It’s super important to have a firm grasp of the 11 Plus in order to ace the exams. Let’s find out which 11 Plus skills are needed to excel…

Taking the leap from primary to secondary school can feel daunting for both parents and children alike, especially when it comes down to sitting entrance exams and choosing the right school. If you have a specific grammar school in mind for your child, it’s super important to have a firm grasp of the 11 Plus skills required to ace the exams.

Our guide will cover;

  • What the 11+ exams involve

  • Which 11+ skills are needed to excel

  • How to prepare your child for exam season.

Areas tested in the 11 Plus

Not all 11 Plus tests have the same criteria and are designed the same way. Different counties will use different versions – two exam boards build the exams – CEM and GL, and it’s worth asking the school which one your child will be sitting. Generally, the areas or disciplines being tested are maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

11 Plus maths

Your child’s maths skills need to be sharp as it is one of the main focus subjects in the assessment process. Knowing what to expect from the 11+ maths exam and how best to prepare will give them the confidence to do well. 

11 Plus maths papers fall into 4 broad categories;

  1. GL/NFER Maths tests

  2. CEM Numerical reasoning maths tests

  3. Grammar school written maths tests

  4. Independent school written maths tests.

Whichever test your child is sitting, the paper will focus on the maths children will learn at primary school and will not stray beyond the KS2 syllabus.

What does the maths exam involve? 

The 11 Plus maths tests cover a huge range of topics, which your child will be taught throughout Key Stage 2, but at an advanced level. The content of the tests will vary depending on your area.

Most of the maths questions on the 11 Plus will require problem-solving and detailed analysis, where children need to understand and apply mathematical concepts. It’s important for children to be well versed in the basic principles before they can use them for problem-solving. 

11 Plus maths exam topics

The 11 Plus maths exam will aim to test your child’s proficiency in numbers, speed, accuracy, fluency, problem-solving and mental arithmetic. It will cover the following topics;

  • Number and place value

  • Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division

  • Fractions, percentages, decimals

  • Ratio and proportion

  • Algebra

  • Measurement

  • Geometry (properties and position of shapes, co-ordinates)

  • Statistics.

What maths skills will my child be tested on?

When faced with the maths element of the 11 plus exam, your child will be tested on a basic understanding of maths, including addition, subtraction, and other vital aspects of the Key Stage 2 maths curriculum.

The 11+ maths test is designed to see how well your child understands numbers and can solve mathematical problems. The maths tests are based on what your child has been taught during Key Stage 2, with most of the questions equivalent to a National Curriculum level 5: (above average level for a Year 6 pupil).

Your child needs to;

  • Think and calculate quickly

  • Have strong maths core skills

  • Work quickly and accurately

  • Have strong knowledge of times tables and the four basic operations: addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.

11 Plus English

The 11 Plus English exams for grammar, private or independent schools can come in a variety of formats, depending on the local area and the school requirements. The kind of English test your child will have to sit as part of their 11+ exam will depend on where you live and varies considerably between areas of the country. 

Some grammar schools expect children to complete a creative writing task and a reading comprehension; others will just set a multiple-choice test to assess your child’s skills in comprehension and grammar, while some don’t set an English paper at all. 

You will need to visit the individual websites of the schools you’re interested in to find out more detailed information about the tests they set. 

What does the English exam involve? 

The English aspect of the 11+ aims to test children on the skills they should have acquired as part of the school curriculum. English is a key part of your child’s everyday learning so they should be familiar with many of the topics that are covered in the 11+ English exams. 

As English is taught as part of the school curriculum, your child should be familiar with many of the topics covered in the 11+ English exams; however, the exams will also include higher-level questions for each topic. 

11 Plus English exam topics

The exams will assess your child’s command of the English language and test their comprehension, grammar, spelling and punctuation, and in some cases, their writing ability too. 

11 Plus English consists of the following categories;

Creative writing, composition and vocabulary

  • Planning and reviewing

  • Writing a variety of styles, including letters, diaries, essays, articles and continued texts.

Grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure

  • Recognising errors

  • Identifying terms.

Comprehension and literacy

  • Developing a literal/interpretive understanding

  • Analysing a variety of texts including, poetry, play scripts, descriptive and narrative texts.

What English skills will my child be tested on?

Your child needs to;

  • Have a good grasp of the English language

  • Be confident with spelling and punctuation

  • Be able to think creatively

  • Have a wide vocabulary

  • Work within time limits.

Consider practising these skills with your child through reading and writing activities and getting them to branch out regarding the books they are reading to further extend their vocabulary and overall grasp of the English language.

11 Plus non-verbal reasoning 

Non-verbal reasoning 11+ tests are designed to assess how well a child can analyse visual information, solve problems and use critical thinking and logic to solve problems. These tests are an indication of a child’s mathematical capabilities and powers of deduction, giving the examiners a clear picture of their potential and intelligence rather than their learned ability.

Non-verbal reasoning is generally not taught in school and uses problem-solving based on pictures, diagrams and shapes rather than words. Unlike verbal reasoning, it’s not as reliant on the English language but instead uses drawings, shapes or codes, and your child will need to work out sequences, similarities and differences between these figures or break the code. 

