11-Plus exam – what you need to know

11 Plus exam

When I first encountered the 11-Plus exam it was early in the term of a new school year in a Primary school in Skegness, Lincolnshire way back in 2005. Before the candidates from our school sat the test, all hoping to score well and enter the local Grammar School, I had an opportunity to flick through a paper. The first thing that struck me was the similarities of the eleven plus and a MENSA test. I had sat the official MENSA test twice before and scored 147 on each occasion (you need 148 to become a member). 

I could see how straight forward the mathematics and English elements were with the non-verbal reasoning being a particular area of similitude with the MENSA test. While I was teaching in Lincolnshire, I accepted numerous requests for tuition on how to perform well on the 11 + test. I have been supporting candidates since that time and have watched the developments in the test until the present day. 

Caption about 11+ exam

Now the 11-Plus exam entails more than one form of the test, and it can vary from school to school. Principally, there are currently two main formats to the test. The CEM test and the GL test. CEM and GL are the examination boards. 

  • Where will you encounter the GL exam format? Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland, Warwickshire. 
  • Where will you encounter the CEM exam format? Berkshire, Bexley, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Wolverhampton. 
  • Where will you encounter the CEM exam format and the GL exam format? Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Wiltshire, Wirral, Yorkshire. 

At the time I conducted my research it was unclear which exam board Surrey will endorse. 

*Please note this list was correct as recently as the end of May 2022 but schools and regions do change exam boards and it is vital that you check with individual schools. 

The problem of ‘selective’ schools 

All state grammar schools are selective. This means that they choose their students through the 11-Plus exams in subjects which might include mathematics, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. The absolute best performing students are offered places, so long as they can meet the school’s other entrance criteria (for example, geographical location). 

Grammar schools offer children the opportunity to study in the company of other bright and academically motivated children. This is the reason success in the 11-Plus exam is vital to a Grammar school. The exam is their step to the exceedingly high bar they will be setting during a pupil’s time in their school.  


Tutoring and the 11-Plus 

Tuition Works have a number of experienced and able tutors that can support your child in whichever exam format they face.  

As the grammar school 11-Plus exam is designed to discover children’s suitability for an academically challenging secondary education. The test itself aims to demand positive responses on a pupil’s knowledge on the core KS2 primary curriculum in English and maths. It may also include reasoning tests, designed to spot potential rather than knowledge.  

What a TuitionWorks tutor could do for your child 

To support your child in their run-up to the test, purchasing a block of tuition hours with a tutor is a healthy step towards test success. The moment you have made the decision that your child is going to take on the challenges that the 11-Plus exam brings then you should start to work with a tutor and formulate a plan of learning. Some children will need many more hours than others. A good tutor will be able to offer you an assessment on all aspects of the tests.  

The tutors at TuitionWorks, including myself, will then help you begin your preparation for all stages of the test:

  • they will provide you with practice questions, concentrating on the question types your child finds tricky 
  • they will coach you through the often-intricate wording in questions  
  • expose you to non-verbal reasoning challenges and aid you in understanding why the answer is what it is 
  • concentrate on accuracy in all questions and then develop your speed in answering questions (a vital skill) 
  • help you find several ways of tackling questions and ultimately the best way for you 

Do you need a different tutor dependent on which format of the test you are taking? 

Having spent a number of hours working through CEM test materials and GL assessment papers, I have to say there are few differences.  

Both test formats exam your child’s ability in four major categories of skill:

Verbal reasoning (VR) 

Verbal reasoning tests of intelligence provide an appraisement of an individual’s capacity to think, reason and solve problems in a variety of ways. In addition, such tests are also used by a growing number of employers as part of the selection/recruitment process. 

The GL test contain several types of question involving numbers, codes for letters which are less common than in the CEM format.  

Non-verbal reasoning (NVR) 

Non-verbal reasoning, often called abstract reasoning. NVR involves solving problems usually presented to the candidate in diagram or picture form. This means that these visual clues are more important than words — therefore the term NON-VERBAL. The reasoning part simply means ‘finding the correct answer.’ 

I have discovered that one of the most significant differences between NVR in CEM and GL is that GL uses more spatial reasoning questions. Further research leads me to conclude that CEM are increasing their amount of spatial reasoning questions also.  

Many candidates struggle with spatial reasoning – Tuition Works can help with that!


The English section of the 11 plus is based in comprehension. 

There is slight difference between the two formats of the tests in this area. 

Using Key Stage 2 past SATs papers would be a useful way of practising for the 11 plus test as well as using the practice papers available. A Primary based tutor could really help you in this area of the test. 


Like the English test a Primary curriculum expert will be able to guide your child through this area of the test. 

Although the test is only supposed to be on the areas of the curriculum up to the start of Year 6, you must accept that this attainment can be a variable across the country. To prepare fully for this section of the test, I strongly recommend covering the whole of the Year 6 curriculum. The earlier you start collaborating with a tutor, the faster your child can look forward to overtaking the likely point of progress in their current school. 

11-Plus to do list:

  1. Examine the website of your target grammar school, to find out about the format of their test (for example, some – like Birmingham – are multiple choice, whereas others are write-in; some areas only assess VR and NVR, while others cover all four aspects).
  2. Download the familiarisation papers and parent guides from the GL website (including 3 different practice papers with answer grids and answers for each area: VR, NVR, English and Maths). 
  3. Obtain some GL-specific resources (particularly the mixed assessment papers, so you have experience of how the papers are set up) with resources you already have (rather than throwing everything out and starting again), but keep in mind any differences between the different exam boards’ question types that you are aware of.
  4. If the exam board you will be encountering has an online reserve of question types (as GL does), work through these whenever you can.
  5. Take as many opportunities as you can to play lots of puzzles and games. This will help your child develop lateral thinking skills, pattern seeking skills, logic and word skills as well as being lots of fun!
  6. Remember that timed practice is still important – start with small steps (e.g., by attempting some short tasks or just using a section at a time of a practice paper) and build up to full timed papers.
  7. Contact TuitionWorks and select one of the tutors to collaborate with you and pass on their experience and secrets! You never know, I might be the one who passes my magic onto your child! 

TuitionWorks is here to help you conquer the 11-Plus exam

If you’re still feeling less than confident about non-verbal reasoning or other aspects of the 11-Plus exam, TuitionWorks can provide an intensive course of personalised, one-to-one 11-Plus tuition from a qualified teacher like me. Just get in touch for a free consultation. 

Federico Antonelli

Andrew Hartshorn

Maths tutor at TuitionWorks

I have over twenty years’ experience of teaching both children and adults. I trained as a primary school teacher after a spending a number of years abroad teaching English as second language. 

After qualifying with a PGCE in 2004, I attained my Masters Degree in Education. I believe in keeping my skills sharp and recently completed an online writing course with Harvard University.

Book Andrew today →

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