The Exam

With over 40 years of experience, we understand the demands of the exam, and what each school is looking for.

The Exam

The 11 plus exam is part of a process of admissions for senior school which will normally also include a detailed reference from your child’s primary school and an interview. Some schools select their cohort mainly from the exam results. Others consider it one part of a more rounded, holistic assessment of the child and their potential to thrive and take part in the life of the school.

closeup of an english exam paper

There are two organisations that create the exams on behalf of UK schools; CEM and GL Assessment. Currently we believe that over 70% of independent schools are using CEM assessments to select their cohort. Find out more about CEM assessments. We understand that Grammar schools tend to use GL Assessment tests. 

It is important to find out which tests your child will face as they are different and specialist resources are available which allow your child to practice the specific types of questions they will face on the day.

Here are some CEM style resources.

Here are some GL style resources.


Some popular, heavily over-subscribed schools make a first cut of candidates using a Pre-Test early in the Autumn of Year 6. They do this to end the work/ process early for children who were never going to make the academic standard and from a practical perspective, to make marking the later, full exam papers a realistic prospect for staff at the school. Typically, schools such as JAGS and Wimbledon High, who offer a Pre-Test, cut half their candidates at this point. 

The Pre-Test can easily trip parents up because they take place 4 or 5 months earlier than the written papers. If you are trying to get your child to peak for January, you might not realise how fast and good at Reasoning they need to be in the previous September or October.

What do the Pre-Tests consist of?

Pre-Tests are typically digital Reasoning exams. They tend to be extremely time pressured. We suggest that parents should definitely factor in timed Reasoning practice every day over the Summer holidays prior to Year 6 if sitting their child for this type of exam. Parents often hear that Reasoning exams test children’s innate abilities and are tutor proof, but this is not the case. 

There are only so many permutations of Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning questions and it is perfectly possible for your child to be taught them all and practice them all prior to sitting their Pre-Test. Practice at digital tests is also key because exam technique is vital! The tests answer papers can be particularly complicated and not something the candidate has seen before.

For example, for the Wimbledon High Pre-Test we recommend these practice resources which mirror the answer sheet used by the school. Many children find this answer sheet difficult to navigate and benefit greatly from practising a few.

child filling in multiple choice 11 plus answer sheet

Digital Testing (ISEB)

In 2020 because of the Pandemic, children were not able to congregate in school halls to take their entrance exams in the usual way and sat digital exams instead. Most schools opted to use the ISEB exam, which had for many years been used as a Pre-Test by British Boarding schools. We are as yet unsure whether schools will revert to their pre pandemic school admission arrangements for January 2022 or continue with digital tests. (Correct as of March 2021). Whichever route schools opt for, we have tutors who know these exams inside out and can help your child prepare. Despite the last minute switch to ISEB exams last year over 90% of our 2020-21 cohort achieved a place at their first choice school. All our pupils were offered a place at their first or second choice school.


The Maths exam tracks the National Curriculum, but crucially, the whole of the Year 6 curriculum is included in the 11+ syllabus. It is vital that parents understand that their children sitting the paper must know the Year 6 Maths syllabus. State primary schools will not teach it in time. Prep schools may teach the whole Year 6 syllabus to Year 5 applicants, but this is by no means guaranteed. It is crucial that parents check this and fill in any gaps.

As with every aspect of the school entrance exams, speed is of the utmost importance and we believe one of the most important jobs parents can do to prepare their children. Start young and focus on the consistency and instant recall of times tables and number bonds. This must be practiced regularly, and we can recommend several excellent apps that gamify the acquisition of these skills, so that children enjoy their learning. In particular, we recommend ‘Hit the Button’, ‘King of Maths’ and ‘Squeebles Times Tables’. These are all simple and effective ways of practising quick-fire recall and other mental arithmetic skills. We also recommend Times Table Rock Stars.


Most English exams consist of a comprehension and a creative writing exercise. We believe that English is the subject where it is most important to tailor your preparations to the specific schools you are targeting. Many schools have past papers on their websites. Download these and look at the style of questions, the types of texts selected for comprehensions and story stimuli used. We also have a range of practice papers available for you to download in pdf format.

For example, some schools often use a picture as a story stimulus. If this is the case, it is important that your child has practised these. Similarly, in respect of comprehension, schools may consistently favour non-fiction or classic texts. They may set lots of multiple-choice questions or expect long extended answers worth a lot of marks. Doing your research as a parent will pay dividends and allow you to be a lot more focussed in your preparation. We cannot say this enough but the best at home preparation you can do is to support your child’s reading journey. You may find our reading lists and guides helpful.

Verbal Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning is, considered a test of ‘potential’. For this reason, parents often worry that they cannot help their children improve their Verbal Reasoning scores. This is absolutely not the case! Although your child will start with a natural affinity for the subject, there are a finite number of types of Verbal Reasoning questions. It is easy to practice and improve on them all, if you start early and work systematically. 

Verbal Reasoning tests a child’s understanding of the complexity and nuance of language. You need to identify whether your child is sitting a CEM or a GL Assessment as the questions are very different in style and lend themselves to different resources. We can advise you here.

By far the best long-term preparation for Verbal Reasoning success is to create a daily reading habit with your child. There is an urban myth about school entrance which states that children who pass know 10,000 more words than children who don’t pass. We believe there is some underlying truth to this. Vocabulary acquisition is slow, a process which cannot be crammed into a few months at the end of Year 5.

Non-verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal Reasoning is also considered a test of ‘potential’ and is connected to numeracy, testing children’s understanding of number patterns and spatial awareness. As with Verbal Reasoning, each child will have a natural affinity for this topic but can certainly improve and should practice all iterations of the test. 

Beyond formal practice questions, all the following will develop your child’s understanding of 3D shapes and number patterns:

  • Building with Lego, completing jigsaw puzzles or trying to solve the Rubik’s cube are all excellent ways to develop spatial awareness.
  • Sudokus, riddles and word puzzles can all enhance problem solving abilities, and
  • Sstrategic games such as chess and draughts are brilliant for decision-making and thinking ahead.
  • In addition, learning to pay particular attention to details such as colours, directions, sizes, angles or the lines of a puzzle might help him notice a pattern, connection or dissimilarity.

Promoting a positive and playful approach will help achieve stress-free success.

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