HOME PAGE / BLOG / What is the Eleven-Plus Exam and What Exactly Does It Test?
Last Update Date: 05 November 2019

The eleven-plus exam, also known as the 11+ exam or transfer test, is an exam administered in England to students in their last year of primary education.

The purpose of the test is to identify students with relatively high academic potential and transfer them into grammar schools to continue the remainder of their secondary education. The eleven-plus exam aims to evaluate students based on a broad range of their intellectual abilities. As a result, the test consists of a mix of numeracy, literacy, and verbal and non-verbal reasoning questions all of which aim to determine different intellectual skills.

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what is 11 plus exam

Since the eleven-plus exam and its course of conduct have changed significantly since it was first introduced in 1944, we believe it’s beneficial to review some of the necessary details and frequently asked questions.

Does Every Child Have to Take the Eleven-Plus Exam?

The eleven-plus exam is not a compulsory test. Although some local administrations register every child by default, parents can withdraw their child from the exam if they wish.

What Will Be Tested?

The content of the exam varies throughout the country, however, all exams will use a combination of the following four subjects:

  • English (comprehension, punctuation, grammar, and creative writing)
  • Maths
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Non-verbal reasoning

The main structure of the eleven-plus exam is consistent throughout England, with the English and maths components tending to follow the National Curriculum. However, verbal and non-verbal reasoning are not subjects formally taught in state primary schools. As a result, the content of these parts of the exam may vary. It's important to provide your child with additional support and practice so that they’re familiar with these types of exam questions.

How Can Parents Decide Whether Their Child Should Take The Exam?

Going through long and serious tests is stressful for everyone, let alone children at such a young age. As a result, parents should seriously consider if they want their child to take the eleven-plus exam. Parents should keep in mind that although this exam sorts children into more academically-oriented schools, it is not a definitive statement of their future.

Since a parent’s view of their child may be biased, it’s a good idea to consult education experts and especially their child’s teachers. A basic and effective way to determine if your child should take the transfer test is to ask these questions:

  • Does your child’s teacher think you should encourage him/her to go through the eleven-plus exam?
  • Is your child scoring significantly higher than average in school exams?
  • Is your child gifted academically?
  • Are your child’s results above average in their SATs/CATs/PIEs/PIMs/etc.?

When Are Eleven-Plus Exams Held?

The exams take place in September of the child's final primary school year, with results sent to parents in October to allow time for application to secondary schools. In reality, most children will be 10 years old when they take the exam but the eleven-plus exam is named after their age when they’re admitted to secondary school.

How many schools admit students via the eleven-plus exam?

There are now 164 Grammar Schools in England. The eleven-plus exam was officially discontinued in Northern Ireland in 2008, although many of the former grammar schools still use the test to admit children selectively.

What is the attendance rate of the eleven-plus exam?

Parents should keep in mind that attendance and success rates at eleven-plus exams are higher in areas where public education is aligned with the exam. While this is an advantage for the child’s exam preparation, the higher attendance comes with tougher competition.

Certain grammar schools in the Kingston and Sutton area are a good example of the correlation between competition and success rate. Although they attract thousands of applicants for around 200 vacancies, the success rate is approximately 3%.

In places such as Buckinghamshire, where the grammar system has been retained in full, success rates are roughly around 30%.

How Should I Approach My Child and Prepare for the Exam?

Children can sense stress and may become anxious if they feel your anxiety. It’s best to be relaxed and prepare your child by encouraging them to play cognitive or intellectual games, such as our MentalUP brain games. Prepared by education specialists, MentalUP games will prepare detailed reports about your child’s learning progress and development. You can track your child’s performance while allowing them to ease into eleven-plus exam preparation, without any pressure or anxiety.

If you’re still unsure about whether your child should take the eleven-plus, our regular MentalUP reports will also help you decide whether or not your child is suitable for the exam.

Lauran Cole