What does the non-verbal reasoning exam involve? 

The non-verbal reasoning exam consists of the following categories;

  • Patterns – Rotations and symmetry

  • Sequencing – Working out which diagram comes next in a sequence

  • Geometry – Working out cube nets and how shapes will look when folded.

What non-verbal reasoning skills will my child be tested on?

Non-verbal reasoning is really a test of your child’s maths skills. 

They need to;

  • Have a good understanding of mathematical concepts such as symmetry, rotation, direction and shape

  • Be quick at addition and subtraction

  • Know all their number bonds and times tables

  • Have good spatial awareness.

The non-verbal reasoning section of the 11 Plus exam can be hard to predict. Your child will generally be tested on spatial awareness, shapes, and mirrored images.

11 Plus verbal reasoning

Verbal reasoning is, in a nutshell, thinking with words – it’s a form of problem-solving based on words and language and the occasional number-based question. The main principle is the same as for word-based verbal reasoning problems – to test your child’s ability to solve, understand and reason using words and are a test of skill rather than of learned knowledge problems based on written instructions.

It involves thinking about text, solving word problems, following written instructions to come up with a solution, spotting letter sequences and cracking letter- and number-based codes. 

So what does the verbal reasoning exam involve? 

 The verbal reasoning 11+ exam consists of the following categories;

  • Problem-solving – Word problems, following written instructions

  • Code deciphering – Sequencing, algebra, number logic

  • Vocabulary knowledge – Including synonyms, antonyms, analogies.

What verbal reasoning skills will my child be tested on?

Your child needs to;

  • Be widely read and have an extensive vocabulary

  • Have a solid grasp of synonyms, antonyms and plurals

  • Have good spelling

  • Strong maths skills

  • Good general knowledge.

It can be challenging to predict what will be asked of your child in this section and how you can improve and develop their skills to ensure that they do well. The best thing to do is to focus on developing and expanding the depth and width of your child’s vocabulary and improving sentence structure for this section of the test.

How to improve your child’s 11 Plus skills

Practice 11 Plus question formats

In the 11 Plus exam, there are two question types – multiple choice and standard. Multiple choice involves selecting the correct answer from several options and the standard format requires a written response.

Make sure your child practises both question formats if they are both tested by the schools you are applying to. Parents often believe that the best way to prepare for the exam is to focus only on the standard format questions with the assumption that the multiple-choice is easy. However, both formats require a different set of skills and so should be practised equally.

Time management

Time management is an essential part of the 11 plus exam and is often the main decider between a pass or a fail for equally able students. Leaving questions unanswered or rushing can be costly, so your child will need to learn essential time management skills and approach each question most efficiently.

Most exam papers will be 45 minutes long. Doing regular practice exam papers under timed questions will ensure your child learns at a good pace and understands when to leave a question behind and return to it and how long to give each question.

Reading through the paper and going through the questions at the start of the test is a good idea to familiarise themselves with the format of the test paper and, to build their confidence by starting with the questions they find the easiest and then working their way up to the hardest. 

Practise tests and mock exams

Completing practice tests and mock exams regularly under timed conditions provides essential skills and subject knowledge required to pass the 11 plus exam. Verbal and non-verbal reasoning is not taught in schools, so your child will need ample practice with this.

Like with most things, repetition can make you an expert over time. Practising exam questions ensures your child is exposed to a variety of question styles and problems that they will need to solve in an unusual or unfamiliar way. The more practice questions that are completed, the less likely a question will throw them off and confuse them on exam day. 

Vocabulary practise

As mentioned earlier, English and comprehension are vital to your child’s success on exam day. However, special attention needs to be paid to vocabulary for the 11+ exam. A limited vocabulary will hinder any chances of success, so ensure your child has a good dictionary and gets into the habit of discovering and using new words. Incorporate this into daily life through a game or daily vocab quizzes.

Critical thinking skills 

Regular practice and workbooks are a great way to help familiarise children with what to expect and introducing interactive games, puzzles and activities can develop your child’s speed, accuracy and confidence. 

Ready to get started?

From finding 11+ exams in your area, to practising exam questions in our 11 Plus exam resource hub. we’re here to support you with your next steps. Find out more about our expert 11 Plus tuition.

Achieve real progress

and unlock the joy of learning.

Learn more

Cancel anytime

No joining fee

In centre or online

Memberships to suit you

Cancel anytime

No joining fee

In centre or online

Memberships to suit you

Cancel anytime

No joining fee

In centre or online

Memberships to suit you

netmums recommended
mumsnet rated
Education Investor Awards 2019 Winner Private tutoring company
Sunday Times best big companies to work for 2019
Cyber Essentials Certified Plus
2019 Business Excellence Winner - Best After School Tuition Provider - UK - Explore learning

Your nearest centres

Sorry, we don't have any centres within {{distance}} miles

image alt text from CMS

Explore learning online tuition

We also offer online tuition to flexibly fit into your family’s life.

Results from outside {{distance}} miles

Please select a centre

Showing {{count}} closest to '{{postcode}}'




{{distance}} miles

Select this centre

Search again

Please enter a valid postcode or location