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How to Pass the 11 Plus

Passing the 11 Plus is not an event, it is a journey that requires planning and preparation. The critical point to understand is that there are very few good, second chance options. Entry at 13+ is limited, as are occasional places. There is then a huge variation in average A-Level grade performance by school. In short, the 11 Plus is your best chance of giving your child the sort of start in life which will lead to excellent A-Levels, degree and career prospects.

Every year we help parents who did not get into the school they wanted at 11 Plus. Almost always it is because no one told them that they needed to start their journey a year before and then run it like a campaign. If you plan it right, and you give your child enough time, you stand the best chance of ending it with success. Spacing your campaign over a year also minimises the pressure on your child who is, undoubtedly, too young to cram.

How do we know this?

We have taken over 30,000 pupils through their 11 Plus over the last 40 years. Every year we support scores of children to get into top independent schools such as City of London, James Allen’s Girls’ School, Highgate, KCS Wimbledon, Alleyn’s, Emanuel and more. We also support many into the toughest grammar schools such as Tiffin (Girls and Boys), Dame Alice Owen’s, Henrietta Barnett, Sutton Grammar School and more. Our scholarship record is exceptional.

Our tutors are experts in their field, mainly qualified teachers, and all have extensive experience of the 11 Plus. We have a full time 11 plus co-ordinator who will get to know your child and your aspirations and will co-ordinate their journey. We are independently rated as the Number One tutoring agency in London by School Report Magazine and feature in the Good Schools Guide of top tutoring agencies.

Read more about us and our successes in recent years.

State schools and the syllabus

The bedrock of most children’s experiences is school. The 11 Plus exam is taken in January of Year Six and pupils are expected to be operating at the level of a Year Seven pupil. Therefore, unless your school is actively preparing your child for the 11 Plus, he/she will not have covered the syllabus – regardless of how good they are at the syllabus that they do know.

Is Prep school enough?

Most parents of children at preparatory schools also find that this is not enough. In our experience, 10 – 20% of parents tell people that their child is really being tutored alone. But 70 – 80% of children are being tutored. As such, if parents assume school preparation is enough, they are likely to find that other parents have stolen a march on them.

Choosing target schools

However, what is not appropriate is to push a child for an exam and a school which is wrong for them. We are not a hot house. We believe in finding the right school for pupils. Every school has different academic standards and different value systems. Before setting out on the 11 plus journey one must first decide what is the right set of target schools for their child.

The initial step is usually an Academic Assessment. At Mentor Education, we are one of the few agencies licenced to use the CEM test, which is the spine for the test used by leading independent schools. The CEM test involves your child sitting a digital, adaptive test, similar to the 11 Plus, following which you will receive a report which statistically places your child within their cohort and gives you a full educational consultant’s guide to appropriate target schools. It becomes the starting point for you and your tutor’s journey to support your child.

What tutors do I need?

Then starts the tuition. Tutoring must be tailored to filling gaps in the curriculum, gaining speed and gaining certainty around answers. It is not enough to choose a Primary school teacher. The 11 Plus is a specific test that requires bespoke tutoring. Mentor Education’s tutors are specialised in this test.

There are four elements to the examination aspect of the 11 Plus syllabus – English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. One must ensure that the pupil is well rounded in all four aspects. Often this will require different tutors to manage different elements – this is the strength of using a full service agency rather than one man band tutors.

Find details of our tutors.

You may find our guide on how to choose a tutor helpful.

How often do I need a tutor?

Typically, the journey starts in January of Year 5 with around one hour of tutoring. This then increases to two hours a week of tutoring in the summer term and then three hours of tutoring in the Autumn term of Year six. This may feel like a lot – but you have one chance.

What about holidays?

Holidays represent crucial opportunities to either cover more of the syllabus or to reinforce learning throughout Years 5 and 6. Most children do 11 Plus courses in the Easter holidays, Summer Holidays and in the final Autumn half term. Most students attend one week at each time. Summer holidays are also an excellent opportunity to work on creative writing skills – creating a mental bank of stories descriptions.

We offer a range of such courses and we find that our most successful students are those who do these courses to reinforce the progress made at school and with a tutor. Find out details of our upcoming courses.

What happens in the exam?

what happens in the 11 plus exam?

The exams typically have an English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning component. Each must be prepared for separately. You can read detailed guides to each element in the links.

However, different schools have slightly different processes and Covid has changed these further. We understand all of them and you can read more detailed guides in our schools section.

Normally, schools use CEM or GL assessment to create their 11 plus exams, but, during Covid, more schools have been using the digital ISEB test. Suffice to say that there is little point in preparing for a generic 11 Plus, when you could prepare in detail for the school admissions which you are targeting. All this plays to starting with a clear plan of your target schools before you begin your campaign.

How to improve exam technique?

We all know of people who know the content but let themselves down on the day through poor exam technique. Practice papers are key. We would typically recommend that from January in Year 5 ten minutes a day Bond test on Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning. From Easter of Year 5 children should do a Maths paper on Saturday and an English paper on the Sunday. We have past papers and mock exams available for you to download in pdf format.

In the Autumn term of Year 6 children will need to build up speed. This means pressure tests looking to get a mark a minute, learning when to leave questions and when to stick at them, and learning when not to get flustered.

In the final week, we suggest children sit the most recent past papers from your target schools as mock exams.

How to prepare and pass the interview?

For the 11 plus interview, pupils need to be ready to answer questions about:

  • Themselves
  • Their motivations for going to the school
  • Current affairs

There is often a creative task. For example, two different pictures are shown and pupils are asked to connect the two and discuss that connection.

There is sometimes a mental maths challenge.

Some schools also have a group discussion in which six to eight pupils are asked to solve together a problem under supervision.

Practice and exposure to a range of life experiences beyond that of the core curriculum are key here. We have a list of activities and books which you might find helpful.

How to get a scholarship?

To get an academic scholarship most schools require you to perform in the top 10% – 20% at the entrance exam. This is usually followed by a dedicated scholarship interview with the Head.

Sport or music scholarships usually require a specific assessment in sporting or musical aptitude and assessment in the specific sport of instrument that is the pupil’s strength. They also require a pass in the academic examination.

We have specific consultancy available in obtaining scholarships. Please contact us.

What is my role as a parent?

It is so important to manage your own stress levels and beware of passing your stress levels onto your children. We have some good guides on mental wellbeing.

With our help, you can focus on managing this process as a campaign – the child will need it planned for them. That way they can focus on doing the work not worrying about covering the syllabus or pacing the learning. You can read more about the 12 month programme.

Providing reading opportunities for your child is key. This will both improve their examination performance and improve their interview performance. We have good examples of reading lists for the 11 plus.

What is my next step?

Please do contact us to help us plan your 11 plus campaign and give you the support that you need. We are here to help.

Find out how Mentor can help you support you and your child as you approach the 11+. Get in touch today.


“For more than 35 years they have been helping students achieve places at the top London day and boarding schools.”

Mentor Education named London’s best tuition agency in School Report Magazine