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A guide to the different entrance exams used by UK private schools


Part 2

11+ exams


11+ exams exist in both the private and state sector in the UK, but they differ in format. Here, the focus is on the private sector but refer to 11+ exams in the state sector for detail on Grammar School entry.


In the private sector, 11+ exams are set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board and are referred to as 11+ Common Entrance. These exams are generally, but by no means exclusively, for entrance to senior independent girls’ schools but some boys’ secondary independent schools have an 11+ entry as well. If concerned about the 11+ exam levels and where your child sits academically, our specialist tutors can advise and guide. A block of six tutorials geared towards 11+ exams makes a huge difference in even the most confident.


When are 11+ exams taken?

11+ exams are taken in Year 6, when children are aged between 10 and 11 years old. 11+ exams can either be taken in November or January but January is the norm.

Which subjects are required for 11+ exams?


In the private sector, children will sit 11+ Common Entrance papers in English, Maths and often Science. Schools can choose to add an element of Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning to the assessment.


How does registration work?

Children are registered for 11+ Common Entrance through the ISEB website. This is usually organised by the prep school or primary school but it is always worth following up on the registration. This is too important a step to miss and there are late fees charged for registering after the deadline.


What does it mean if schools are in Group 1 or Group 2?

Some London independent Girls' schools have formed a consortium. This divides into Group 1 and Group 2 and means that the entrance exam papers are exactly the same as all of the other schools in that group. Therefore, the applicants only need to sit one set of exams for Group 1. They can then sit another set of exams for Group 2 (these are organised for a different day). The candidate must, however, be registered at each school individually in order to be considered for a place. Look here to see which schools fit into which consortium. Of note, the girls consortium ‘Groups 1 and 2’ have no relationship with City of London’s ‘Group 1’ and ‘Group 2’ exams. For further detail, look at City of London School for Boys.


Can children take 11+ even if they don’t need it for their school?

It is possible to do a ‘trial run’ and sit an 11+ exam even if it is not a requirement.

Is there provision made for Special Needs?


Yes, a report profiling any children with special needs will be sent from the child’s current school. That said, the best way to ensure that the correct provision is made is to contact the relevant senior school and ensure they are fully aware of any requirements.

Is there extra consideration for children who do not have English as a first language?

Yes, children who do not have English as their mother tongue can use an English to first language dictionary. If agreed with the senior school, they are also allotted up to 25% extra time to sit the 11+ papers.


Why do children need a report from the Headmaster?

The Headmaster’s report gives an insight into the whole child, be it their character, motivations and interests or how they interact socially. The Headmaster’s report might fill in some of the gaps but children are generally interviewed as well and, if not, they are always being observed by staff and head teachers.


How are the results released?

11+ exam results are issued to prep schools on the Friday of the week following the exams. Parents and children are then told on the Saturday.


11+ exams in the state sector

In the state sector, the eleven plus examination used to be standard across England and Wales but now only a select number of counties and boroughs use the 11+ exams to differentiate at entry, notably Grammar Schools. The borough of Kent, for example, is notorious both for the popularity of its best schools and for the competitive nature of entry at 11+.


Children can be assessed in all or a combination of English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. For example, Kent assesses all four subjects, whereas Buckinghamshire focuses on Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

Scoring varies depending on the area so this an important piece of research to do in advance of registering for 11+ exams. In Kent, Maths and English are allocated twice the weighting of Verbal Reasoning, for example.


To apply to a Grammar School, the pass mark is usually between 121 and 160 points for the 11+ exams. However, the youngest children in the year have a lower score to gain and do be aware that some areas have moved the score up because of the numbers passing. Some schools vary their score line each year to reflect the number of children reaching the former pass level.


For registration to Grammar Schools, contact the relevant borough for details.

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