e) Cadmus is 14, Bessie is 5, Angie is 9

This question is certainly possible to attempt (answer = d, Elsie would be 10), however, it is clearly going to take more time than the next question:

    2. What is the product of the first 3 primes? 

           a) 6

           b) 8

           c) 10

           d) 24

           e) 30

As long as the student is able to locate primes and understands the term, ‘product’, this question is not time intensive at all, and the student should be able to find that the answer is e (2 x 3 x 5 = 30).

It is a useful exam skill for a student to be able to identify the more time-intensive questions in the paper. Even a strong student can end up ruminating on one question and lose time in the exam. 

Tip #4: Teach them to remain calm by regulating their breathing

As an exam is a difficult situation, some children may start to feel very anxious. In stressful situations, it is natural for our bodies to go into a fight-or-flight response. The body needs to gain oxygen quickly, so breathing becomes quick and shallow. Although a fight-or-flight response is ideal for a dangerous situation, it is not ideal in an exam situation. A child in an overly-anxious state of mind will forget things, make mistakes, and perhaps even need the toilet. If, however, they are able to regulate their feelings using breathing exercises, they can approach the exam with a more rational and calmer mindset. 

Tip #5: Teach them to check their answers carefully if they have time

If a child has time left over in the exam, he or she should definitely spend any remaining time checking answers. Some students don’t know how to check their answers carefully or just casually pass their eyes over the paper without paying attention to each question. They should, however, be thorough in their checking process. In mathematics, it is important for a child to become well-practiced in utilising inverse operations. For instance, if a question asks for 475 to be divided by 5, then multiplying the answer by 5 should result in 475. 

#Bonus Tip: Teach them how to estimate

A child who is skilled in estimation, is usually far better at checking his or her answers. For instance, suppose a decimal multiplication appears in a paper:

Calculate 3.8 x 2.1: 

Initially, I think that the student should try to estimate the answer (4 x 2 = 8), so that he or she reduces the risk of putting down a ridiculous answer.  (Answer: 7.98)

I’ve seen students put down ridiculous answers so many times in assessment papers. If they had spent even a second or two estimating the answer beforehand, they would have avoided making such mistakes.


11 plus practice exams, clearly have a place in the 11 plus preparation process, but need to be utilised with care. Used incorrectly, they can damage a child’s chances by reinforcing bad habits, mistakes and destroying a child’s confidence. However, if this article’s tips are taken into account wholeheartedly, a student can definitely improve his/her chances significantly by taking papers prior to the exam. They are an excellent way of building a child’s understanding of the exam process. 

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You might like to try our sets of free 11 plus practice papers.

11 Plus CEM Practice Papers


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