The 11+ Exam for Grammar School Entry: A Guide For Parents 2021

Published: 10 Sep 20

This article provides a guide for parents of current Year 5 children looking to prepare them for the 11+ Exam in September 2021 to enter their child into Year 7 at a grammar school in September 2022. 


September 2020: Ideally, you will have decided which grammar schools you are considering. It is a good idea to visit each school with your child, to get a better feel and to see if it the right environment for them. (Most schools will be organising virtual tours and virtual open days over the coming year.)

April 2021: Most grammar schools will open their registration in April or May and set a deadline around June or July for parents to register their child for the 11+ exam. There is some variability so please check these dates with your individual schools. Buckinghamshire automatically enters all primary children for the 11+ exam and operates an opt-out system for parents who must actively choose to withdraw their child from the process.

September 2021: For most grammar schools the 11+ exam will take place during the first two weeks in September 2021. There is some variability so please check the date with your individual schools.

October 2021: For most grammar schools, 11+ results will be posted in mid-October 2021.

March 2022: School allocations are confirmed on 01 March 2022.

September 2022: New intake begins Year 7 at each of the 164 grammar schools.

What is a Grammar School?

Grammar schools are selective state-funded secondary schools that have a strong focus on academic achievement. These schools select their pupils into Year 7 by means of an academic examination called the 11+ or “11 plus”. A small number of grammar schools also have an intake into Year 8 or Year 9 and test pupils with an equivalent 12+ or 13+ Exam. Grammar schools do not charge fees and competition for places is generally very high.

In the UK there are over 3000 state-funded secondary schools and out of these currently 164 are state-funded grammar schools, with approximately 167,000 pupils. Grammar schools can be co-educational or single sex; although most single sex grammar schools now accept both boys and girls in the sixth form.

164 grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. There are a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland, but none in Wales or Scotland. It is not always necessary for you to live in an area with state grammar schools for your child to gain a place at one. A few grammar schools recruit from outside their catchment while others offer boarding facilities. Most grammar schools, however, give preference to those living within their catchment areas.

Not all selective grammar schools have ‘grammar’ in their name eg. Dr Challoner’s High School. Also many schools with ‘grammar’ in their name are actually fee-paying independent schools eg. Bradford Grammar School. Independent Schools select their pupils using their own bespoke Year 7 School Entrance Exam (sometimes referred to as the 11+), which takes place in January of Year 6 and which has some similarities to the 11+ grammar school exam.

Why is it called a Grammar School?

The earliest schools connected to monasteries were called scolae grammaticales. These schools initially were established to teach Latin grammar, the language of academia, thus the origins of the name.

Why go to a Grammar School?

As grammar school pupils are all academically selected and of similar high ability, teachers are arguably able to stretch and challenge their pupils further, making more effective progress in lessons as compared to a comprehensive, mixed-ability school. Grammar schools are some of the highest performing schools listed in national league tables. According to the Sutton Trust Report (2008), grammar school pupils make greater progress throughout Key Stage 3 and 4 and achieve better GCSEs and A levels compared to pupils from other types of school.

Another perceived advantage of attending a grammar school is that of social mobility. Grammar schools have a track record of producing students who go on to have very successful careers and who develop large networks of influential friends. A recent study conducted by the University of Bath, Bristol and the Institute of Education at the University of London concluded that pupils who attend a grammar school end up earning more than those who attend comprehensive schools.

What is the 11+ Exam?

The 11+ Exam (or “11-plus”) is a selective entrance exam generally taken at the beginning Year 6, generally in September. The content varies between different areas of the country but will generally be based on some or all of the following types of questions: English, maths, verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning. It may involve sitting two or even three eleven plus examinations. Sometimes the tests will be of a different kind, e.g. a non-verbal reasoning and a verbal reasoning test and in other cases the tests will be the same e.g. two verbal reasoning tests. There are two main exam boards for the 11+ Exam:

(1) GL Assessment (previously known as NFER) administer the 11+ exams for the majority of grammar schools in Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Kent, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton. The GL 11+ exam cover English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning (spatial awareness). Each school can choose any combination of these to best fit their selection criteria.

(2) CEM developed by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University administer the 11+ exams for Cumbria, Dorset, Lancashire, Medway, Northern Ireland and Wiltshire. The CEM 11+ exam covers verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning. (The verbal reasoning exam includes many of the skills tested in the GL English exam; the numerical reasoning exam includes many of the skills tested in the GL maths exam.)

Schools in Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford and Yorkshire use a mixture of GL and CEM.

In both GL and CEM exams, there is a strong emphasis on core skills in English and maths; including spelling, punctuation, grammar, comprehension and vocabulary; including arithmetic skills, problem-solving and manipulation of data. Non-verbal reasoning assess spatial awareness, pattern-spotting and logical skills.

How do I best support my child in preparing towards the 11+?

The best time to start preparing your child for the 11+ depends entirely on their current attainment levels and experience. Your son or daughter may only need a few weeks or months of preparation as the 11+ exam approaches, with a focus on practising exam papers, developing the exam technique and confidence. Most children benefit from several months of support; often regular weekly tuition, building rigour and polish across core skills, being fully stretched and challenged academically and then shaping their performance towards the demands of the exam. Any support or tuition focused on preparing for the 11+ exam also brings a significant and broader benefit to your child’s, in terms of their general schoolwork and confidence.

Some parents will choose to prepare their child using resources available, such as the series of Bond 11+ books or GL and CEM past papers; other parents will choose to send their child to 11+ group tuition with classes outside of school hours; other parents may choose to enlist the services of a professional tutor or teacher, who specialises in preparing children for the 11+ exam.

Teachers To Your Home provides specialist 11+ Examination tutors who have considerable experience in preparing children for entry into grammar schools. All of our 11+ tutors are qualified and experienced teachers; a significant number working as teachers within the Primary, Prep and Grammar School Sectors and who have thorough knowledge and experience of the 11+ process.

Most parents request 11+ tuition from Year 4 or 5. Initially, our 11+ tutors will provide an assessment of the child’s current levels before then going on to ensure a rich and rigorous foundation across all core skills before then preparing children towards the demands of the exam itself: building confidence and exam technique.

What to do if your child does not pass the 11+?

If your child doesn’t do as well as you expected, parents can submit an appeal to challenge the decision. You can also consider applying again for a later selection, at 12+ or 13+.

Above all, 11+ tuition should be a very positive and enjoyable experience, for both the child and the teacher. It is about each child achieving their personal best, whatever that may be. With many years of experience in teaching children on a one-to-one basis, we know that children often make remarkable progress in only a few weeks. Ability, self-belief, confidence, enjoyment … all begin to take root and grow.

Other Parent Guides you may wish to read include:
Home Schooling: A Guide for Parents 2020
Independent Schools Entrance Exams: A Guide for Parents 2021

For further information: Free Sample 11+ Exam Papers and Answers

Over 18,000 qualified and experienced teachers, across the UK, who also offer their skills as high quality home tutors