Top 10 tips to pass the 11 plus

The 11+ is an exam given to some students in England and Northern Island in the last year of their primary education. The results of this exam gain your child admission to grammar schools and other secondary schools that use academic selection. 


The exam tests the child’s ability to solve problems using a test of verbal and non-verbal reasoning, with papers in Maths and English. The original intention of the test was to test general intelligence, like an IQ test, while also testing for taught curriculum skills. It now measures aptitude for school work. 


The 11+ can be intimidating for both children and parents. There is a lot of studying involved and things can get competitive. If you’re worried, use these tips to prepare properly and help your child achieve the best results they can. 


1. Make the right school choice

Think carefully about which school your child wants to try for. Consider the travel distance and how the school will fit in with family life. Children should have a good balance between work and other activities to help them perform to the best of the ability. Try to visit the schools on the shortlist, so you and your child can get an idea of what life might be like there. Knowing where they’re heading can be a great motivational tool at times when the studying and preparation feel like too much. 

2. Choose the right preparation plan

There are several ways for you to prepare for the 11+, such as private tuition, tuition groups, guided 11+ courses, or using 11+ books at home. Each of these options has a different price point and comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. No one method is better than the other, and for most families, a combination of one or two options is likely to work best. Weight up your budget, and the way your child learns to decide on the best option. 

3. Concentrate on Maths and English if you start early

You can start preparing your child for the 11+, but if you do, you should focus on Maths and English skills first. Encourage your child to read every day, help them to practice their times-tables and plan in some spelling work and mental maths each week to brush up their skills, both for the 11+ and their general education. 

4. Develop a wide vocabulary

A wide vocabulary is best developed over time, through methods like reading every day, talking to adults, or even listening to the radio. There are learning activities to develop it too, but they are often not as effective. It’s never too early to start helping your child to develop this skill, and it will help them through the 11+. 

5. Practice times-tables

To do well in the 11+, your child will need to have rock-solid knowledge of their times-tables. This skill will help them to work quickly and accurately during the Maths portion and get a better result. At school, Maths classes tend to move on from learning times-tables before children have properly learned them, due to pressures from the curriculum, so make sure you keep practicing them together at home or with a tutor to keep that knowledge polished. 

6. Don’t move too fast with Maths

It’s easy to be tempted to keep pressing forward with Maths, to take on more challenging subjects. Some children who are very mathematically gifted may respond well to this, but for most, this will mean building their skills without a solid foundation of the basics. The 11+ doesn’t stray outside of the primary school syllabus (apart from one or two questions from some independent schools), so there’s no point pushing your child too far, too fast. They’ll do better with a solid knowledge of the basics. 

7. Make a plan and stick to it

When you’ve made your plan and can see it is working well for your child, ignore what other parents are doing. You’ll probably hear other parents bragging at the school gate about how many hours of study their child is doing, or the complex questions they’re tackling. If your system is working, it’s fine, and you should keep working with it. Remember that everything can’t be about the study and the child will need a break sometimes too. 

8. Remember that children need to learn the material before they are tested

Being tested on a topic they don’t yet understand can be demotivating for children, and it makes it hard to get an accurate idea of where they’re at with their knowledge. Mistakes will be made on the topics they don't know, but by spending time on those areas, they’ll also make mistakes on the topics they do know. Instead, help them learn first and then give them a timed test after they’ve spent time studying. 

9. Ease off the pressure

Parents can pile on the stress without meaning to. Try not to spend all your time talking about their studies are going, or about their new school. Children worry about letting their parents down, and this pressure can cause them to underperform. Even if you mean well, try not to apply too much pressure or high standards that can’t be met. Pressure can cause even the brightest child to massively underperform. Instead, try to do everything you can to make the preparation relaxed and fun as possible. Make sure your child understands that it won’t be the end of the world if they don’t succeed. 

10. Stamina is important

Both you and your child need the stamina to get through this. You need the stamina to dedicate the needed time to help with their learning, and they will need the stamina to get through preparations and the exam itself. The exam day is very demanding, and some children may have never had to work so hard for so long before. Try some mock days yourself or with a tutor to help your child get a feel for what the day will be like and practice having to concentrate for such an extended period of time. 

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